Airlines frequently fly into turbulence –not always the kind they are used to. Just ask United. Better still, just ask Southwest Airlines. Over the years since they began embracing a slew of social media tools, Southwest has done a grand job of listening and responding. Sure, they’ve made their mistakes, fixed them fast, and moved on.
There may be a huge difference between an airline and an airplane, but I thought of juxtaposing them because of some common lessons they have for all of us –not just people who communicate about objects with wings.
If you missed this case involving Boeing, it’s worth a second look. The setup:
- Child draws lots of pictures of airplanes.
- Child sends one drawing to Boeing.
- Corporate office sends him a standard letter saying it does not accept unsolicited designs, and has destroyed the letter.
Sad? Legal? Damaging to brand? All of the above?
The boys father was crushed/confused. He writes a blog so he asked his readers what to do. Word got out. People came up with creative answers (including one that suggested writing the letter Boeing should have sent his son!) Boeing was forced to join the conversation at the late stage, and respond.
There are many lessons here. The first is about a canned response and a genuine response. So easy to do the former. But it’s out-of-place in a world where we make a huge din about being better at communications, great at listening yada yada.
To cut to the chase, Boeing Corporate (which uses this Twitter account that’s different from the one that talks of its engineering stuff) responded with aplomb, and thanked everyone for ‘supporting’ Harry Windsor, the child artist/airplane designer. “Supporting Harry,” as you might suspect is code for Punishing Boeing. Loosening them up. Humanizing them…
But we all live and learn. Boeing is a great company. They may have never in their wildest dreams of crisis planning imagined an eight year old would teach them a rapid lesson in communications. Neither do many organizations. So here are my takeaways from these two examples:
- Plan for the unplanned: Social media adds a lot more turbulence, often the kind that cannot be anticipated by the most sophisticated ‘tracking’ tools on board.
- Know your audience’s audience: No matter who your end-users or customers are, your audience –and your ‘followers’ are always larger than you thought.
- Put humans in charge. A professional response is not as good as a human response. Many of us/you are trained in the former. Don’t check your humanity at the door when you walk into your office.
Social media is nothing special. It has no secret ingredient. It is nothing more than humanized communications, for a world that has done an awful job at it.