This thing has already been described ad nauseum on countless other blogs, so I’ll limit this to the short version. Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, etc) had bought two tickets on a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank. In an effort to get home quicker, he decided to get on standby for an earlier flight, which only had one seat available. Once he was seated, he was informed he was a “person of size” and needed to another seat, which there was none. They essentially pulled him from the flight for the safety and benefit of the other passengers.
What resulted is a case study in how social media can rock a brand to its core, but also how it can be used effectively to combat the effects. At the time, I think Southwest had about 25,000 followers (someone fact-check me on that), and Smith had 1.6 MILLION. This was a fact that the filmmaker wasted no time in disclosing. In his podcast explanation, he pretty much said, “you should know I’ve got over a million followers and a really big mouth” (paraphrased). Clearly the Southwest staff on duty that day was unaware of who they were deeming “too fat” for their airline.
Almost immediately, Smith started twittering. And twittering, and twittering. And twittering some more. Southwest handled it as well as could be expected, I suppose. They offered apologies via Twitter and their blog, and even (eventually) called Smith directly.
It remains to be seen, whether this will have a lasting effect on Southwest’s business. They’re often referred to as the commuter bus of the skies. So maybe their regular customers will take their chances with poor service to save a few bucks. But as of today, Southwest now has over million followers, which is obviously a direct result of the controversy.
But on the flipside, as I write this, a Google search for “Southwest Air” yields a photo of Kevin Smith in the #3 position. The moral of the story? Don’t f**k with someone with more followers than you.
Update: This strip featured on Mashable on 8/10/10!