The recent Steven Slater/Jet Blue "Beer Slide" saga has had everyone in a tizzy lately; especially the media, JetBlue fans, executives at JetBlue who are normally quite chatty on the social Web, and their lawyers. It appears that their legal counsel prompted Jet Blue's silence in the early aftermath of the incident. Three cheers for the step-away-from-the-microphone advice during the initial brouhaha. In this case it turned out to be great advice.
Despite the negative squawking that penetrated the net - Where are they? Why aren't they telling us what's going on? - JetBlue pulled away from business as usual on the social Web until they gathered the essence and then posted a brief, but highly effective, entry on their corporate blog, BlueTales. They presented a side of the story with a compassionate, yet lighthearted, persona addressing the issues they were facing. They asked their online stakeholders to hold on.
In a simple blog post, they covered the issue with transparency -at least as much as legal considerations would allow at this early stage of the investigation- and the blog tool was the perfect delivery channel. (Note: they had already established a loyal following - see Lesson Two)
In response to the blog post (193 comments so far), here's what a few readers had to say
Okay, okay, so we don't expect law firm clients to be in love with their law firms in the same way they might love their preferred airline. BUT, take for example today's headline story on the National Law Journal site.
Hunton & Williams has been hit with a $150 million lawsuit in Wisconsin claiming that the law firm maliciously squeezed a broker out of a contract and should pay up for the company's losses.
The Richmond, Va.-based law firm issued a statement through a spokeswoman in response to the action. "This suit was filed by an adversary of one of our clients," it said. "These allegations have no merit, and we plan to vigorously defend against them." [Emphasis added]
What if, in a circumstance like this, there was a social channel (blog, website, discussion board, Facebook page, whatever) where the law firm laid out, after careful examination and with some transparency, the situation to the extent allowed by ethics and privilege? What if loyal clients added their comments? How would that impact the reputation of the law firm? How would that impact the clients' perception that their voices mattered? How would it give readers what they wanted to hear and give them understanding?
Before you say, "noooo way would we open up the pipes and let people trash us," I say, why is that? Why do you think you'd get trashed? Don't you know you have clients who really do depend on you? Sure there might be people who would use the opportunity to grind an ax, but I'm going to take a guess that, over all, sophisticated readers would see right through that. Especially if you were being transparent, i.e. human, rational, reasonable business professionals who practice law and deliver value to clients.
Read about lessons two and three on the Virtual Marketing Officer Blog.