Steve Woodruff started an interesting discussion at his place about the latest PR quagmire that Delta Airlines finds itself in. Apparently, some soldiers brought 4 bags onto their flights home, and were charged for those 4th bags, as per Delta’s policy. The soldiers were assuming that they would not have to pay for the 4th checked bag, and were upset, and made a video about it (that has since been removed).
Delta, to its credit, was quick to address the situation on its blog, and has now changed its policy to allow for a 4th free checked bag for soldiers flying in economy. But given what a hot-button issue this is, you can see in the comments that hundreds of people are outraged and angered over this issue.
And honestly, I feel sorry for Delta, especially the people on Delta’s blogging and social media team. They handled this issue about as well as they could, but they are still getting absolutely raked over the coals in the comments to their post.
But as I read through that post and scanned the wall of angry comments, I was looking for the one thing that I never saw: Comments from Delta’s brand advocates. There are a few comments from people that are sympathetic to Delta’s position, but they are quickly targeted by multiple commenters siding with the soldiers.
And to be fair to Delta, they can’t stay and respond to the individual commenters. That would literally take them all day, and would likely generate even more angry comments. Because this is an issue where most people, rightly or wrongly, are going to assume that Delta is in the wrong. And if any Delta representative tries to explain their side of the situation, more angry comments will be the result.
Which is why Delta should have its advocates speaking on its behalf. But Delta can’t rely on its advocates, because it hasnt invested time in connecting with and empowering them.
For example, let’s say Zappos caught itself in a PR nightmare similar to the one Delta is in now. If angry customers started attacking Zappos, how soon would it be before Zappos’ fans would come to the brand’s defense? Pretty darn soon, and my guess is the number of negative comments against Zappos would decrease as a result. In the Delta example, in the absence of Delta’s advocates, the volume of negative comments seems to be increasing.
So my advice to Delta, who I am sure is scratching their heads wondering what they could have done differently, is to start today connecting with your brand advocates. Find your most passionate customers, and embrace them. Then the next time you have a PR fight like this one on your hands, you won’t be going it alone.
PS: And Delta if you or any other company is wondering how in the hell you embrace and empower your advocates, here’s your roadmap.