PR Insider: American Airlines Offers a Lesson in Social Media

smith_ronellFew things frustrate customers more than companies who ignore their continued complaints, especially when shared via social media. What might start as an oversight quickly morphs into a perceived slight once customers publicly voice an issue that’s summarily ignored by a major brand.

The major airlines are among the worst offenders. Whether it’s lost baggage, delayed flights, or shoddy customer service, the complaints are a never-ending fusillade, especially on Twitter, where the majority of the major airlines have a presence.

American Airlines is one brand that is setting itself apart for the way they engage and interact with customers via social media. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline has yet to exit bankruptcy and is currently embroiled in a nasty lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice over a proposed merger with US Airways. Despite these storm clouds hovering over the brand, American’s public face in the social space is nothing short of admirable. Instead of ignoring tweets slamming the brand, the company’s social media staff typically responds swiftly and offers resolution, a sea change from what we’ve come to expect from other major airlines.

I interviewed Jonathan Pierce, Director of Social Media Communications for the company, to get a look behind the scenes regarding American’s approach to social media.

I've taken note that American Airlines is far more engaged than most major carriers with their followers on social media. Is that intentional as part of a top-down agenda?

As the social media experience has become intrinsic for many airlines, each makes a conscious decision to either jump into the fray or approach it selectively. We determined that to become a social business, we had to be proactive and expose the myth that not every customer can be responded to. Creating that intangible value through engagement is core to our customer strategy.

At the core of American’s social media strategy is giving our customers a one-stop-shop where they can be inspired to travel and receive stellar customer service. Our social channels keep our customers informed, supported and connected 24/7, wherever they are in the world.

I've been very impressed that American has shown a willingness to step up, apologize and seek resolution. Share a little insight on this philosophy.

As clichéd as it may sound, we've progressed from being willing to turn a negative experience around to literally wanting to turn a negative experience around. Once we knew we had the right people and strategies in place to be effective with social response, we began helping customers as often as we could, and it's made all the difference. Our listening and responsiveness also means we can keep small issues from quickly escalating into reputation crises, and that's crucial in this digital age.

Full disclosure here: For years, I was a Southwest Airlines-only flier. Everything about them added up to an experience I found to be leaps and bounds ahead of other major carriers. But, in July, I took a last-minute trip to Seattle on American. I was impressed. Have there been intentional changes made at the company to positively impact the customer experience?

Over the past few years, we’ve taken great strides to refresh and modernize our airline. American has been taking delivery of new planes, we’re adding more fully lie-flat seats on our planes for our premium customers, unveiled a new logo and livery for our airline, and introduced a number of new products and services that offer choice and convenience to our customers. We’ve embraced social media as a way to connect with our customers digitally throughout their trip, and inspire them to travel on American again and again.

Ronell Smith is the Director of Strategy for Advice Interactive Group, a full-service digital marketing agency with offices in Texas, California and Florida. He’s driven by a desire to enhance the online user experience via compelling, persona-guided content. Ronell is not professionally associated with American Airlines in any capacity. Follow Ronell: @RonellSmith

  • Shawn

    Interesting article. Managing social media for an airline has to be incredibly challenging even without trying to field an endless barrage of complaints from frustrated customers. It’s great to hear American Airlines is trying to figure it all out and actually engage with their social media followers instead of totally ignoring them like so many other airlines (and businesses).

    • ronellsmith

      Thanks very much, Shawn. Not a feature I ever expected to write, but the more I dug, the more I realized others were having similar encounters with the brand.I’m hopeful other airlines will follow suit.