Recap of “Taking Social Media to New Heights”

When Jonathan Pierce, Director of Social Media for American Airlines, came to speak at SMCFW, I was impressed.

Not just with Jonathan, although his presentation was fantastic. No, I was impressed with his message, or rather the message of American Airlines: their willingness to engage with their customers through social media, the well-roundedness of their social media team, and how they’ve embraced social media in a variety of ways in hopes of streamlining the often-complicated experience of air travel.

Jonathan informed us that American Airlines started experimenting with social media in 2006 with a YouTube channel, and it has since added a Facebook (2008) and a Twitter (2009), the latter of which receives about 1,700 mentions daily. Between January 1, 2012 and his presentation on March 21, American had received 215,000 total mentions on all of their social media outlets…and the summer vacation season hasn’t even happened yet.

The point that was repeatedly emphasized during Jonathan’s presentation was service, service, service. “American is a service-oriented brand, and service is expected on social media. People come to us asking for help. We stay vigilant, always listening to social media and are ready to respond at any time.”

According to Jonathan’s nifty little Chat-o-meter chart, the majority of customers Facebook / Tweet about baggage issues or flight-related issues (delays, booking, cancellations, etc.) Both of these are very emotionally-driven subjects, but AA also receives complaints, praise, and helpful feedback from their social media outlets. Their social media team (composed of 10 people, soon to be 12) is currently divided into reservations, customer relations, and airport services, and their goal is to respond to anyone and everyone who contacts them through social media. But according to Jonathan, the American Airlines social media team’s challenge now is “getting the customer’s voice further into the organization and taking accountability for it.” And in the fast-paced world of social media, efficient response time and providing customers with the correct information is key.

Case in point: what will probably be known amongst American Airlines employees forevermore as “the Alec Baldwin incident”.

Jonathan explained how quickly Alec Baldwin’s frustrated tweets, concerning his ejection from an American Airlines flight for playing Words with Friends, went viral: less than an hour after the event occurred, it had become a trending topic on Twitter. Subsequently, American’s PR team needed to make an official statement (and fast), so they took to Facebook and issued this.

Jonathan said that he and his team learned several key things from the Alec Baldwin incident, specifically: 1) stand your ground but know when to walk away, 2) fight social media fire with social media water, 3) integrated social media and traditional media response enhances the impact of that response, 4) ensure that business continues as usual with your company when all eyes are on you, and 5) document as you go. Ultimately, Jonathan feels like the experience was a positive one for the company.

We would like to extend a big thank you to Jonathan and the rest of the American Airlines social media team, as well as the Marquis on Magnolia for the use of their event space!