The Global Cubicle, Social Media, and Frozen Kittens

What would you do in this situation? You’re kitten-sitting for a friend. You have to go out for a while, so you leave cute little Snickers by himself for a while. But unbeknownst to you, you failed to close the door all the way when you left. While you were gone, poor Snickers succumbed to the cold. You come home to a Snickers icicle. You tell your friend, and she’s understandably distraught.

Do you:

  1. Offer your friend $2,900 to cover the cost of the kitten, plus an additional $290 to cover expenses, including the cost of keeping her poor Snickers on ice until the ground is warm enough for a proper burial.
  2. Apologize profusely, surprise your friend with an adorable replacement kitten, and also do something special for your friend you know she will like. Perhaps you conduct a touching ceremony for poor Snickers, or maybe you get your friend a chocolate cake with a picture of Snickers on it, because you know she loves chocolate cake.
  3. Offer your friend $50 and a free plane ticket (domestic economy, of course), and cross your fingers your friend doesn’t sue you before the whole thing blows over.
  4. Pick option A, then change your mind and go with option C.

Chances are, you probably selected B. Option A isn’t that bad either, but it does put an excessive emphasis on money. Not only does it cost you the most, but all that money probably won’t make your friend feel a whole lot better, although keeping Snickers frozen is a thoughtful gesture.

Nobody would pick C, right? It’s crass and thoughtless. And D? That one must be a joke. It’s not just thoughtless, it’s cruel.

Unfortunately, Snickers’ sad story is very true. Delta Airlines was the perpetrator, when a cargo door didn’t close properly. And which option did they select?

Option D, of course.

Social Media to the Rescue?

Full disclosure: I’m Diamond Medallion with Delta. I’m a big fan. In fact, I’m such a big fan, I’m even a fan of their Facebook page. So when the story of frozen Snickers hit the Web, I went to Delta’s page to see how they were handling the situation.

Their response? They posted a status update about how they’re dropping expiration dates on unused SkyMiles. Nary a peep about Snickers.

From Delta, that is. Their Facebook community is another matter. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that Delta’s fan base is up in arms about Delta’s poor handling of the Snickers situation.

Clearly, Delta made a number of mistakes here. We could go on and on about how Delta’s PR backfired, how they’re appearing crass and cruel, how they’re dropping the ball with their Facebook strategy. But there’s a bigger picture here—a lesson that every large organization should learn. And it’s not about Social Media, although the lesson every enterprise must learn is a critical part of any effective Social Media strategy.

Enterprises as Global Cubicles

Delta Airlines, like any other enterprise, is a corporation that consists of people. Human beings who go to work every day, not only to earn money but also to join together to support the mission of their employer. In Delta’s case, getting airplane passengers to their destinations safely and efficiently.

I haven’t spoken to a Delta employee about Snickers (I would have, but I’m not flying this week). But I would bet money that if I posed the question above with the same four responses to them, most Delta employees would choose B, with A in second place. No Delta employee, put into a situation where they were kitten-sitting for a friend, would select C or D.

So why did Delta the corporation select D?

The internal team (PR? Legal?) responsible for such decisions was thinking like a big company, not like a human being. Snickers the kitten was bad PR, and what do you do with bad PR? Damage control. Pay Snickers’ owner the least you can to keep her from suing, and then hope the whole thing blows over. Since after all, that’s usually the best, least expensive way to deal with bad PR—wait for it to blow over.

But what if that same team decided not to think like a big company with a PR problem, but rather like a person who made a mistake and accidentally let a friend’s kitten freeze to death? What if Delta had selected B instead?

Their actions wouldn’t be quite the same as one friend making up the loss to another, as no one at Delta knew Snickers’ owner personally. But could Delta do something thoughtful, like apologizing profusely, getting her a replacement kitten or giving her a special gift? Of course they could. When a company’s mistake leads to a loss of monetary value, say when they break something, then monetary compensation is appropriate. But hey, this is a dead kitten we’re talking about here. The appropriate response is thoughtful and apologetic, not crass and cruel.

The ZapThink Take

What big companies forget about Social Media is that it’s not about the Media, it’s about the Social. Delta’s inhumane response to the Snickers debacle was only amplified by their refusal to deal with it on Facebook. Why? Because they’re treating Facebook as a PR channel, instead of a way to have human conversations with their customers.

The challenge Delta faces is not how best to leverage Social Media, but rather how to rethink what it means to be a large organization made up of people. Enterprises who get this transformation right are able to position themselves as working with their customers to achieve common goals: the proverbial win-win situation. Social Media are an enabler of this change, but for those enterprises who are unwilling or unable to perform this difficult transformation, Social Media only amplify the organization’s shortcomings.

The name ZapThink gives to this transformation is the Global Cubicle, one of the five Supertrends that make up our ZapThink 2020 vision. Each Supertrend consists of a number of interrelated trends. The Global Cubicle includes not just Social Media, but also the virtual enterprise, Generation Y in the workplace, ubiquitous computing, and more.

The ZapThink 2020 vision is all about transformation. Changing how large organizations do business in order to succeed in the next decade. Technology is an enabler, a central part of the ZapThink 2020 story, but ZapThink 2020 doesn’t begin with technology, it begins with organizational change.

Expecting changing technology to change human behavior is an elementary mistake. If your organization’s Social Media strategy consists of issuing press releases on Facebook, you’re missing the boat. Someday, there will be a Snickers in your future. How will you react?