The saddest part of this little “lesson”? The fact that Zappos, the one who obviously “gets” social media, probably paid nothing to a media consulting firm, while United Airlines, the villian in the story, almost certainly hired a firm with “social networking” experts and spent a ton of cash to get a “customer engagement platform” based on a “fully integrated social media presence with measurable influence indicators.” And they probably sent a half dozen people to conferences held by firms with little or no actual experience.
Here’s the secret to making “social media” work. You can pay a lot and never get this information, or I can give it to you now for free. Hire net natives. Live on the net. Don’t pretend to understand it and then sell others on the concept. If you aren’t tweeting, blogging, using Facebook regularly, posting pictures to Flickr — you don’t know anything about “social media” really. There’s a culture involved, and studying a culture and then proclaiming yourself an expert is admirable, but you’ll never, ever be a native or accepted as one unless you move there.