I recently wrote a post about JetBlue and its social media giveaway that saw 1,000 round-trip tickets given away to Twitter-aware Manhattanites. But my post contained something a little bit off: a photo of a Southwest airplane.

Mea culpa.

Morgan Johnston, who is apparently the voice of @JetBlue, pointed it out to me via Twitter:

@probles @Econsultancy - You've got a Southwest plane photo in your article, not a JetBlue plane look around http://is.gd/al0mx

It's hard to tell if this tweet is rude or not. Obviously, 140 characters doesn't provide a lot of room to say much, so it would be unwise to try to read tone. But in my opinion, "you made a poor photo selection, take a look around" isn't exactly the best use of 140 characters. More importantly, Johnston's link isn't of much help. It points to JetBlue's Flickr page, where all of the photos I can see (and all of the photos of the JetBlue event I wrote about) are listed as copyrighted with all rights reserved. That means that I can't legally use them without JetBlue's permission.

This is no doubt a minor 'incident', but I do think it serves as a good example of how difficult it can be to use social media as a means of sending corporate communication. I wrote a story about JetBlue, used a photo that somebody at the company thought was less-than-ideal, and was then sent a tweet implying that it should be changed.

Having dealt with PR folks for some time, it occurred to me after seeing Johnston's tweet that an experienced PR person would probably have done the following if the photo I used in my post was important enough to warrant a communication:

  • Fire off an email. As I mentioned, it's hard to say much in 140 characters. So instead of trying to communicate with a tweet, an email is oftentimes more effective. And just because you're the "voice" of a company's Twitter account, for instance, doesn't mean you can only use email.
  • Ask for what you want, nicely. If you want something, you usually have to ask for it. And asking nicely typically helps too. Here, Johnston implies what he'd like to see, but doesn't explicitly ask for it.
  • Make it easy for the other person to give you what you want. If somebody from JetBlue wanted a picture of a JetBlue plane associated with my post, I would have happily obliged had I been sent an email with a photo and the permission to use it. As mentioned, the link Johnston provided contains copyrighted photos that I couldn't use without JetBlue's explicit permission.

There's a lot to like about social media, and it can be a valuable communications tool for companies, but obviously there are numerous challenges for companies. From getting a story to having a story corrected, good PRs are always focused on outcomes. The tools and techniques used to achieve those outcomes shouldn't be ignored just because it's social media.

Patricio Robles

Published 17 March, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Dipankar

Yes, I completely agree that the other party should not have been so aggressive. It is fair to say that it creates an atmosphere of resentment as we can clearly see [which many people may not even express]. A kind email would have be a better thing and wold have made this possible blog post a positive one maybe :).

almost 8 years ago

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Alec Campbell

I think your post could have (and should have) been written in an entirely different way. The headline of this piece could have been "It's social media, but that doesn't mean the rules of journalism don't apply" written in an apologetic tone admitting to your mistake and the fact that as a blogger/journalist, you should have asked for an official image. Instead you come across as defensive; reacting in a tit-for-tat manner and your point (which has some merit) is lost.

almost 8 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

Hi Patricio,

I think you are getting on your high horse here without any particularly good reason. Be more careful with your image selection.

If you'd like a free massage and a gin and tonic in the lounge next time at Jet Blue, why don't you just ask for it?

almost 8 years ago

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Dan

Is this whole article a return jab at JetBlue for posting a rude tweet? It certainly seems that way to me.

almost 8 years ago

Graham Ruddick

Graham Ruddick, Managing Director at Digital Excellence

The fact that you haven't been at all apologetic for what is a fairly basic journalistic mistake, that the tags on the original piece include Southwest and not Jetblue and the fact that you still haven't changed the picture despite the first comment (mildly) pointing out the issue would suggest to me that you are trying to wind people up. Well, looks like you succeeded. Don't think you can be too surprised when people bite.

almost 8 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Alec 1,

Your point is well taken, however I think there's one key point I'd like to make:

You may or may not be surprised to learn that bloggers receive varying amounts of respect from PRs. This means that promises for facts, figures quotes and interviews often go unfulfilled.

A practical matter, holding up a post about an event that just took place so that I could wait for JetBlue's media relations team to get back to me with a small photo could delay the publication of the post by days or weeks. Had a key fact or figure needed confirmation, there would have been little choice but to risk the wait, but as you have probably noticed, the majority of the images that appear alongside my posts are Creative Commons licensed photos from Flickr that are somehow relevant to the subject matter of the post. In this case, I wrote about an airline, and there's a photo of an airplane. At the time I selected it, I obviously really wasn't interested in the branding, which gets to the heart of this post: if JetBlue was so concerned about a 165x100 photo of a Southwest plane alongside a post about a JetBlue event, a simple email with a replacement (and the permission to use it) would actually have achieved the desired outcome. A tweet with a link to a bunch of copyrighted photos I can't use obviously doesn't help anybody.

Alec 2,

As you know, I don't live in the US, which means it's unlikely I'll be flying JetBlue and sipping gin and tonic in the JetBlue lounge anytime soon.

Graham,

"Mea culpa" is the Latin phrase for "my fault".

almost 8 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

Hi Patricio,

I don't know at how much risk Econsultancy is, but I'd recommend for the future use the right image from the publicity portfolio and let the chips fall later.

Normally a company doesn't get cross about their PR images being used for a related story. Probably falls under fair use as well. We've had some issues with more commercial sites. But first you face a cease and desist before legal action.

Cheers. May we meet in some airport lounge anywhere but America.

almost 8 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Alec,

While it's true that JetBlue probably wouldn't have complained, out of principle I'll never use a photo that I know is copyrighted without permission. One thing to consider is that companies often hire photographers to take photos for them and under these arrangements, they have limited rights to use those photos, with the photographer retaining other rights. In these instances, the company may not even have the ability to simply let it pass since the photographer could make a stink.

almost 8 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

Many companies do a whole set of pictures for exactly these kinds of circumstances and they put them on their website in a clearly marked press section. From what I understand that Flickr account was mainly for just such photos. The last thing companies want to have to do is approve every single online appearance one by one. Which is why they have these public press sections.

almost 8 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Alec,

Most press sections detail the terms under which photos, logos, etc. can be used. Examples:

http://pfizer.mediaseed.tv/
http://www.apple.com/pr/products/
http://help.twitter.com/forums/10771/entries/77641

When you post content "Copyright. All rights reserved" and don't specify terms under which journalists, bloggers, etc. can use it, you're not legally allowing anyone to use it without explicit permission.

This is probably a good subject for a post...

almost 8 years ago

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Anon

Patricio - just in google and came across this - you are spending a lot of time whinging about other people's behaviour in your blog these days - and NEVER taking responsibility for your own actions! Seriuosly - you'll argue black is white rather than just say 'yeah i got that one wrong' won't you!??!?

almost 8 years ago

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