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Corporate Social Media Gone Bad: Spirit Airlines has no Spirit afterall

9 May 2012
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Spirit Airlines Airbus A319

Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never had a problem with Spirit Air. In fact, I always used to think of them as the cheap solution to getting back home to see family in Boston, MA when I was living in Myrtle Beach, SC; among other places I have flown successfully to and from using Spirit Air. I was irritated by the new baggage costs added onto tickets but figured they had to find a loophole eventually to their insanely cheap ticket prices.

Just as I was trying to convince my friend in Boston that she needs to hurry up and book her ticket before the Spirit Air sale was finished, she responded “I have to Boycott Spirit Air.” After asking her why, I quickly realized all I had to do was look at the recent news. The first headline I saw was a Fox News article reading: Spirit Airlines’ final answer to dying Vietnam vet seeking ticket refund: No.

Fox News reported:
The update from company spokeswoman Misty Pinson, when asked Monday if the company had reconsidered, appears to have grounded any hope that Jerry Meekins, 76, of Clearwater, Fla., might get his money back. Meekins bought the ticket to Atlantic City last month so he could see his daughter before she had surgery of her own. But when his esophageal cancer left his immune system too ravaged for travel, all the airline offered him was another ticket.

“What are they going to do?” Meekins asked the Tampa Bay Times. “Fly my casket up to Atlantic City?”

The “Boycott Spirit Airlines” Facebook Page which was initially created in 2010 when Spirit Air started charging for checked baggage, went from a mere 700 fans before the incident to over 41,000 today. Outraged military personnel, war veterans and sympathetic civilians alike have come out to support this dying man, who simply wanted a refund for the purpose of donating it towards Wounded Warriors.

The whole blunder is a classic example of how fast word spreads through social media and the importance of making the right decision at the right time, especially with today’s technology available for everyone to share their thoughts instantly about a situation. “The spirit airlines debacle is a learning opportunity for other companies struggling with social media,” said John Souza, Social Media Marketing founder.

Marketwatch.com reported:
“Social media requires brands to act quickly and decisively or risk losing money and customers,” said John Souza, founder of Social Media Marketing University (SMMU). “Your brand can be severely tarnished in a matter of hours, and without timely action, it can be difficult to undo the damage.”

About a week after the whole situation took place, Spirit Airlines CEO grew a heart and decided to go against their ‘strict no-refund policy’ in attempts to clean up the now tarnished reputation the airline has created for itself in a matter of days. On Friday, Spirit Airline’s CEO, Ben Baldanza, pledged to personally refund Meekins, the former Marine, his $197 airfare. In addition, Spirit Air donated $5,000 towards Wounded Warriors.

Is the effort ‘too little too late’ though? Scanning over the recent posts on the Facebook Page you can find dozens of articles about Spirit Air saying ‘no’ to a terminally ill Vietnam Veteran, his photo and videos plastered on the wall of the page. One person even reported on the Nasdaq decline throughout the day one day, which was continually worsening.

The publicity of Spirit Airline’s CEO changing his mind about refunding the ticket  isn’t nearly as widespread as the brutal decision they made in the first place. Companies large and small alike should take this as a lesson of how fast word spreads.

Marketwatch.com reported:
“Incidents like these are learning opportunities for other companies that are still struggling to adapt to the growth and speed of social media and the impact its having on brands’ reputations,” said Souza. “Social media isn’t just a platform for consumers to vocalize their concerns. It’s a vital tool for businesses to use to control how they are perceived, build relationships with customers, increase awareness and listen proactively.”

In the ‘Spirit’ of Spirit Air (or lack of…), the importance of social media continues to reign throughout case study upon case study of not only ultimate failure, but overwhelming success as well. Next time a corporation does wrong by its consumers (or right), they should be well aware that the tools of destruction (or improvement) are at their fingertips. How the business chooses to respond can be the deciding factor of a company’s potential growth spurt or downward spiral.

 

These opinions are my own and not representative of SayItSocial.

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About Lauren Formalarie

Lauren Formalarie is a Project Manager and Trainer at SayItSocial, focusing on digital marketing strategy and project development as well as live, virtual and eLearning training initiatives.

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