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MELISSA BRANDTS  /  AFP - Getty Images
The "photo crasher squirrel" first made its appearance in a holiday photo. Melissa Brandts and her husband, Jackson, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, were taking a time delay picture of themselves in front of a lake at Canada's Banff National Park when the squirrel jumped into the frame. Now the rodent is a Web sensation ... and a brand ambassador for Banff.
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 8/12/2010 8:27:04 PM ET 2010-08-13T00:27:04

JetBlue made a brave and down-right classy return to social media, just days after a certain flight attendant's newsworthy resignation in a story that may be far from reaching its nadir.

"Sometimes the weird news is about us ..." begins JetBlue's first blog post referencing Steven Slater's infamous exit from an aircraft via emergency evacuation slide. "It wouldn't be fair for us to point out absurdities in other corners of the industry without acknowledging when it's about us. Well, this week's news certainly falls into that category."

JetBlue goes on to acknowledge the fact that it is ... well ...  only vaguely acknowledging the incident because of legal matters, as well as the privacy of the unnamed individual involved. Allowing the reader to assume the airline is showing respect for its former employee earns serious bonus points for JetBlue.

The post then seals the deal with a savvy pop culture reference — a link to a YouTube fan video showing the computer-smashing scene from "Office Space." It seems, at least for now, JetBlue is handling its surprise viral fame in a way that would make the famed photo-crasher squirrel of Banff proud.

The Banff Squirrel, you may recall, is the curious rodent-turned organic Photoshop meme that was snapped up as official mascot by the marketing-savvy folks at Banff National Park in Canada. The Banff Squirrel even has his own Twitter account.

Mind you, no one expects JetBlue to adopt Slater as its mascot. But this is one of those "teachable moments" grownups talk about. The lesson here is one at least two social media departments could learn from. I'm lookin' at you BP, with your Photoshopping ways , and you Nestle, which on its Facebook page in March tried to out smack-talk anti-deforestation. 

In the days between "the little incident involving a flight attendant" and JetBlue's blog post acknowledging it, industry watchers waited and wondered how one of the few companies that seemed to have a handle on social media and customer satisfaction would deal with a story driven by the Internet.

Slater's legend grew, along with Facebook fan pages, #TeamSlater Twitter trends and a growing collection of Photoshopped images of Slater portrayed as a working-class hero and otherwise hilarious meme . JetBlue, with its previously active Facebook and Twitter accounts, remained mum until now — and things may yet turn out in the airline's favor.

"For all the tension the incident is bringing JetBlue, experts say that if handled correctly, Slater is likely to bring mostly positive attention to the brand," AdAge reported earlier this week. Since JetBlue wasn't talking to the media, the industry publication turned to Jonathan Bellinger, head of social media strategy at the PR firm Ketchum, for an idea on what the airline may be thinking.

"Usually when a flight attendant gets called out it's for something they have done wrong that pissed off passengers," Bellinger told AdAge. "But when an attendant does something where passengers say they wish they would do the same thing at their own job, that's great. It's a net positive story for the brand."

While the only thing certain in Slater's future is a reality show deal, public perception of JetBlue will depend on how it continues to handle this mishegas — especially in social media, where Slater is already a rock star.

All the kids are doin' it! Follow Helen A.S. Popkin on Twitter, or just friend her on Facebook. What are ya, chicken?

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

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