Crisis Communications: Stopping a misunderstood customer service experience from going viral

While giving the full explanation each time may not fully prevent customer service issues from going viral and it may make things worse if it frustrates the customer, it can prevent others who are overhearing the conversation from making up their own story and creating a viral crisis via social media.

A photo of empty seats on a Southwest Airlines airplane
“Southwest Airlines” by Kevin Dooley, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association’s (AOPA) Flight Training magazine to read an article subtitled Who really suffers after an airline incident goes viral.

The article highlights a couple of recent airline customer service experiences, such as a man being dragged-off a United Airlines flight, and how could have been solved in more productive ways. It also argues that, had the whole story of some of these recent incidences been what the public saw, the court of public judgement may have judged the incidences differently.

The latter point is what interested me, as it emphasizes one of the most fundamental principles of crisis communication: If you don’t give people the whole story, they will make up the information they are missing.

And it gives us a way to potentially solve the issue. Customer service representatives need to make sure that EVERY time they discuss they issue, they give the full story and preferably in every sentence. 

In the case of two teenage girls not able to board a United flight because they were wearing leggings, the reason was that they were using “buddy passes” which have strict dress codes. While I wasn’t there and can only surmise what happened, I’m guessing the gate agent, who was probably in a rush, probably said something like “Sorry, you two are’t properly dressed to board this flight” when the Shannon Watts (the woman who complained about it on twitter) overheard. What’s missing from the above version? The full story about them being on buddy passes.

What would it look like to explain the full story in this situation?

Gate agent: You are traveling on a free buddy ticket and your outfit does not meet the dress code for using a free buddy ticket.

Ladies: What?

Gate agent: You are traveling on a free buddy ticket and your outfit does not meet the dress code for using a free buddy ticket. Do you have something else you can change into that meets the dress code for using a free buddy ticket?

Ladies: We didn’t know that. What’s the dress code?

Gate agent: Here is the dress code for using a free buddy ticket. Do you have something else you can change into that meets the dress code for using a free buddy ticket?

But this is hard, gets redundant and takes time in a stressful situation, so people start taking shortcuts.

Gate agent: You don’t meet the dress code, is there something else you can change into?

Reading the above, you can see how, if someone just heard this statement, they could start making-up the rest of the story.

While giving the full explanation each time may not fully prevent customer service issues from going viral and it may make things worse if it frustrates the customer (more trial of this is needed to understand and refine), it can prevent others who are overhearing the conversation from making up their own story and creating a viral crisis via social media.

And when you find yourself on the flip side and the person who overhears, PLEASE take a minute to find out the rest of the story before you pass judgement. I know, easier said than done, and I mess this up all the time, but the more we do this, the less issues we will all have.



Pitbull’s Twitter & Facebook contains ads: A rare look at celebrity social media marketing contracts

Rapper pitbull performing with dancers on a stage
“Pitbull (Austin, Texas, 2015-02-07)” by Ralph Arvesen, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This week, after a long, contentious battle over making the contract public, the rapper Pitbull published his 1 million dollar contract with the State of Florida via his twitter account.

Most contracts between talent and agency are usually confidential, but because it was with a governmental agency, it could be public domain (hence the contention). What we do know for sure, however, is that it offers us a rare glimpse of one of these contracts and the role of social media advertising from celebrities.

Under section 4.3, Social Media and Email we find:

4.3.1 Social Media

A. The Contractor will provide Talent’s digital services team to make in aggregate a minimum of two (2) social network posts each month on each of Talent’s various social media channels. (e.g., 2 Tweets, 2 Facebook posts, etc.) in support of the VISIT FLORIDA mission to promote tourism; and including the social media hashtag “#LoveFL”. The manner and method of these posts shall be in accordance with Contractor’s organic approach to assure the authenticity of the posts and to avoid over-saturation (e.g., December may include myriad posts and January far less) and with due consideration of Contractor’s activities and demographics and to avoid any alienation of Talent’s fans given the general non-commercial nature of Talent’s social media sites. Where appropriate the posts shall include the presence of Florida photos in a manner consistent with Contractor’s past activities. The Contractor will include a creative written call to action to drive traffic to VISIT FLORIDA’S Facebook page (e.g., “Like VISIT FLORIDA’s Facebook page) when posting on Pitbull’s Facebook page.

B. Contractor will provide reporting that includes proof of all social media network posts as indicated above. 

4.3.2 Email Contacts

A. The Contractor will work with VISIT FLORIDA staff to drive social media and email traffic to allow an aggregation of at least 500,000 email contacts for potential solicitation by VISIT FLORIDA for tourism activities/information. The Parties will work in good faith to create terms, conditions and procedures to assure that collection of all data is in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, including without limitations the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). All aggregated emails and user data acquired by VISIT FLORIDA in connection with Contractor will be shared with Contractor. 

What we can learn from the above:

  • It’s not really Pitbull posting on these pages. He, along with most public figures, has a “digital services team” posting on his behalf.
  • Celebrities get compensated for posts on social media sites. I’m sure Pitbull loves Florida, but the reality is, he’s getting paid to post on their behalf.
  • Some celebrity social media posts are ads, and they don’t want you to realize that. Reading the above, it’s obvious VISIT FLORIDA wanted the posts to be “authentic” and not come across as ads. This is an ethical issue for me, I’m not a fan of ads that are designed so people don’t realize they are ads. But, it’s prevalent with celebrities and social media.
  • The goal is to capture your information. VISIT FLORDIA’s goal is clear, they want to capture email addresses for at least 500,000 people for purposes of marketing to them. And they aren’t alone; most similar promotions are all about information capture.
  • And your information will be shared.  Not only is VISIT FLORIDA capturing people’s information, once they have it, they are going to share it back with Pitbull’s marketing team so they can also market to those people. This is very common as well.

Thanks for posting the contract, Pitbull (team):

I appreciate Pitbull’s team posting the contract. I think they saved themselves a lot of further public relations headaches by doing so and, as the title of this post says, it gives us a rare glimpse into one of these contracts.

With that said, what it shows is disheartening; there’s no more of an illusion that celebrity social media accounts are an ad-free zone. I think most people know this, intuitively, but having such concrete evidence of it public makes it hard to ignore.


How social media changed corporate branding and marketing

Different colors of chalk ends with the logos of the main social media sites (facebook, twitter, etc.) on the ends
“The Art of Social Media” by mkhmarketing, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“If you create good branded content, they will come,” sums up the philosophy that was championed during my masters degree courses on social media marketing. At the time, that was the prominent thought, and still continues to be in most organizations.

The reality, however, is much different. Brands have spent billions to create content and haven’t garnered the massive loyal following they thought it would.

But Douglas Holt will tell you that crowdcultures are better at producing content, and for a lot less money and time, that resonates on social media. He demonstrates by highlighting brands who have spent billions to create amazing content on sites such as YouTube, Instagram, etc. are getting trounced in the rankings, by individuals with limited production ability.

Instead, he’ll tell you not to focus on the crowdculture. In the March 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review (Branding in the age of social media), Crowdcultures, according to Holt, are digital crows that serve “as very effective and prolific innovators of culture.”

As examples, he highlights:

  • Pre-industrial food culture: Those individuals who are concerned about, and challenging, our industrial methods of producing food.
  • Lad culture: A tongue-in-cheek form of sexism stemmed from frustrations of over-sensitivity by feminists
  • Body-positive culture: Those frustrated with the unrealistic ideals in media, especially of women

Conventional marketing would tell you to find your target market along demographic and benefit lines and promote to them, or to highlight your organization’s core values that best along with the largest segment of the market. Following the crowdculture philosophy, instead you’d identify a specific crowdculture that is a good fit for your organization and focus on them.

So back to the crowdculture examples to see how this alignment works:

  • Pre-industrial food revival: Chipotle’s branding around local and non-industrial food sourcing
  • Lad culture: Axe body spray’s over-the-top ads of bikini-clad “ideal” women chasing after men
  • Body-positive culture: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign focused on emphasizing that women are beautiful in their natural form (and, for fun, Dove has the same parent company as Axe)

There’s a lot more to identifying, aligning and maintaining this type of marketing strategy and Holt goes into some details in the article along with having a book on the subject, How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding.

Is this the correct strategy moving forward? That’s yet to be seen. What is clear is, the “If you create good branded content, they will come,” strategy isn’t working.

Don’t allow photography in your store? It might be costing you sales

“I’m sorry ma’am, we don’t allow photos,” called a clerk to me while I was visiting a local artist shop in Chicago. I smiled and put my camera phone away. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been stopped from taking photographs in stores and it won’t be the last. It happens most often to me with shops with unique, local artisan items, and I can understand why. They don’t want people taking photos so they can copy their ideas. But what they don’t realize is, they might be saving themselves from copycats, but they are also losing sales.

What the clerk above didn’t realize in the above example is that I was trying to make a sale for him; I was taking a photo because the sculpture would have fit perfectly in my friend’s home and I was sending him a photograph to see if he would like me to pick it up for him. In fact, most of the time I take a photograph in a store, it’s to ask someone else if they’d like me to purchase the item for them.

Two reasons people take photos in stores:

Taking photos allows them to buy things for others

It used to be that people would call friends or family when they saw something that the other might like and then the friend or family member would make the trip to see it. The younger generations found a way to skip the trip (unless it’s necessary), by taking photographs and offering to purchase and transport items for them.

Taking photos helps them to share your products

The other way the younger generations are using photographs is to show their friends and family cool new projects and/or let their friends know about cool promotions. Check out this Facebook post by one of my friends below. Do you think Starbucks is upset that she took and posted this photo?

Starbucks sandwich sign free drink

So, if you have a “no photos” policy, I’m not saying you have to get rid of it. But weigh that decision carefully. Is it worth missed sales to protect your items? What is the likelihood of copycats?

Reader question: How do restaurants benefit from giving free meals on Veterans Day?

veterans day

A reader, who is a veteran, asked, “How do restaurants benefit from giving free meals on Veterans Day?”

Let me first start by saying that it is my hope and my assumption that the main reason that businesses offer free items and discounts to veterans is because they truly respect what they have done for our country and want to honor them. With that said, they do gain from supporting veterans and this post focuses on those benefits.

Employee morale

If the organization has veteran employees, one benefit of giving discounts or free food/items to veterans is that it is a way to communicate to their veteran employees that they support them. This can be a morale-booster for veteran and non-veteran employees alike.

Product/service trial

Discounts or free food/items to veterans encourages them to try a new product or service. For example, a veteran may have never tried a particular restaurant, but might because of the free promotion. That veteran may like it and come back on a regular basis after that, which means a lot of additional sales for the restaurant. Or, perhaps a veteran hasn’t been to a particular restaurant in a long time and the promotion reminds them how much they like it, so they start visiting more frequently.

Additional sales of family/friends that come along

The majority of people do not go out to eat by themselves. So, it’s most likely that a veteran going to a restaurant for a free meal or discount will bring family or friends along with them.

Very similar to offering free kids meals, the math on this works. A veteran will most likely pick a mid-range item on the menu and bring family and friends. It’s very likely that the profit from those family and friends will cover the cost of the veteran’s meal. And, the restaurant has trial (see above) from the family and friends as well as the veteran.


Media mentions are extremely valuable to business and organizations. Everywhere you look right now, there are news articles listing organizations offering promotions/free meals for veterans (Example: ABC News, The Top Veterans Day Deals and Freebies Tomorrow). And, let’s not forget about all of the social media sharing that is happening between people sharing the promotional information. So, by offering a promotion, these organizations are seeing a Return on Investment from the media mentions.

Me too/Social pressure consideration

I’ve written before about the dangers of copycat “us too” style of marketing. Again, I’m assuming that most restaurants give away free meals to veterans because they want to show their appreciation. With that said, I do think there is a lot of social pressure to do so because other restaurants are doing it and restaurants are afraid of negative publicity/pushback if they don’t do it.

So hopefully, dear reader, this didn’t kill your view of this important day. The above are just considerations. Thank you for your question and Happy Veterans Day.

Are Big Companies Engaging On Social Media The Way They Should Be?

Today, Likeable Media published an article I wrote titled, “Are Big Companies Engaging On Social Media The Way They Should Be?” on their blog. Click on the link and check it out!


Questions to ask before posting to social media


I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with social media, but after taking a 40-day Lent hiatus from Facebook, I came back with a new perspective. During that time, I had time to reflect on how I was using the tool and what I wanted to do differently. From that came the 5 question test.

A .jpg of 5 rules for "before I post to social media


1. Who will benefit from this post?

If you can’t think of a single person on your friends list that will legitimately gain a benefit from your post, don’t post it.

Benefits could include:

  • Making someone laugh.
  • Inspiring someone.
  • Encouraging thought and positive and meaningful dialogue.
  • Giving a far-away family member or friend joy by giving them a glimpse of what is going on in your life.
  • Giving someone support.


2. Is this post attention-seeking on my part?

This is a big one and is heavily related to the other question, “Who will benefit from this post?”.  If you can’t think of a single person your post will benefit, other than you, it’s probably an attention-seeking post.


Attention-seeking posts can take several forms:

  • Seeking-out praise/encouragement.  Example: “Here’s my project, isn’t it awesome?”
  • Self-pitying. Examples: “Feeling sad today :-(“ or “I can’t believe I’m sick again” or “Why does this always happen to me?”
  • Photos. Photos deserve their own attention under this category. Posting a nice photo of you as your profile pic is great, changing it often to seek praise on new photos is not. Similarly, selfies, photos with friends, etc. that serve no purpose other than to seek comments, favorites, or likes are attention-seeking.


3, Will anyone be harmed by this post?

Our posts can cause harm, whether we mean them to or not. For this one, you have to think beyond your immediate friends and think of friends of friends, who might see your post when it is liked, shared, or commented on.  You also have to think about self-harm.


Ways your posts could harm include:

  • Posting pictures and making someone feel bad that they weren’t included in something.
  • Posting negative or hatred posts, such as unfounded criticisms of political figures. This one not only spreads negativity (which harms others) but also harms you by harming your relationships with your friends.
  • Posting disturbing images or text.
  • Posting information that someone else might not want shared, such as announcing a friend’s pregnancy before they get a chance to or travel plans (more on this below).


4, Did I ask everyone’s permission to tag them?

Some may argue with me on this one, but I think it’s important. Some people don’t like to be tagged. A good rule of thumb is to ask the person, “ May I tag/mention you?” prior to tagging them.


Examples of how this could go awry:

  • Law enforcement experts, time and time again, have said not to post to social media if you are away on a trip. When I’m traveling, I will never post anything prior or during the trip that indicates that I’m away from home. I realize others may not feel as strongly about this as I do, but some do, so you should always ask.
  • Although they shouldn’t do this, a friend may have turned-down other plans with a white lie or called-in sick to work to spend time with you. It could be disastrous if you tag them in a photo or with details of something you are doing with them.


5, Am I avoiding a conversation that needs to happen?

Often, I see or hear about people posting things to social media that can be categorized as passive-aggressive and an avoidance of a conversation that needs to happen.  If you find yourself tempted to do this, stop, and have the conversation instead.



  • Having just went through a bad break-up, you have the urge to post updates about how happy you are or post a higher-than-usual amount of photos with people of the opposite sex in order to make your ex jealous.
  • “Oh! Those flowers you got are so pretty! I wish someone would give me flowers.”
  • “I wish certain people would learn how to not talk crap behind other people’s backs!!!”


What would you personally add to this list? Is there anything you would take out?