A great quick appropriate response to blogger outrage

by David Spark on October 18, 2009

So often when we see social media stories that involve corporate outrage it’s usually the organization that falters. The swift and nimble bloggers who often who have no financial, corporate, or government responsibility can quickly tell a tale that will strike a chord with the community and drum up outrage. If the organization is too slow to respond, the  community will have developed and defined their truth of the story. And that response must be quick, within hours, maybe even minutes…not days.

Such was the case of the now notorious and passionate “TSA Agents Took My Son” blog post in which a mommy blogger, Nic, tells a tale of how TSA agents took her 16 month old son, Jackson, as they were going through airport security. The post begins, “As I sit and write this post, 24 hours after this event took place, my hands still shake… with rage and with terror.”

When a story opens like that, you’re compelled to read, and you can also probably expect some melodrama. An aspect that the blogger Nic recognizes as she asks and answers her own questions. From her later apology to the post:

am i a dramatic writer? most definitely.

did my son and i suffer a traumatic experience? absolutely.

was my post written when i was extremely emotional? yes.

The post goes on to tell a tale of how a mother tried to reasonably negotiate with TSA agents who wouldn’t listen to her and that drove her to using profanity against the agents. She kept harping on a mother’s worst fear, having your son taken away. It was very heavy handed.

Nic posted her incendiary story on Friday, October 16th, and the blogging and Twitter community got wind of it quickly, as did the TSA who probably is tracking mentions of its organization on Twitter. Smartly, the TSA wanted to squelch this negative story as quickly as possible so they responded quickly with a post of their own (Response to “TSA Agents Took My Son”) also posted Friday, October 16th. In the 15 minute long video (by time stamp. It appears one portion at the beginning has been removed) you can see Nic and Jackson traveling through airport security and the agents never take or separate her from her son.

UPDATE (10/19/09): A lot of people noticed the edit at the beginning of the video so the TSA went one step further and posted all nine video feeds in their entirety. They were posted at 7pm on Sunday night. It’s all on the same post.

TSA Video

As of writing this post there are 226 comments on the TSA’s response. The comments range from understanding the tough job TSA has to do, to appreciating that they posted the video, to thinking the woman is a liar, to still arguing with the TSA that they can use video to defend their actions but travelers can’t record their actions.

In general though the response is very positive to the TSA. They’re usually seen as the bad guys and this blog post could have been more evidence to hate them, but they smartly did the following:

  1. They responded quickly, on the same day.
  2. Provided their own video evidence of the woman’s story, thereby letting the viewer see that her story had no merit.
  3. Acknowledged that the accusations would be harmful if true.
  4. Posted the response on their blog and allowed for comments.

In the FlyerTalk Forum, community member ScottC notes, “A government agency pulling in their public affairs staff (albeit lowly bloggers) on a Friday night & a weekend to conduct an aggressive rebuttal counterattack is pretty extraordinary.” Their response was stamped 8:43pm on a Friday night. That’s quite unusual. In traditional PR parlance it’s best to break bad news late on a Friday and let it die out over the weekend. But as we know with Internet communications, that weekend can be used to build the story against you.

In response to the TSA’s video, Nic, author of the original incendiary post, apologized, yet claimed that portions of her story were edited out of the TSA’s video.

Unfortunately for Nic, she’s manic, as evidenced by numerous red flags.

  • She repeatedly announced that she only had 45 minutes to catch her flight. She started to panic and announced that she was going to miss her flight and that she would be stuck in Atlanta. Who knows when there will be another flight to Baltimore, she worried.
  • She admits in her bio that while she’s not an alcoholic she does like to drink wine to relieve the pressure of her life. She wears it as a badge as the name of her blog is “My Bottle’s Up” which shows an image of her holding a bottle of milk for her baby and a glass of wine for herself.
  • mybottlesuplogo

  • She started swearing at the TSA agents.
  • She keeps an emergency Xanax with her at all times.

She had tons of comments on her apology post calling her liar of which she’s removed all of them. While I appreciate not wanting to keep comments on your own blog that call you a liar, she has not acknowledged that she has removed all those comments.

Bloggers have to be wary of their own brand

We are repeatedly being told in these days of social media and blogging that we all have the power to respond and that companies need to be careful of the powerful community that has a voice. But rarely is it discussed as to how a blogger’s personal brand can be tarnished if they make false accusations. While this woman still holds true to her story, claiming that she’ll iron the issues out with the TSA, the evidence against her is damning. And in just one day the well known “court of public opinion” has switched from being on her side to the TSA’s side. I’m sure when she wrote this story she never thought that any of this vitriol could come back and harm her, but it has. This is a warning to all other bloggers who choose to go out and attack an organization. They need to realize that they’re opening themselves up for scrutiny as well.

This is a great case study for companies and bloggers to study and analyze. Swift open response is effective for companies, and if you’re a blogger making an accusation, you must be ready to accept the magnifying glass that will be placed on you in return.

To read another good company response to negative criticism, read my piece on the Intertainment Media blog, “Is it better to have people angry with you than not talking about you at all?”

A tip of the hat to my friend Josh Weinberg of Digital Life Consulting Group who alerted me to this story.

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