A funny thing happened on my way to SXSW. I was at the United Airlines gate at Dulles with a confirmed ticket, waiting for my seat assignment. Everyone in the boarding area was very clearly bound for SXSW. My colleague Rohit boarded with his First Class cohorts and I said I would see him in Austin. And then they closed the doors and 4 of us were left on the wrong side of the door assaulting the gate agent. Her story was that they had asked for volunteers and not gotten any, so they randomly bumped 4 of us. I did not hear her ask for volunteers once, but I could have missed it. We were advised to go to Customer Service to find out our options.
In line at Customer Service, we bonded. Turns out we’re all in the digital biz – unsurprising given where the plane was headed – and all blog. It made me start thinking that instead of ranking customers randomly or based on status, should brands think about the risk of pissing off people with all manner of social media knowhow because of the risk they pose?
Case in point, I was packing my brand new Flipcam and interviewed my new friends from September Third, Capital Gig, and PBS.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/mGGI9FcwbfU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
When we discovered there was only 1 seat to get to Austin tonight (through Denver which is NOT on the way), we actually had a discussion as to which one of us should get it – that’s pretty bonded for 4 strangers, hence me borrowing from lost and titling this post the “United 4″. Long story short, I couldn’t get to Austin in time to make it worth the trip, so I spent the next 2 hours in 3 different lines: One line to get a free ticket & taxi voucher to get home, one line to get my trip refunded in full, and another line to try to get my bag (which went to Austin with Rohit) to be sent back to DC and hopefully delivered to my home later on tonight.
You could look at a planeful of blogging and vlogging geeks as a risk or an opportunity.
Half-empty perspective – if you do something assinine like overbook and then not make any effort to equalize the situation with volunteers, you are going to seriously piss off some very vocal people. Net? Make sure you don’t make anyone angry.
Half-full perspective – why not use the Austin flights as the chance to pilot new programs, put free copies of Wired in the seats, hold in-flight focus groups about service, play music, toss around a beach ball, pilot wireless, or do anything remarkable? Heck, you could do something groundbreaking like serving actual in-flight sustenance. If you do, these people will capture it and pass it on and reflect on you positively. They are predisposed to share.
But whatever you do, let them get on the freaking plane.
Note: Vlog superstar Adriana Gascoigne will now be taking my place co-hosting the core conversation 10 Easy Ways to Piss off a Blogger at SXSW on Sunday at 11:30. Check them out!