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The Big Brand Theory: American Airlines Busts Silos

In the real world of organizations, silos can be anathema.  As businesses grow, specializations occur, and organizational structures build up around these areas.  Forward thinking leaders work hard to overcome this tendency; they strive to benefit from the efficiencies of cross-organization integration. That guy in marketing shouldn't have to wait three weeks for a Google Analytics report on a new landing page!

Those of us who make a point of studying social media frequently see those silos in action. There's something about social media that brings a spotlight to how an organization communicates and works internally. 

Jonathan Pierce, Director of Social Media Communications at American Airlines, talks about his organization's silo-busting philosophy. "From the moment we set up our social team, our focus has been creating an independent, integrated social team consisting of all disciplines rather than harken back to the silo-driven approach where you have social embedded into different functions  - not seeing it as one."

As the American Airlines team has expanded, three distinct functions all within one social media team have been created: customer service, customer insights, and customer engagement. For Pierce, this is about relationships.

Continuum of a transaction to a relationship

"The mandate is that a customer who comes to us for a transaction, be that at the airport looking for flight information, upgrade status, or whatever, is coming to us for something transactional related to their trip or their booking. We have an opportunity then to have a conversation with them. That conversation may become another conversation, which becomes a relationship. That transaction equals a follow, equals a like, equals that permission by the customer to allow us to carry on the brand conversation as well within the social environment."

This thinking around relationships is a guiding ethos around the whole social media team: brand voice, hiring, team structure, training, and how the organization measures success.  And it's not just for customers - the organization also brings this thinking to specialized communities of "aviation geeks" and employees.

Measuring Success

When it comes to metrics and analytics, the American Airlines social media team practices a flexible approach. Pierce explains, "Our objectives and measurements tend to talk to the language of the function we're supporting. For example; if we're working on a project for the marketing department, we're not really going to talk in terms of average response time and quality control of our response team. We're going to talk in terms of engagement and organic reach, and that side of it,  which is the language that marketing understands and wants.

Pierce continues, "Whereas conversely with customer service, we're not going to talk in terms of impressions. We're going to talk in terms of the language that they have."

American Airlines focuses on three of insights and reporting that span the strategic, tactical, and operational:

1 Overall brand level: sentiment; key feedback of customers, volume, and key trends. This is shared at the senior level of the organization.

2. Project or function level: for instance, if the frequent flier program has a new announcement

3. Operational level: when is conversation happening, volume, and also on an engagement level - competitive, messages performance, content performance, etc.

Pierce credits the ability to share feedback and provide real-time metrics as a key to their success internally. "When the story is relevant, you get instant credibility in the channel," he says. "When you're able to show immediate feedback - striking while the iron's hot - it's very useful in helping people understand what social metrics are;  helping people understand the channel, what it does; and how it works."

Silo-busting is at the highest level of metrics, though, too.  In 2013, American Airlines merged with US Airways. "Our focus this year is integration of American Airlines and US Airways.  That's our number one objective; using social media not just to communicate with customers and other stakeholders; but also providing support for customers who are navigating the integration during the stages of when we're not one airline. We're still operating as two separate airlines. That naturally causes complexities for customers, and social media can help."

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