JetBlue is missing the boat by ignoring some conversational media basics to have ready for a disaster

Following up to the link in my sidebar blog about JetBlue’s abysmal response to the week of woes it has caused its passengers, here’s a link to Dan Gilmore’s observation that the airline missed a powerful and effective means of communicating with passengers by ignoring the potential of their website during the operational meltdown. Says Dan, “By not using the site the way they’re using the traditional media, Neeleman and his colleagues at JetBlue are missing a major opportunity.”

I agree with Dan. JetBlue’s use of their website to communicate with customers has been pathetic. (Granted, not using their website was the least of JetBlue’s sins of the past week.) Dan is correct in noting that conversational media features and approaches on its web presence would have greatly helped the company communicate with passengers during the turmoil that began with bad weather and was exacerbated by JetBlue’s operational deficiencies.

Those of us who have witnessed and chronicled the way blogs (and wikis and forums, etc.) can be used during times of crises to facilitate the organization of and dissemination of information are especially baffled when a company so astute in many ways, totally blows the obvious. Dear JetBlue: You’re an airline. Don’t you have a disaster plan in place? Doesn’t that plan include using the website? Obviously not. But then, how many institutions (companies, universities, governmental agencies) have conversational and social media tools and approaches factored into their disaster planning?

Ironic sidenote #1: I’ve praised JetBlue for providing free Wifi in several of its larger terminals, especially JFK. One of the reasons I have enjoyed flying on JetBlue is the saturation of media options they provide on the planes and in the waiting areas. That no one in the company has ever thought that those media channels (satellite TV and radio and free wifi) could be channels of real-time communication with their passengers is an astounding oversight. (However, they get higher marks than airlines who don’t provide such media in the first place).

Ironic sidenote #2: I once blogged how progressive I thought JetBlue executives were for not pulling the plug on its satellite feed of cable news coverage of an airplane that was preparing for an emergency landing. In other words, the passengers on the plane were watching coverage of their own emergency landing. I praised JetBlue because the talking heads on TV were all agreeing that the likelihood of a crash was remote: the coverage would be reassuring to me if I were on the plane. After this past week, I’m convinced that the airline didn’t pull the feed because no one thought about it.

Observation #1: I doubt Southwest’s (the airline JetBlue wants to emulate) operations would ever meltdown the way JetBlue did last week, however, I do know if something like that happens, it will likely result in a stream of posts and comments on their weblog from the army of employee “volunteers” and passengers who hang out there. The audience on that blog is slowly growing over time and the company’s employees and management are slowly learning how to feel comfortable taking their culture of open communication online. When the day comes and the topic is not “how great we are” and “how much I love SWA,” all of the positive whuffie it is earning today will be critical in the airline having a credible means of talking directly with its customers.

Observation #2: If you are a major company and you have customers, adding conversational media to your website is no longer an option. When you need such a channel — and the day will come when you do — it will be too late to decide what your strategy should be.

Bonus link: Paul Kedrosky points out another irony: JetBlue’s CEO David Neeleman has a blog that hasn’t been updated since February 1.

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About Rex Hammock

Founder/ceo of Hammock Inc., the customer media and content company based in Nashville, Tenn. Creator of and head-helper at SmallBusiness.com.
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