At first glance, Steven Slater seems like a total crackpot—cursing out a passenger on the intercom and snagging a few beers on the way to a fun-house exit on the inflatable emergency slide (admit it, haven’t you always wanted to slide down that thing yourself?).
But we’re in the era of social media now, so there are breadcrumbs in the forest that lead us to a fuller explanation of who Slater is and why he did what he did. Valleywag did a great piece on the trail of anguish Slater left on a social media site called Airliners.net about how airlines’ absurd baggage fees had caused an explosion in carry-on baggage that pits passengers against crew and puts everyone in danger.
Social media fills in the background to the blowup
Thanks to the site, we discover that Slater has loved flying since he was a kid. His father was an airline pilot and he waxed poetic about seeing planes take off. His posts chronicle the sweeping arc of frustration felt by a veteran flight attendant (he has been flying since 1990) over the steady decline of an industry that he clearly loves.
Following the trail of bread crumbs leads us to a caring, thoughtful person. Of course, he shouldn’t have done what he did, but it’s clear that his slide into the sunset is built on a foundation of heartfelt frustration rather than a crackpot’s whim.
Even the mighty leave a trail
From the yin of Slater we have the yang of Mark Hurd’s implosion at HP. It’s difficult to tell exactly what went on between Hurd and Jodie Fisher, but it isn’t hard to find a breadcrumb trail of what people of HP thought of him. And in the wake of his firing, that’s exactly what journalists and their audiences were interested in knowing. When the mighty fall, we all want to know what those involved really thought about the powerful icons.
You can do that on a social media site called Glassdoor. Go there and search on HP, and you can see that as of today anyway, employees are dissatisfied. And until Hurd was fired, his picture went next to that 2.4 out of 5 rating. The first review I saw listed under the search was entitled, “OK to work for, but watch your back.” Nothing like faint praise.
The data is available to pass judgment
In a piece on SiliconValley.com, they interviewed the CEO of Glassdoor, who was able to offer an assessment of Hurd’s reign based on over 1000 reviews of people who work there. As a researcher, I know that that is a pretty respectable survey sample. And since Glassdoor is a site with a higher purpose than ranting about your employer (people go there looking for job postings and to get a sense of the going salaries in their professions) it’s likely that it represents a fair cross section of HP employees, rather than just the angry ones.
The information from a social site like this changes how journalists can write about a huge company like HP. Rather than trying to craft an objective view of what HP employees thought of Hurd based on a handful of interviews with a few (possibly disgruntled) ex-employees, the reporter is able to build a credible case for the fact that, as it says on the headline, “Few HP workers shed a tear for Hurd.”
So what can we take away from all this as B2B marketing professionals? Here are a few thoughts:
- We must monitor what’s being said about our companies online. The trajectory of Slater’s postings look a lot like the things that customers say about our complex B2B products and services, which have a much longer arc of relationship than B2C. Our customers aren’t going to do a United breaks guitars on us. They are much more likely to build a reasoned head of steam over a long period in places like message boards.
Longtime customers look especially like Slater. They may have come on board at a time when your products and services offered more than they do now or worked differently. Like Slater, their expectations may be born of an entirely different era that they think was “better” than today. We need to keep track of the arc of sentiment and reach out to these customers before the blowup.
- We must be able to engage with customers through social media. It isn’t enough to discover that customers are mad at us online. We need a process and people for reaching out to them. Imagine if someone at JetBlue had reached out to Slater based on his postings and asked him to talk about his growing frustrations? He certainly wouldn’t be facing federal charges and an end to a long career. Similarly, there are many ways we can intervene in our B2B customers’ frustrations. We can invite them to talk with an internal SME, create a session about the issue at the next user conference and invite to attend, etc.
What do you think? What else do we need to do?