The Power of the (Social Media) People

Read about United Airlines latest controversy and the public’s influence with social media.

By: Kristin Butler

 This morning I got a call from my Mother, “We changed our flight…we’re flying Jet Blue”

As I am sure you are aware, the most recent United Airlines scandal has been torn apart and criticized. Before I sat down to write this article, I got a phone call from my parents with a dialogue that seems rather familiar to the media. After seeing security officers drag a man from his seat off a United Airlines plane for not giving up his ticketed spot, many customers are no longer comfortable flying with this company, and that they don’t want to support a company that executes such actions. After getting off the phone with my parents, I knew that I had to write this article.

With technology emerging and the ability to speak freely, these conversations like the one I had with my family members are found all over social media.

If there is one thing for sure, people form thoughts rather quickly and do not withhold those opinions to themselves. Social media has turned into a forum for justice, advocacy, leisure, and global communication in ways that were previously impossible.

What does this mean? Simply, social media is now another factor in a business deal that should not be overlooked, but rather weighed the heaviest of them all. It’s not just customers telling friends their experiences with a company anymore. With tweets, Facebook updates, and the cell phone camera to quickly upload what you see, you live the experiences with those you connect with online. Sometimes these experiences bring people together, sometimes the recordings give opportunities that individuals may not have had before to see an event, but many times, the camera is used to document events that quite frankly, many do not want to be documented.

Eyewitness identification is undoubtedly malleable, as it has been researched and experimented, but what the camera brings to the witness table is revolutionary, hard evidence that does not change with time.

There is the debate of editing videos, however, and the idea that those watching something interpret it differently or can evaluate it in an inaccurate way, as well as the issue revolving around the uncertainty of what happens before someone hits record and after they end the video. And thus the defense that a video does not tell “the whole story” as told often by those at fault. Despite this, videos are still often the most credible type of source to individuals interacting with technology, and this causes companies in question to really start sweating and worry.


Conversation can turn to action. Public anger can translate into business results. For United, it already has. The CEO had released a statement that to no one’s surprise, was also ripped apart on social media. The CEO addresses the issue of “re-accommodation” when those who were angered only grew more furious, saying that “it was more than that” due to their mistreatment of an individual by dragging him off the plane. Oscar Munoz spoke about the employees who followed previously established procedures that are put in place to “deal with situations like this” and that though he does regret the situations occurrence, he speaks to those involved that he “stand[s] behind all of you,” and that he commends them for “continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.” Of course, as the days go on, the CEO has been continuously apologizing for an event that has not lost coverage in the media, saying he is “deeply disturbed” by the mistreatment.

Of course, those on social media do not agree with this CEO’s statement, and the power of social media reflects this issue, considering that in the last few days the stock for the company has dropped “as much as 6.3 percent before pairing the loss and trading 2.7 percent lower.” Due to one 30 second video, the airlines current value has fallen “by more than $750 million,” showing individuals are not only unhappy with United’s execution, but rather they are changing their spending and customer behavior. Maybe they will recover, but some customers won’t ever come back. This is the price they must pay for underestimating the power of the people on that plane and the power of the people in the media.


I’m sure United’s PR office along with Munoz realizes all they really have done is help keep the fire burning, but there is a factor that they must realize cannot be ignored, as well as a lesson for all of you when you put content out on the internet.

That video, as well as its responses, will always be online. It will always taint their image. United’s PR team must work to get to where they were before this. They have lost many loyal people, and it is certain many will not come back. You cannot always fix what is broken, and that is something United must understand as they attempt damage control. The pieces won’t ever fit back together perfectly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to get as close as you can. Will United go out of business or suffer traumatic hits due to this 30-second video? Probably not. Should United find a revolutionary way to bounce back by using social media, the very thing that tore them down, to somehow build them back up? Sure, but who knows if that’s something that the company is even capable of accomplishing.

The lesson social media has taught us? United has learned the hard way, to never underestimate the power of social media, especially with business relations, but anyone who is reading this right now can take away lessons without consequences like the “beloved” third largest airline company has this week. We have always been watched, analyzed, recorded, and judged, but now more than ever we are expected to be held accountable for our actions.

Use this technology to your advantage. Find a way to let it build up your business (or yourself) and thrive. Don’t be afraid of the abilities we have in this age, take it all and use it in the most beneficial way possible. Oh, and, don’t do what United mistakenly did–learn from the company’s mistakes so you don’t have to experience them yourself, and don’t ever do anything in the public eye that you wouldn’t mind recorded, documented, or observed. The internet can be your best friend or your worst enemy, so be careful, and always be social media smart.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s