A mother is stopped at airport security and searched by the TSA, in the process her son is taken from her by the security agents. Her son is shortly returned, unharmed, but the damage is done because the mother is a mommyblogger and she tells the story on her blog causing indignation and further eroding the relationship that air travelers have with the TSA.
And here is where the story gets interesting and why I am writing about it. For the TSA this is a lot less of a problem than it would be for a public, service oriented company which makes it event more amazing that the TSA responded and responded well. I’m not going to get into any she said/ they said. I am only saying that the TSA executed a perfect social media damage control that I’ll be using as a case study in the future. Here’s what they did right:
- They responded quickly – their response was up the same day as the post on MyBottlesUp.com so that there was less chance of the accusation being reported without the TSA’s side being told.
- Their post was well named – MyBottlesUp.com’s post is named “TSA Agents Took My Son” and the TSA named their post “Response to ‘TSA Agents Took My Son.'” Thus the two posts will be linked in search engines and people who search and find MyBottlesUp’s charge will find the TSA’s rebuttal.
- They sounded human – in the post they aren’t immediately defensive about the accusation, instead they empathize with the woman’s situation “As a father of two small children, I empathized with her about the alleged circumstances” then they defend the actions of the TSA agents. It may be only a couple lines of the post, but it goes a long way.
- They did not get petty – in the TSA’s response they clearly address the most important claim, that the mother was separated from her child. There are other inconsistencies between the mother’s description of the event and what is seen in the video, but the TSA does not do a point by point rebuttal. They have dealt with the most serious issue and cast doubt on the rest.
- They used media – a picture speaks a thousand words, video says even more. The video of the encounter that the TSA has on their blog is not only great evidence, it draws the visitor in to watch, become engaged and draw their own conclusions. I even think that the lack of audio in the secturity camera footage works to the TSA’s benefit.
- They allowed the message to spread – a couple days later videos of the encounter were posted by the TSA on YouTube and thus is embeddable by anyone who writes about this story therefore spreading the TSA’s best evidence about what happened that day
- They allow comments – some of the comments are anti-TSA, but most are positive and further the TSA’s case. By allowing comments they communicate that they are open to feedback and willing to listen. The fact that MyBottlesUp removed comments from the blog, while understandable for her sanity, projects that the comments are event less supportive than they probably are.
- They did not link to their accuser – the only link back to MyBottlesUp.com is in the comments. It’s a little thing, and some might disagree about the tactic, but I think that not linking to MyBottlesUp is the right thing to do because it doesn’t hand readers off to her side of the story, doesn’t give her any link juice and spares her from any further publicity.
I do not know enough about the situation to say what actually happened, who is right or who is wrong, and present these lessons from the TSA’s response as a case study, not approval for them or condemnation of MyBottlesUp. Travel is stressful and even more so when you are with small children and have to look after their safety and impact on other travelers. I have been there. The security in place at airports can be confusing, difficult and either reassuring, maddeningly frustrating or scary depending on how it is run. Finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, the husband of a co-worker of mine at a previous job worked for the TSA.