Delta/NWA and Flight 253: A Failure to Communicate

By , 01/04/2010

Like many people today who are back in the office for the first time since before the holidays, I’ve been spending the day catching up, including going through my Google Reader. I subscribe to a number of corporate blogs, and as I got to the Delta Air Lines blog, I expected to read something – even a short post – about the attempted bombing on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it made its way to Detroit on Christmas Day.

But there was nothing about the incident on the blog, an incident which caused a ripple effect of newly enacted security measures and massive disruptions in international air travel around the world.

I went to the Delta Air Lines website, found the News section of the site and one very short official statement, “Delta Air Lines Issues Statement on Northwest Flight 253.” The official statement described a passenger who “caused a disturbance” on the flight and was restrained. The description of events is vague enough to apply to any number of types of potential “disruptive” activities, and wouldn’t necessarily lead one to believe that an attempted terrorist act had been committed. While directing “additional questions” to law enforcement, the statement goes into no additional detail about what happened, even though some of those details were already being reported by the media.

So, I checked Delta’s Twitter account, to see if additional information or context was being provided there. There’s exactly one tweet specifically about the December 25th attempted bombing:

Delta 12/25 Tweet

Now, the Delta Twitter account appears to have sat dormant from June 17th till December 22nd of 2009, when traveler outcry over U.S. domestic travel delays due to various winter storms was reaching a fever pitch. But the one tweet about the 25th simply redirects back to Delta’s website, where no additional statements about the incident have been provided since the 25th. There have been additional tweets on @DeltaAirLines advising travelers to expect delays due to new TSA regulations, but nothing specifically about the incident on the 25th.

I’d guess that there were at least three factors working against Delta’s communication efforts:

  1. The attempted bombing occurred on Christmas Day, one of the very few days of the year when almost no corporate employees are in the office. But in today’s age, it’s inconceivable that “the world’s largest airline,” a company responsible daily for hundreds of thousands of people’s lives, wouldn’t have some kind of chain of communication in place to deal with an event like this, even on Christmas Day.
  2. Delta and Northwest have been in the process of merging in the last year, and just in the last week were given government permission to fully complete the merger. There’s some confusion (for an average reader) in the company’s statement, with Delta as the company issuing the statement and the flight branded/operated as a Northwest flight. I can imagine that there’s still confusion in corporate communication operational role clarity as well. I know, as a frequent Delta/Northwest traveler, there has still been confusion on the ground. Again, I can’t imagine that a company of this size and complexity wouldn’t have negotiated a crisis communication response process as part of the merger details.
  3. From this and other articles, it appears that there’s some behind-the-scenes dissatisfaction between the Delta CEO and the government agencies responsible for airline safety. But “inside baseball” talk isn’t what the average member of the public needs or wants to hear in the aftermath of this kind of event.

Also, what I find unfortunate in this communication situation is that Delta had the two social media channels – its blog and its Twitter account – already established, had an audience eager for more information, and provided only the scant minimum of content or context. What I find particularly disconcerting about the blog is that there have been two posts since the 25th about totally innocuous content, which in the wake of the serious events of the 25th read as even more out of touch. (I imagine they were probably scheduled to post in advance, but again, when crisis happens sometimes the response calls for suspending business-as-usual activities.)

Other companies have used their social media channels in the wake of attempted terrorist attacks despite restrictions on detailed disclosure due to ongoing legal investigation. For example, look at the heartfelt message on the Marriott blog after one of its hotels in Pakistan was the target of an attempted attack in 2007, which lead to the death of a hotel employee and severe injury of another.

Thankfully, Northwest Flight 253 landed safely and disaster was averted, due in large part to the response of the flight crew and other passengers on the flight. But what a lost communication opportunity for the company to provide context, as well as show some humanity and thankfulness, for what in the end was as good an ending as could have been expected.

*Note: I’m a very frequent Delta/Northwest flier, but other than being a long-time customer have no professional ties to the company.


The Quiet Way

By , 12/09/2009
Green Bench by KennoJC

Green Bench by KennoJC

There’s an idea that crops up online from time to time, and lately it seems with more frequency: that if you don’t exist on Google, you don’t exist at all. I think part of this thought is tied to the idea of personal branding, this perceived need to stake a claim for oneself in the digital space in order to matter, to have relevance.

But there’s part of this concept I’m struggling with.

The thing is, I know lots of people that, if you were to do a Google search for them, you’d find very little – if any – information. These aren’t luddites or technophobes. These are people doing substantive, meaningful work, work that regularly has a direct impact on people’s lives. Teachers, educators, nonprofit employees, lawyers (yes, there are some lawyers who do meaningful, important work), doctors, artists… They work in what today’s age might be described as “quiet ways.” Neither they nor someone around them is documenting or sharing their every thought, action, accolade or attribute. But it doesn’t mean that they – or the work they do – is not important or crucial.

I knew someone from a previous job who was a prominent member of his community. In addition to his business and industry leadership, he gave generously to a number of causes. But his philanthropic contributions were all anonymous. His involvement in industry initiatives weren’t accompanied by fanfare. Odds are 9.9 out of 10 that you wouldn’t have ever heard of or recognize his name. His was a “quiet way.”

Maybe it’s me. Despite living in New York, I’m still a Minnesotan at heart, and there’s a general Midwesterness about not wanting to draw too much attention to oneself, or for reserving some skepticism for those who do. (Not to get too Garrison Keillor here.)

But public recognition doesn’t necessarily equal personal, or even professional, reward. And I worry what that means as I read some material with a college student audience, for example, directing them to “start building their personal brand today!”, this idea that somehow a lack of personal publicity is a measure of personal paucity.

Maybe it’s like any other kind of communication. Orators throughout history have demonstrated that there are times when words that speak the loudest are those delivered the softest. We need all types, to be sure.  And there are some jobs or positions that cry out for a louder cry. But the work and the impact are the rewards in the end, aren’t they. Aren’t they?


TweetsGiving 2009: A Very Personal Note of Thanks

By , 11/24/2009
Father & Daughter

Me & My Dad

From November 24-26 this year, people online (and off) will be taking part in TweetsGiving, a “global celebration that aims to change the world through the power of gratitude.” The way in which people give thanks takes many forms, from tweeting to giving money to attending events in cities around the world.

This is the second year of #Tweetsgiving, and it’s also the second Thanksgiving that I’ve spent without my dad. My dad passed away last year, suddenly, tragically and painfully young. The holidays are often one of the hardest times of year for people who have lost loved ones, their absence made more prominent by the rituals and traditions of the celebrations we used to share.

For much of last year, I retreated from participating in social media. My Twitter account lay dormant. Blog posts unwritten. Facebook status updates blank. It was simply too hard to care.

But starting in November of last year, I slowly began to participate again. Words started to matter. Bigger issues and questions took hold. The greater world beckoned.

I don’t know that this Thanksgiving will necessarily be easier, but it will certainly be better, and I have my community to thank for that.

For those of you I know well in real life, know well online, or even read in passing: thank you for this last year. For pulling me in, engaging me, supporting me and making me care again.

Thank you.


Regular Reading: Emails and Email Newsletters

By , 11/18/2009

autoroute à Mzelle Biscotte

autoroute à Mzelle Biscotte

Emails and email newsletters are a type of content delivery that sometimes get overlooked in recommendations for reading and staying abreast of current news, what with Twitter, blogs and other social media channels driving an increasing part of the consumption and sharing of news. Why do I *like* getting more emails in my inbox?

  1. There are some kinds of content I prefer in email form.
  2. There are some emails that provide content I wouldn’t get or find through Twitter or blogs.
  3. Well-done emails can function like a good editor, winnowing down the firehose of information into digestible, manageable pieces.

Here are a few recommendations for free emails and email newsletters that I find useful in my regular reading line-up:


  • The 6 AM Cut from FT Alphaville: Current college or graduate students often ask about financial literacy, an area that I think is crucial for communicators of all stripes to understand, at least on a basic level. I get the FT Alphaville email daily from the Financial Times, and it’s a great summary of the top business and finance stories from around the world (although with a heavier weight on U.S. and European stories).
  • Today’s Headlines from The New York Times: With a free account, it’s easy to sign up for a selection of the day’s headlines in email newsletter format. I try not to limit my categories too narrowly; I’m not the biggest sports fan, but I still like to get those headlines in the email as a way of keeping on top of various kinds of news. (I also get UrbanEye from the New York Times, a daily cultural email newsletter about topics and events in New York City.)
  • Commentz from @PRSarahEvans (with help from @aerocles): A daily email of the “top 5 stories to comment on today.” Wish you had someone that would cull Twitter or your Google Reader for the few stories you really shouldn’t miss each day? That’s essentially what Sarah and David do with Commentz.


  • Chris Brogan‘s email newsletter, Behind the Scenes. Lots of great insight and tips that you don’t get from his blog.
  • Stuart Elliot’s In Advertising weekly newsletter from The New York Times. Here’s a link to the November 16th issue as an example.


  • KD Paine‘s Measurement Standard newsletter. A wonderful resource on all things measurement-related.
  • Spaeth Communications monthly Bimbo Newsletter: The Bimbo Newsletter and top Bimbo Award “recognizes dumb public comments made during the year. The criterion for nomination is that the speaker causes the listener to believe exactly the opposite of what is said. The award is a reminder that repeating negative words only reinforces the negative message as well as misses the opportunity to convey the right message to the reader or listener.” It’s an illuminating and often hilarious round-up of how not to communicate.
  • The monthly newsletter from the McKinsey Quarterly, the business journal from McKinsey & Company.

I also get a few other newsletters about New York City or cultural topics, but these are the primary ones I receive and regularly consume for professional purposes. Are there others you find helpful? What am I forgetting?


Coca-Cola and Personal vs. Corporate Brands: A Note of History

By , 11/05/2009
Coca-Cola Cover of Time, May 15, 1950

Coca-Cola Cover of Time, May 15, 1950 (

I was in Atlanta last week for work (and a little fun), and happened to stay in a hotel across the street from the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola museum. With a little extra time one day, I managed to fit in visits to both.

I’m a reader at museums, so as I was picking my way through the historical information in the various exhibits at the World of Coca-Cola, I came across a cover of Time magazine from the 1950s. There was a note next to the cover, with a little fact stating that the Coca-Cola glass bottle was the “first commercial product” to appear on the cover of the magazine. Time had wanted Robert Woodruff, the charismatic leader of the company for more than 60 years, to appear on the cover, but according to the note at the museum, he declined, saying the company and its product came first.

This fact of history caught my attention because of the way the tensions between corporate and personal brands are being played out online. While the issues are thorny, sometimes (often?) history can be illuminating.

(For more on the subject of personal branding, here are a few blog posts from others I’ve saved on delicious.)


What is #PRStudChat?

By , 10/19/2009

This coming Wednesday, October 21 at noon ET marks the third monthly #PRStudChat, started by Deirdre Breakenridge and Valerie Simon in August this year. Deirdre (@dbreakenridge) is the moderator and Valerie (@ValerieSimon) is the host of the chats, and the next chat has a bit of a twist. The school with the most students participating in the chat will win:

  • An “in-depth conversation with public relations industry veteran Deirdre Breakenridge via Skype. The winning students will have an opportunity to pose questions and interact with one of PR’s leading professionals.”
  • “the opportunity to earn some publicity for their PR programs”
  • “a $50 American Express Gift Certificate to the students and school in order to celebrate their PR Student Chat win”

The assigned hashtag for NYU is #NYU, so if you’re an NYU student participating, please use our university hashtag during the chat.

But what exactly is #PRStudChat?

Despite the name, the chat has nothing to do with studs or hot men of PR. From the press release about this month’s chat, “#PRStudChat is a monthly, live chat session that takes place on Twitter between public relations students, practicing professionals, and educators.”

  • Twitter Chat 101: Read Valerie’s “Guide to Twitter Chats” on, with helpful information about how to participate before, during and after the chat.
  • Summaries of Past Chats: Valerie has compiled summaries of the last chats, including questions like Question 1 from September, “What happens when you no longer believe in a client or the issue you’re representing?”
  • Tools: I find What The Hashtag?! and TweetChat especially helpful for Twitter chats.

Any questions? I’d encourage the students reading to at least follow the chat, especially if you’ve never observed a Twitter chat in action. And even better, jump in and participate.


How I Use Twitter

By , 10/01/2009

I often get asked about my Twitter habits, by students and others. I spoke to a class earlier this week, and about half of the class’ 20 students had Twitter accounts, some using it more than others. But even for people who have had accounts for a little while, it can feel a bit like a foreign language. So, here are a few ways that I use Twitter, and I hope this is helpful. I’m not a Twitter power user (by any means), but so far this has worked for me.

The Tools

  • Desktop Tool: I rarely use Twitter on the website itself. Twitter is built on an open API environment, which basically means that third parties can develop applications for it. On my desktop (I’m a Mac user, both professionally and personally), I use TweetDeck. I like that I can sort and see multiple columns simultaneously. I do use the standard columns (All Friends, Mentions and Direct Messages), and I’ve also created custom columns. I have a custom “Group” that I call “Personal Contacts” (more like “people I know in real life”), and include the people I want to make sure not to miss in the full stream. I also have “Search” columns set up for the name of our firm, as well as for some of our clients. (I’ve downloaded Seesmic, another desktop application that some people like [particularly for handling multiple Twitter accounts], but I haven’t tested it much yet.)
  • Mobile Tool: Part of what has fueled Twitter’s growth is the ability to use and access it from mobile devices. I’m an iPhone user, and these days I’ve mostly been using Tweetie, more rarely using TweetDeck for iPhone. (I’m not crazy about Tweetie’s retweet [or RT] approach, but otherwise am mostly happy with it.) These applications aren’t free, but they do make using Twitter easier on the go. You can also use SMS text messages to send and receive certain content from Twitter. I have my Twitter settings set to receive Direct Messages (DM’s) also as a text message, but you should check your mobile plan to make sure that wouldn’t put you over your text message limits.
  • Other Tools and Resources: There are a LOT of tools and services for Twitter. (In fact, Laura Fitton, aka @Pistachio, just started as a resource for Twitter apps, among other things.) But, I’ve found the following particularly helpful: TweetChat (for participating in/following Twitter chats); WTHashtag?! (for figuring out what particular hashtags mean); TweepML (for sharing lists of Twitter users); and Twictionary (dictionary for Twitter; some entries are a bit ridiculous, but still helpful). For searching Twitter, I use the standard Twitter search and occasionally Twazzup. (There are other ways to search Twitter too.) For a simple way to store and search my own tweets, which is hard to do on Twitter itself, I’ve added my Twitter feed to my RSS reader (Google Reader), and have found that to be very helpful. There are many other tools, like picture sharing tools, but these are ones I use more frequently.

The Technique

How I Read: One of the things I hear most often from newer Twitter users is how overwhelming the amount of content seems, even for people following <100 people. For me, I’ve found that part of the process is learning to let go, and acknowledging that there’s no way you can read everything. No day is exactly the same, but I generally read in this way:

  1. Morning: I check Tweetie on my iPhone in the morning after I’ve scanned my email, sometime soonish after I wake up. I scan the full feed to see if there is any breaking news. I check my @replies to see if there’s anything waiting for me. And I double-check my direct messages, even though theoretically those should have come through as text messages as well.
  2. When I Get to the Office: I wait and open Tweetdeck until after I’ve read and responded to emails. Then, I spend a good amount of time going through each column. This is probably the time of day I use Twitter in the most focused way. (I also do this before I go through my Google Reader.)
  3. Throughout the Day: I keep Tweetdeck open but minimized, and resist the urge to open it too frequently. I generally check in about once an hour when I’m in the office, spending a little more time (10-15 minutes, say) over lunch and at the very end of the day, but try to set time limits for myself during those times.
  4. Night: I check once more before bed in the same way I do in the morning.

How I Write:

  1. I haven’t done a full analysis, but I’d estimate that about 1 in 10 of my tweets is personal. I use Twitter more for sharing resources, either direct links or retweets (RT) of content I think others may find useful and/or I think may have missed. I also use it to respond to and engage with people that I’m following – answering questions, engaging in discussion or commenting on something they’ve tweeted.
  2. The majority of my client work is confidential, so generally speaking, I don’t tweet about my travel. If I’m going to Chicago, say, it’d be unlikely for anyone to figure out what client I’m going to see. But if I’m traveling to a smaller destination or a place where one company dominates, you won’t be hearing about it from me.
  3. I also am a bit more careful than some I observe about writing about my personal activities. I’ve had jobs in the past where I had a few situations when someone was following me (not in the Twitter sense of “follow,” either) or paying undue attention to me, and it’s left me a little wary. What can I say, I’ve also lived in New York City long enough to take my personal safety seriously.

How I Find New People to Follow: (another common question from new Twitter users)

  1. People Who Follow Me: I don’t follow everyone back that follows me, but I do look at each one and follow most people back if they: a) are real people; b) are not spammers (who I block and sometimes report); c) relate to my areas of interest (education, communications, public relations, social media, media & journalism, etc.); d) don’t have huge numbers of followers and aren’t just trying to drive up their numbers; and e) have a photo, a bio, and appear to actually be using Twitter (I look at their numbers of tweets). Note to new users: PLEASE add a bio and photo before you start following lots of people. Most people will not follow you back until you’ve included that information.
  2. In the RT’s or in the Body of Tweets of People I Follow: If I see something interesting in a RT of someone I’m following, or if I see another user’s name mentioned in the body of the tweet, I’ll often click through to look at the original source of the tweet (or person mentioned), scan their bio and recent tweets, and decide if I want to start following them. (Note: if the other user’s name is at the very beginning of the tweet, as in an @ reply, you won’t see the message unless you’re already following that person, or if there’s some kind of punctuation mark before the @ sign (e.g. a period, comma, exclamation point, etc.). People add punctuation marks before their @ replies when they want it to appear to everyone.)
  3. Events, Conferences, and Chats: If I’m at a conference, event or participating in a chat on Twitter, I’ll often find a number of new people that I want to start following. It’s a great way to meet others.
  4. Blog Posts: As I’m reading blogs, I do pay attention if someone is mentioned in a post and there’s a link to their Twitter account.
  5. Business Cards: More and more people are adding their Twitter names (and other social media account information) to their business cards, so sometimes I find new people to follow on Twitter because I’ve met them in real life.

There are many good blog posts, presentations and other good resources about Twitter out there. I’ve bookmarked many on my Delicious site, and you can do sub-searches under posts I’ve tagged with Twitter. Also, Shel Israel‘s book Twitterville is taunting me above my computer right now, waiting to be read.

This is a fairly long post, but what else would you add? Any other tips, services or tools that you find helpful?

Note: This is the first part in a series, spurred by a few questions from a graduate student, Stephen Woodall, at Purdue. Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu matched mentors with students in her Tech 621 class, and Stephen and I are paired for the semester. I had a number of pen pals growing up (Bindi in Australia, where are you now?), so this sort of feels like having a digital pen pal.


Facebook Friend Requests: 6 Options

By , 09/24/2009


facebook by pshab

facebook by pshab

Last week, someone wrote to ask me for advice about handling a particular Facebook friend request. In discussing the options with her, I outlined the choices and thought this might be useful for others.

Whether the request is coming from a co-worker, relative or prospective employer, Facebook friend requests can sometimes be cause for pause or uncertainty. I can see the following options for handling Facebook friend requests:


  1. “Ignore” (refuse)  the request. If you select the “Ignore” button, the person requesting does not know that you’ve refused the request, but he or she can send you another request if they search for your name again. (See Facebook’s blog, “What Happens If I Ignore a Friend Request?“)
  2. Do nothing, and let the request linger without accepting or refusing. (Facebook’s terminology is a little confusing here, as “Ignoring” is really a denial, while actually ignoring is passive and doesn’t involve any action.)
  3. Send them a message. In the past this allowed the person requesting to view additional content on your profile, but I don’t believe this is the case anymore. (See “Facebook’s Trapdoor.”) It appears that this practice has changed because the alert message that used to appear no longer does. 
  4. Delete any potentially embarrassing or career limiting content from your profile, and then accept the request.
  5. Add them to a specific friend list and accept their request. Facebook has made some improvements to friend lists and privacy controls. Don’t know what a friend list is, or how to set one up? See ReadWriteWeb’s “5 Easy Steps to Stay Safe and Private on Facebook.” (This post is also a good reminder on Facebook privacy controls in general.)
  6. Accept the request.

After I talked her through the options, I found a post from Jeremiah Owyang on this topic, and he suggested an additional option: redirect the person to LinkedIn, with a note explaining why (“Help! My Boss Wants to Be My Friend on Facebook“). Jeremiah also talks about the various messages these actions might communicate.

Many people use Facebook more for personal than professional use. I’m one of them, and you won’t see a Facebook option on my “Contact” page here. However, I do have some professional contacts on Facebook, and my general rule of thumb is that everything I have on Facebook is something I’m comfortable if my mother and my boss(es) should see. But that’s fodder for a future post….

Are there other options for dealing with Facebook friend requests that I haven’t included here?


Could “Social Contagion” Affect Online Relationships Too?

By , 09/22/2009
Running lgh75

Running or... by lgh75

The cover article of last week’s New York Times Magazine, “Are Your Friends Making You Fat?” explored the “emerging science of social contagion,” the idea that our behavior is influenced in both positive and negative ways by our social environments, that “behaviors…pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses.”

The majority of the article focuses on the work of two social scientists, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, and their work in analyzing the huge amount of data from something called the Framingham Heart Study. The Framingham Heart Study is unique among medical studies because of its size, scope and duration: the National Heart Institute has been following over 15,000 people since 1948, collecting a mass of individual information both broad and deep. And for the researchers, it also importantly tracked connections by asking participants to list some of their relatives and friends as part of the study. (Christiakis and Fowler first published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years.”)

After years of mapping and analyzing the data, the scientists concluded that social ties did in fact influence certain kinds of behavior, so that if your spouse, friend or relative became obese, you had a greater likelihood of becoming obese too. (Refer to the full NEJM article for exact findings – the percentage was different for different types of relationships.) They also found that the effect played out over three degrees of connections, so your friend’s friend could also affect you.

The magazine piece does cover some of the critical responses to their work, including the general concern that amongst networks it can be difficult to prove cause versus correlation.

But, what struck me was a small bit towards the end of the piece about how some people are using Christakis and Fowler’s work to address broad-scale public health concerns using online social networks, and gives the example of a pending Facebook application to encourage people who are trying to quit smoking to take their struggle public and potentially influence others in their network of friends on Facebook.

Something a bit similar (but related to fitness and healthy living) exists on Twitter in the form of #twit2fit and it’s corresponding network on Ning (started by Jason Falls in May 2008). The article got me thinking about whether it would be possible to study the usage of #twit2fit on users health and well-being over time, and if there is a cause or correlation between usage and improved health.

What are your thoughts – do you find that sharing your goals or activities online has an impact on your potential success?


They’re Young, Have Them Tweet!

By , 09/17/2009

I came across a surprising post today on a PRSA blog (via @cubanaLAF) titled, “Status Update: Millennial Staffers Can Update Your Social Media Plans.” Lauren Fernandez and Kasey Skala (@kmskala) already have a great response post up, “There’s More to a Millennial than Updating Your Profile,” but I wanted to explore a bit further one of the misconceptions in the original PRSA post from a slightly different perspective. 

For the last almost two years, I’ve been speaking regularly to graduate students in communication and business programs about social media, as well as to clients at large companies, which has enabled me to see a bit of both sides of the coin. I’ve sometimes encountered a perception from some professionals that younger, Gen Y or Millennial people grow up with social media technology so must automatically know how to use it.  But the problem is, they don’t. That is, they may, but they’re more likely using Facebook or one of many other social media services or channels for personal use. They haven’t necessarily had the experience thinking about or working with social media in a business context and tying it to larger business or communication goals and strategies. (For more about teens on Twitter, see danah boyd’s post, “Teens Don’t Tweet…Or Do They?“)

This misperception came up with other educators in the field at the 2009 New Media Academic Summit in June, and other people I talked with voiced the same concern.

There are other problems with the original post, which Lauren and Kasey respond to further in their post. But I just wanted to highlight this particular misperception.  I think of it like this: just because I cook every day doesn’t make me a chef. Access and usage do not necessarily equate to expertise. 

What do you think?


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