As a road warrior, I follow just about every U.S. airline and many international carriers on Twitter. From promotional airfare offers to notices of weather delays, I've found social media to be an important, instantaneous airline news source.
From a business perspective, social media allows a company to extend its reach, gain visibility and build meaningful relationships with customers. And there's one airline I follow on Twitter that impresses the heck out of me in each of these aspects, and in my opinion, should be the model for every airline on Twitter worldwide.
American Airlines not only informs and responds to customer questions on Twitter, but does so in a sincere and human approach that I find refreshing for such a large organization. My direct interactions with American's social media team on Twitter have been downright enjoyable, with occasional fun back-and-forth banter akin to a friendship. And I know I'm not the only follower with the same experience.
American's social media team has consistently answered my questions and even proactively initiated a discussion and built rapport using Twitter. The interactions always put a smile on my face. Of course other carriers (including Delta and US Airways, to name a few) execute solid social-media strategies. But American clearly is paving the way for how an airline can build a unique relationship with customers, using new technology.
@AmericanAir has more than 393,000 followers. And so far this year, American has racked up around 2,500 daily mentions and posts across various social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
As such, I wanted to learn more about American's social media team and chatted with Jonathan Pierce, American's director of social media communications.
Q: What is your overall social-media strategy?
A: Customer service is the foundation of our social strategy with the intent of long-term relationships with each customer interaction. We aim to achieve a balance between assistance and inspiring travel, and achieve this by delivering real value in the content we create and share.
Realizing that interaction now exists on multiple screens across many different platforms and devices, it's critical that we continue to adapt to be more nimble and transparent. Our ultimate goal is to enhance the customer experience while informing our customers about the business.
Q: What are your hours of operation for the social media team?
A: We currently focus our resources on supporting our customers when they need and want us, which is generally during peak fly time, 6 a.m. to midnight CT.
Q: How do you empower your social media team?
A: Our team is empowered by relating to customers, finding connections and being authentic in every response. We make sure there's a face and voice behind each post. We have a team in place that understands the trials and tribulations of travel and genuinely want it to be a positive experience for our customers.
Q: Why do you allow your team to have fun and add personality to their replies, particularly on Twitter?
A: Our team is focused on providing exceptional customer service, responding and inspiring customers to fly American with practical travel advice and assistance, all with a human touch. Given the evolution and expectation shift in how our customers are engaging with us, we are moving from communication to conversation.
I have a team of fun, fresh, innovative thinkers — their personalities naturally are expressed into our social communities. There's an understanding of when it's appropriate to insert personality, compassion and understanding into the conversation.
Q: What have you learned about your customers via social media?
A: Since launching our social communities, we've seen a lot and learned a lot about our customers, and we take customer feedback back into the business to continue to make improvements. What we have always inherently known, but continue to be reminded of, is the importance of knowing our customers — what they like, dislike and what makes them tick when it comes to air travel.
Consumer travel behavior is shifting as social media becomes more of the core in how consumers are reacting and interacting with us. American is keeping in step.
As a large global company, what we've learned is that while our primary social follower base resides in the U.S., we reach a wider global audience. As a brand, we have to communicate one voice that can cater to a culturally diverse audience.
Q: Do you see social media evolving to do more than answer questions and reply to customers?
A: We believe social media is continually evolving. While customer service is and always will be the core of our business, social media will become even more of a personalized platform to communicate proactive messaging.
We are moving toward social media changing how we operate as an airline, looking for ways to capture real-time data and business intelligence that can be applied across all departments - from food & beverage to cargo.
As we continue developing various customer travel technologies, our goal is to give customers the ability to access information about us, them, their destination, etc. with as little interference as possible.