United Airlines and the Banned Leggings

One simple little tweet from an observer set off a fire storm of social media. The problem is that the tweet didn't contain all of the facts...a problem du jour with our news cycles and social media commentary.

In this case, the observer watched two young girls turned away at the gate from a United Airlines flight because they were wearing leggings. So she tweeted about it. United responded pretty quickly.

But neither party at first acknowledged that the girls and their family were flying for free, as part of an employee benefit program. And that said program comes with a dress code to maintain the image of the United brand and its employees. But that part of the story didn't come out in the beginning.

So social media took over.

Now we can argue that the policy makes no sense. But there is a policy in place, as part of the brand guidelines for United. And the employee(s) were simply following policy. And we know for a fact that airline employees are scrutinized for their behavior and adherence to policy.

The problem is that United Airlines didn't get in front of the controversy fast enough to explain the policy, outdated or not.

So social media took over.

There's a lesson to be learned here, well written in this article on Entrepreneur, where I too am quoted. Click here.

United has since gone on to explain itself, although hasn't spoken about revising the dress code to my knowledge. And that's their choice as a brand. But Delta did have something to say:

In the era of social media where anyone's observations can be quickly picked up to become news and a crisis, it's vitally important for brands to not only monitor what's being said but to then proactively communicate with transparency and honesty to avoid damaging their own reputation.

A lesson learned for us all.

What's your experience? JIM