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.