Social Media: A Double-Edged Sword

Post date: May 9, 2017 5:58:25 PM

We are in the final stretch of the school year, and the seniors are frantically making sure they have everything lined up for graduation. That's bad news for me as my grading inbox suddenly gets much more busy. The good news? I have more time to write while I wait for that inbox to fill up.

In economics last semester, we looked at the standard business cycle and discussed what things might contribute to the expansion and regression of businesses. One item that was not discussed in an incredible amount of detail was the role of social media, especially with very large corporations. Most commonly, these businesses rely on social media to advertise their services, gain new, younger clients, disseminate vital information, and amidst all of this, appear more human. Many companies have relied on their social media tools in a humorous fashion, tweeting memes and responding to individual users in the perpetuation of troll wars.

Lately, we have seen the other edge of the sword with fair frequency...

...especially with some major airlines. United and Delta have had quite the month of damage control. And just today, Spirit Airlines had to deal with fights breaking out in their Fort Lauderdale terminal. At the center of all of these events is social media. Bystander photos and videos have been pouring through these outlets, lending credible support to the victims and rarely reinforcing the actions of the airlines and their subsidiaries.

In the business sense, this is a nightmare scenario. Many people may think twice before pursuing a career in public relations. While most would laud the increased accountability, few others would bemoan the constant struggle to keep a clean sheet. Even just 10 or 15 years ago, these incidents would likely have not caused too much of a fuss. Other than America's Funniest Home Videos veterans, very few people were in the habit of capturing every single moment on their smart phones. Even still, very rarely would anyone be exposed via social media. Today, you too can be an effective muckraker.

We have to ask ourselves a couple of questions about the role of social media and the standard business model:

  1. How much credibility do we give to excerpted photos and videos taken by passersby?
  2. How does a business account for these incidents, both financially and aesthetically?

I want to also throw my hat in the ring here, especially as I would consider myself a frequent flier. I believe that media coverage of these incidents, like many other things, sensationalizes the issue. These incidents are relatively rare, and though I have witnessed several disgruntled passengers in my travels, I have never seen anything along the scope or magnitude of what has been published over the past month. This just happens to be the trendy topic.

I don't think these observations devalue the severity in what has happened in any way. After all, it would be foolish for airlines in 2017 to treat these problems the same way as they did in 1997. Social media creates a much larger, more informative world. But with this comes more accountability and responsibility, and it's adapt or perish.