It’s Déjà vu All Over Again for JetBlue

Candida McCollam Owner/Partner, Localspeak

Posted on November 9th 2011

It’s Déjà vu All Over Again for JetBlue

The advantage used to launch “underdog” brands like JetBlue, a daredevil leader and the darling of no-frills air travel, is generally built in-concert with a budding band of disgruntled “big brand” customers who become its early standard bearers and fiercely loyal converts.   Netflix was similarly launched as a champion of value DVD and streaming selections, toppling the “bricks and mortar” Blockbuster and stirring “cord-cutting” fears among the networks.

Brand loyalty—arguably the hardest sentiment on which to place a price tag—is an equally ephemeral and fragile asset to build and maintain.  As the beating recently taken by Netflix’s stock equity will testify, sustaining brand loyalty requires extraordinary strategic “TLC” thinking, fulfillment and upkeep.  And as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently learned: Unlike hubris a little authentic humility never hurts.

A crisis in the making is easily detectable, as our JetBlue social analytics sentiment monitor shows below. But speedy sensible damage control—what a company decides to do, or not to do with the information— is what counts in crisis management.  So it came as quite a shock that JetBlue, an award winning company for its consumer engagement in the social media sphere, tolerated the October 29th  tarmac snafu in Hartford, CT during the recent Northeast snowstorm. 

It was déjà vu for the airline company, which was pummeled only a few years ago in a similar incident that kept passengers stuck on one of its airplanes for hours on end, and without fresh air, heat, food or functioning restrooms. As we expected, the October 29th tarmac snafu sent JetBlue’s net sentiment plunging to a 12-month low of 26%, from 54% in October.  The year’s emotional high point peaked at 82% in March. 


JetBlue Net Sentiment

JetBlue Plunging Net Sentiment


Social Media Darling

Despite the net sentiment blip, JetBlue remains an exemplary model of a smart brand insights company with a voracious appetite for social media analytics to gain the competitive edge, using cleaver customer engagement for lead management and exclusive offers.  The airline’s insightful social media ROI strategy and standard is worthy of being emulated by marketers and researchers alike.

A Mashable study of airline use of social media lauded JetBlue in this post:


The compay has the most social fans of the airlines studied, with more than 1.6 million Twitter followers and more than 530,000 Likes on Facebook. Beyond that, the company keeps a Flickr paged updated more than 13,000 pictures posted by company employees.  Like many businesses, JetBlue offers its users rewards in the form of TrueBlue points for Facebook check-ins. The value of strong, engaging social media content grows every day as more people create accounts on various pages. Furthermore, with Google indicating that +1's may become a ranking signal, the value of social links for. [Source] 


JetBlue Positive Themes


Brand Assets

JetBlue has woven a holistic customer experience into the fabric of its corporate culture.  As our theme chart reveals, the airline company receives highest ratings for its excellence in Customer Service, with attentive, friendly and customer-centric and engaged employees who consistently offer forward-thinking solutions to its legion of loyal customers. 

Yet, even as JetBlue expands its international interline routes, the company’s stock performance has been lackluster at best.  Years past it has made strategic investments in virtually reinventing the airline experience, even before passengers board the plane.  Its customers are thoughtfully rewarded with free WiFi, playgrounds, comfortable lounge areas (some with custom TV panels and even scheduled concerts—not to mention the low-cost pre-trip spas.  According to our analysis, the JetBlue terminal experience is highly valued, as is the overall flight experience; most notably the comfortable seats and in-flight entertainment.

Our social analytics also show that immediately following Customer Service and Price, brand loyalists value JetBlue’s corporate reputation.  While still a relatively young airline, in a climate of growing social outrage against corporate greed and corruption the company’s heritage and egalitarian image resonate well with customers seeking to have their sense of trust fulfilled.  JetBlue could likely deliver creative storytelling in its marketing around this theme.

This post has a feel-good quality for the company:

For 15 years, KaBOOM! has battled the play deficit among children and worked incredibly hard to convince people that play is not a luxury-it's an absolute necessity. We're grateful that JetBlue continues to help KaBOOM! work toward achieving our vision of a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.  Swinging, doing good - what isn't to love? [source]

So what if JetBlue, in a strategic ROI move, were to begin campaigning around what now is perceived as secondary brand assets—e.g. their aesthetic, advertising and JetPaws program, not to mention the terminal experience and value in a bleak economy?

As a pet owner, the thought of flying with Woogie, my 16-lb Boston Terrier, has deterred me years past in doing so—until I witnessed for myself on a recent flight several of JetBlue’s pet amenities, and which I learned more about from this post:

(Pets are Welcome on Southwest) guide. This is a pleasant move for an air carrier that didn't even allow dogs (or other animals) only a short while ago.  Also worthy mention is JetBlue. While they currently charge more than Southwest ($100 each way), their JetPaws program is specifically designed for travelers flying with dogs on airplanes. The program features a pet bag tag, a welcome email with vital information and their… [source]

The Social Media Email (Black) Box Is Now Public

Although JetBlue and other airlines generally have implemented pre-emptive severe weather policies to avert tarmac snafus such as the one in Hartford, the airline was clearly caught off guard.  In a flight control recording with the stranded airplane, wherein the pilot was heard admitting the company was unresponsive and had no plane tow forthcoming, this pilot proactively and graciously offered to weld one together himself.

Serving as poignant reminders that the social media monitor is always on, the two posts that follow show that both lack of response and lack of corporate responsibility  can instill terror of death to a brand.

RT @peterstringer: Yo @JetBlue your FB page is a disaster. If you're going to let fans write on your wall, esp. during a PR crisis, you HAVE to respond to them. [source]

JetBlue apparently made the decision that the well-being of the passengers AND the fees they will have to pay are less important doing whatever they had to do to get people off the plane. I am terrified of our JetBlue flight in Dec. Why can't the pilot and crew use the emergency exits to get people off the plane? Why can't food/water/medicine be brought onto the plane? [source]


JetBlue Negative Themes


Big Airline With A Startup Mentality?

Automatically analyzed with NetBase’s advanced NLP social analytics engine Workbench, the JetBlue attributes chart below supports the qualitative analysis of our deep dive theme mapping charts.  The chart shows strong brand assets—which easily could be eroded by a lack of preparation for unforeseen events and such disastrous consequences as terrified passengers certain to abandon JetBlue.

JetBlue apparently made the decision that the well-being of the passengers AND the fees they will have to pay are less important doing whatever they had to do to get people off the plane. I am terrified of our JetBlue flight in Dec. Why can't the pilot and crew use the emergency exits to get people off the plane? Why can't food/water/medicine be brought onto the plane? [source]

Repeatedly showing themselves as being unprepared for a weather emergency speaks loudly to broken infrastructure.  JetBlue is no longer a startup and a shift in corporate mindset may be in order, as this post notes:

… I think the real issue is that JetBlue seems to have a hard time getting all the stakeholders involved in preparing a game plan to deal effectively with severe weather and the aftermath in delay and diversion recovery. But then again, should we really be surprised considering how much companies leverage into the "lean manufacturing" and "just in time" philosophy that leaves little maneuvering in case this case, a bad of a severe disruption to the supply chain, whether it be a tsunami, labor conflict, or in storm? Time for JetBlue to assess themselves in the mirror and contemplate the consequences of being a big airline with a startup mentality. [source]

JetBlue Attributes Comp Scale

JetBlue Attributes Sept-Nov

JetBlue Attribute Comparison – September-November 2nd



  • Early warning detection—Sentiment tracking is a vital monitor for detecting sudden setbacks or looming crisis.  Early detection can help minimize brand equity loss, even avert it altogether.
  • Crisis management—Read between the lines. Real-time social analytics can help reveal answers and/or suggest timely tactics to prevent an exacerbated crisis.
  • Stay responsive—JetBlue needs to take a page from the Netflix disaster. Your customers expect you to be listening at all times and acting responsibly.
  • Maintain competitive edge—Make note of secondary, even tertiary social sentiment and find ways to make the bottom line your top line.  Mine your corporate and brand responsibility in an uncertain economic environment to weave creative stories.
  • Avoid painful and costly consequences—JetBlue compromised its positive sentiment for the year with the October 29th tarmac snafu. Now the airline must work harder to maintain customer loyalty, and it may cost them $27,500 per stranded passenger to do so, according to the Passengers Bill of Rights.
  • Social media has ROI-JetBlue shows that ROI can be created in social media. Memo to self: Don't screw it up.
  • Keep an eye on social metrics at all times—The social email box is now public.
  • Confidence level index—Our social analytics were calculated at a 95% Confidence Level with a +/-6% Confidence Interval.

Candida McCollam

Owner/Partner, Localspeak

Global social media analyst, research strategist and localization expert. Delivers global social media brand audits, analytics, brand innovation, media tracking. NetBase partner, leverages award-winning NLP platform Insight Composer to deliver global brand insights and analytics in 40 languages. Yogini, linguaphile, passionate about global cultural research, social brand innovation, competitive positioning, social analytics.

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Elizabeth Lewis
Posted on November 9th 2011 at 8:31PM

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