United is producing an abundance of material that plays horribly on social media. Let’s do a quick check of what kind of material United is putting into the social media environment.
An Expedient Synopsis of The Social Media Environment
Social media has a fairly strict protocol, and in this protocol is a set of rules no one really talks about. These unspoken rules are that everyone must remain positive; suffering must only be funny; and, at the end of the day, Rainbows and Unicorns are not to be messed with. The ‘everything is alright’ illusion is the most important thing. Disrupting that fabric is a near criminal offense in social media.
Real Violence, Not Funny
United is responsible for producing a lot of viral content on a Chicago airport tarmac on Sunday. The United Airlines Production includes abundant real violence; real life witnesses horrified; and not a shred of humor. United has accomplished social media’s great unforgivable: Violence without humor, and a lot of it.
After Audra Bridges’ original Facebook video was posted to Facebook, bloodier videos followed. The subsequent content validates the original and amplifies the story by magnitudes. All of this material, filling the entire social media sphere, was produced at the United Airlines Live Violence Studio, where customers pay to be unwillingly forced into their own Hunger Games of travel.
That’s a huge social media deficit for United to start with.
Monday Morning Quarterbacking
Before I start Monday morning quarterbacking, I think it’s important to acknowledge that working with hindsight is highly convenient, and that the people involved were faced with an incredibly difficult series of decisions and limited information at the time.
Sometimes trying to fly when you can’t jump two feet in the air makes a bad situation worse. A lot of PR people claim United should have taken some specific, different, action to craft a response that ‘worked’ to make the crisis ‘better.’ It seems that me that given how bad this crisis has been from the start, trying for a real solution in a situation where that appears impossible is a misguided strategy. I’d argue that there is no such thing as ‘better’ in this situation, there is only Less Worse.
Welcome To The Cocktail Party, Everyone Hates Your Success
According to the movie “The Social Network,” Mark Zuckerberg designed Facebook as a response to a stuffy Princeton cocktail party. Facebook is set up to enforce a pervasive air of positivity. Negativity must be coded and nuanced in order to be accepted into the social milieu. Backstabbing and relational aggression are popular forms of negativity, as they can be presented in a positive light. Outrage is welcome, because it is a form of group negativity in pursuit of a higher social purpose, i.e. PUTTING AN END TO THIS OUTRAGE.
But Mark Zuckerberg’s democratized cocktail hour deviates from the real thing in one significant way: The vast majority of those in attendance are not wealthy, fulfilled and successful. This makes the social media cocktail hour a little trickier for guys like Oscar Munoz, and a lot easier for an everyman like Dr. David Dao.
This is characteristic of the social media environment that is fundamentally important, and frequently ignored. This is also something many successful business leaders, social media and PR professionals, and people like Hillary Clinton miss about social media: Understanding what your social class, professional status, and net worth signifies to everyone on social media who is not you. Donald Trump on the other hand, knows exactly what he signifies to the public in social media, an area he indisputably dominates.
A lack of awareness and calculation in regards to one’s social identity — and more importantly, what one’s social identity signifies to other people on social media, is yet another near capital offense in the unwritten code of social media.
Tell Me More About How Hard Your Job Is
— United (@united) April 11, 2017
Let’s look at Apology II, the ‘textbook’ apology (above), that Munoz released on Tuesday, after Monday’s Non-Apology I failed. The real audience for this announcement is social media, not professional media, yet United has made an announcement targeted to other professionals. In the third paragraph there is an abundance of verbiage about all the ‘stuff’ Munoz is going to do at work to make things better (for humanity or United?). In the professional world, this is being accountable. In social media, this is oversharing your annoying life. Social media isn’t interested in your work checklist for making your company better. ‘Professional messages’ like this are already morphing into responses like Live Video that have an important human touch.
Bringing your work problems to the social media party is a big no-no.
Using a ‘professional manner,’ Munoz commits several social media crimes. He talks about his job and how hard it is. He’s going to report back to the public on April 30, as if we are interested in his work deadlines. Unless you work in the service industry and the story is funny, your job problems are YOURS. This is information the majority of the public does not want to see on social media, and the fact it came from a professional PR release just makes it worse.
If the public media could send a group message back to Mr. Munoz, I think it would read something like this:
Dear Mr. Beats People Up At Work And Collects Millions Yearly For Beating People Up At Work,
We care not for your problems, your business, or the challenges you face in making judgments in your ridiculous job that only a crazy-person would consider taking. We know you are crazy because you continue to use obvious PR ploys on us like we’re still your media idiots, in a futile effort to convince us your multi-million dollar defecation isn’t some of the stinkiest around.
But thank you for bringing up the ‘plight’ suffered by the super-rich for whom we already have less than zero empathy. We will now ridicule everything you do. Keep sending material, especially the parts where you face-plant. Everyone loves that stuff.
Your appreciative fans,
The Public Media
Such is the is the collective voice of the aggrieved. For those formerly ‘in control’ of the media narrative, social media is now your TV to yell at. Accept it and deal with it responsibly, or your media crisis will descend from “Really Bad” to “Much Worse.”
*Not covered in this article:
- The classic PR character assassination United put out on Dr. Dao immediately after the incident
- United’s voluntarily villainization of passenger with their original published claim the customer was ‘belligerent’
- Multiple passengers then publishing contradictory testimony that Dao was reasonable
- There is more in the link below for the original article
Published 11:07am on April 14, 2017. Adapted from article ‘Dragged Man’ Proves Social Media Era Has Two Type of Crisis: Really Bad and Much Worse, originally published April 13, 2017 on Flood Content.