You know that scene in American Pie where Jim wakes up after losing his virginity to the girl from band camp and exclaims giddily, “I was used. Cool!”? Well, that’s sort of how I felt yesterday morning when I woke up to see USA Today’s interview with JetBlue CEO Dave Barger admitting that his talking to me about the Long Beach situation was not inadvertent. In this case, being used is a good thing, and I’d say other airlines should be taking notes. Let me explain.
The interview (which was very complimentary toward my blog – thanks, Dave) shows that JetBlue takes blogs and other new media outlets very seriously.
My sense is that really – not just in America – but the world there’s what’s known as mainstream media. But, new social media, it’s there. It’s real-time.
I think when there was a challenge to the blog – not my comment, but somebody else’s regarding (blog author Snyder’s credibility as) a “professional” – I think that’s a very, very harsh comment. I mean it’s (The Cranky Flier) real.
And you know what? That’s smart. Look what it’s done for them in Long Beach. They have put the issue of terminal improvements back on the front burner. But this isn’t about just saying something to a blogger and hoping it gets picked up. There’s a lot more to it than that.
I have had a good relationship with JetBlue’s PR team ever since I reached out to them with a question when I was just a fledgling blogger a couple years back. They’ve always been quick to respond with helpful information, something that isn’t always easy to find from other airlines. For JetBlue, it’s even bigger than just responding to blogs. They’ve extended their influence to a much broader area by responding quickly with Twitter to anyone out there who needs information. And responding quickly helps them to shape the story.
Now this doesn’t mean that everything I write about them is rosy. Far from it. I went through my past posts and I’ve actually given them two Cranky Jackass awards (one, two) and almost given them a third. And let’s not get started on the whole “controllable irregularities” issue or the early customer bill of rights stuff. But their willingness to engage quickly undoubtedly helps them to avoid some of the bad press that might otherwise come their way.
For example, when I flew them last weekend up to the Bay Area (trip report coming eventually), I sent a couple tweets about the TVs not working. I received a direct message back quickly asking about it and requesting that I follow up with them if I haven’t received any compensation for the problem. It’s a brilliant use of new media to further their cause. Not only have they placated me as a traveler, but they’ve turned a potential ugly piece of my trip report into a positive outcome.
Of course, they aren’t the only ones to do this. Southwest does an excellent job as well. They were probably the first to understand the importance of quick response in a world where there are no old media-style deadlines. Things get published to the rest of the internet as soon as they’re ready to go. The sooner you can give good information, the better chance you have to shape the discussion.
More and more airlines are starting to involve themselves with new media, but I’m not convinced that many of them know what they’re doing. I don’t need a bunch of tweets about a new fare sale to Zimbabwe, but I do need fast answers to questions and good access to the people who have those answers.
For all those airlines who still don’t think embracing new media is a good thing, well, there’s not much I can say to you except you should pull your heads out of your asses. But for those who are still trying to figure out the right way to embrace new media, let me offer some tips.
- Respond quickly – There are no deadlines in the world of new media. If someone sends you a note with a question, respond as fast as you can because that post will go up whether they have your comment or not. Even if you don’t have the info, write back to say you’re looking for it and they will likely wait. Of course, you can’t respond to everyone out there so . . . .
- Find the influencers – There are a million blogs out there and a lot of them are terrible. So you need to figure out which ones are actually influencers and focus on them. Influencers are those that are well-respected and have the ability to touch a lot of people. You’ll want to be most responsive to those you see as influencers. And remember, the list will change over time. But even beyond the influencers, there’s more you can do . . . .
- Use Twitter for good – I fully admit that I hate Twitter. I just can’t figure out how to use it to my liking, but customer service businesses that can benefit from offering real-time solutions to problems should be all over this tool. JetBlue and Southwest may have been early adopters, but others are catching on. Even United has started to use this to help people, and they’re slowly finding their groove. This is a great way to reach beyond the influencers to have a much broader impact, yet in a targeted way.
- Be more proactive – Some airlines are decent at responding to questions, but they aren’t good at reaching out on their own. I just received a note earlier this week asking if I would like to talk to an Emirates VP about their onboard mobile phone program. Of course I did, and now I’m writing up the interview for next week. (It’s actually very interesting.)
So is Emirates using me in some way to get a conversation going in the US about mobile phones onboard? I don’t doubt it. Did JetBlue use me to get things moving again in Long Beach? Probably. But that’s smart. Both airlines have opted to provide excellent access and interesting content, a blogger’s dream. This won’t always work out well. I might disagree completely and absolutely thrash something that comes out. But when airlines are willing to engage even after receiving bad press, it makes the relationship even more powerful for the future. An airline that cuts someone off for writing something bad will be hurting itself more than anything else.
Companies work to manage the media all the time, and now they need to start managing new media as well. JetBlue has shown that engaging the right new media outlets can have some major positive benefits. Hopefully other airlines will start to realize that they can do the same.
And when the rest of you guys do figure it out, you know where to find me.