The Kevin Smith Twitter / Southwest Airlines online catfight got crazy out of hand yesterday. If you missed it, you were probably A) in solitary confinement or jury duty for the last few days, or B) weren’t at all interested, and get a gold star for focusing on more important things in the world.
The story: Kevin Smith, a comedic director/character actor of large physical stature, was asked by a crew member of a Southwest Airlines route to leave the plane because he was too big to occupy a single seat on a full flight. Smith raised a ruckus on his Twitter account, and Southwest responded by doing damage control through their PR and social networks.
You have to feel for the poor PR department at Southwest for inheriting this absolute social media nightmare. Customer service is difficult enough when it’s dealing with an irate you or me. But when you’re trying to appease a celebrity who boasts a Twitter following of over 7 figures and has a lust for self-promotion that makes Ryan Seacrest look like a shrinking violet, it’s almost impossible to come out clean.
I thought Southwest, who are known for well-managed customer service and online transparency, handled it as well as it could be handled. They posted a couple of easygoing responses to Smith’s outraged tweets, offered him the voucher and an apology. But it was overheated news coverage, not olive branches, that Smith was after, so every entreaty from the airline was met with snide invective and accusations, broadcasted to his formidable list of followers.
Most internet marketing wags reporting on this thing have been nearsighted about the real issue, and it’s money – a lot more money than a silly $100 voucher could compensate. The incident plainly been taken over by Smith for use as a PR vehicle. The savvy L.A. Times called it right: there’s a media product being promoted here (the Kevin Smith brand, basically), and it’s all a lot of classic Hollywood-style carpe diem.
But this is one instance where milking your time at the top of the trending clouds could backfire. The basic buzz about this – outside of his follower list, anyway - is running very much against Mr. Smith, who seems oblivious to the notion that, for most people, air travel is a pain no matter how you work it. Anyone who has traveled with any frequency has probably been bumped at one time or another; and while a voucher and apology isn’t always enough to make them feel great about it, they don’t start a public war about it either. Most folks just deal. So the idea of an overweight B-list celebrity acting like a mortally wounded hero because he took up too much room on a budget airline might not lend his latest venture the boost he’s looking for.
Finally… Overnight, everyone queuing in line in airports whom you might describe as physically larger-than-average are now in a glaring public spotlight that they may not deserve, because of this very ambitious actor’s social networking histrionics. Thanks a lot, Silent Bob.