One of the most interesting (and useful!) uses of social media during the recent snow-related air traffic disruption in Europe has been that of Dutch airline KLM, using Twitter to communicate with passengers, not only to inform and receive feedback but also to take specific action to mitigate the effects of the crisis.
KLM (@klm on Twitter) started taking rebooking requests from stranded passengers and notifying them of their new schedules.
Here you can find some examples:
The procedure is not without its faults, and one of them is privacy, private information and details of flight itineraries were being aired on Twitter for everyone to see.
When I was monitoring the KLM stream to write this post, I could even see a personal acquaintance tweeting his details to the airline, then a few minutes after that, KLM confirming new flight details to him, but with a typo, I quickly pointed this error to the airline and then got in touch with my friend too in order to let him know...this is absolutely powerful stuff! I was participating in the rescheduling of a flight plan from my own desk miles away from the airport where all this was taking place!
This obviously raises some interesting questions about privacy: as I could see what was going on, so did millions of other people...this is the reason KLM was also asking passengers to DM (direct message) the company (also through Twitter) in order to make communications private, however, you can only DM people on Twitter if you follow each other, something easy to do but that requires some coordination.
In any case, it seemed that people were valuing more the convenience of being able to sort out their travel schedule than any lack of privacy. In any case, and I guess in order to avoid any legal or security problems, KLM posted a note on its Facebook profile shortly after announcing that it was going to remove all references to private information from its Twitter stream...
In summary, a curious situation and, setting legal implications aside, a possible case study of the trade-off, privacy vs. convenience, that people have to do when engaging in conversation in social networks: if you keep too much information private, your presence in social networks loses its "raison d'être", as you will have problem sharing and communicating, on the other hand, it is necessary that you have a choice on what information you keep to yourself...
While I am finishing to write this post I realize that even Twitter has some limits:
But, in any case, kudos to KLM for understanding the power of Twitter and going the extra-mile in customer service!
What is sure is that air travel disruption is proving a test-ground for social media in its crisis-management function!