A former professor of mine, Rebecca Hains, from Salem State University found herself in a sticky situation this past holiday season. Her “cupcake in a jar” was confiscated at the airport by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after it was deemed a “security threat”. The Communications professor found herself traveling home with a sweet treat from Wicked Good Cupcakes. The gel-like icing was deemed a liquid, which is prohibited for travel in carryon luggage by the TSA. When Hains offered to put the gift in her luggage, the TSA explained since it was deemed a security threat, it had to be confiscated. Hains immediately snapped a photo on her Smartphone and posted a status update on Facebook. The story made its way to her friends, then the media. The Associated Press got a hold of it and the next thing you know it was international news with names like: “Cupcake of Mass Destruction”, “Cupcakegate” and “The Cupcake Heard Round The World”. Hains was invited on local news stations, national radio shows and even was the butt of a Jay Leno joke. Almost a month after creating havoc for the TSA, Hains’ story is still flying around the World Wide Web.
Although, I don’t believe Hains had the intention of making international news over this experience, she played her cards well. She utilized social media, even creating a Facebook page titled, “Rebecca and the Threatening Cupcake,” talking to new stations, chronicling the entire ordeal with her social friends – who quickly jumped on the bandwagon and spread the word even further.
Social media and word of mouth are heavy at play with this story. This situation shows how powerful a tool Social Media can be. Who would have thought a cupcake would become international news? It also brings up a good point; Social Media can be your enemy, as with the case of the TSA. A company must exhibit perfect social responsibility and an ideal reputation or that company will be on the other side of the social media fence – and that is not a fun place to be. Social Media buzz is like wild fire, once it starts, it is hard to put out.
This situation was the perfect ‘recipe’ for a news story:
1.) Quirky – have you ever had a treat confiscated from an airport? And what happens after it is deemed a “threat”? Does it go in an evidence bag, filed in a large room or does it find its way to a TSA employee’s locker for a quick pick me up snack?
2.) Timely – It’s the holiday season; individuals are traveling, often with presents. How would you feel if your presents were confiscated? Imagine taking the time to find that perfect present only to have it taken from you.
3.) Questioning authority/policies – Any situation/story that creates a debate about overbearing policies and rules is sure to be an instant hit with the media.
The good news is that it brought to light a serious topic, how far is the TSA taking it? Is it too far? Should our rights be limited for the sake of security? Would you rather be safe than sorry?
No harm was done with this story; it just sparked a debate and some enticing conversations. In fact, it was quite the opposite; Ms. Hains had her 15 minutes of fame, she now has a funny story to share with her grandchildren some day, and a ton of material for case studies in her PR classes. The cupcake company made out well too, Wicked Good Cupcakes are now on the map, receiving international orders for their popular treats in a jar. They even are selling, “The TSA Stole My Wicked Good Cupcake” t-shirts.
Sometimes social media isn’t that bad. It just depends on which side of the (social) wild fire you fall.
File Under Food for Thought.
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