Weekend storm tests airline and airport social media strategy

CHICAGO: A blizzard in the Northeast December 19, prompted an increase in the use of social media from airlines and airports as part of overall communications strategy, amid flight delays and cancellations.

CHICAGO: A blizzard in the Northeast December 19, prompted an increase in the use of social media from airlines and airports as part of overall communications strategy, amid flight delays and cancellations.

United Airlines looked to both internal and external social networking platforms to communicate delays and tailor messages to address complaints, said Rahsaan Johnson, manager of media relations and last weekend's "on-call tweeter" at United.

“We treated this storm differently than we had previous storms from a communications perspective,” he said. “We've been active on Twitter since the spring, but we used this opportunity to move from active to aggressive.”

He leveraged frequent flyer community FlyerTalk, where he tasked members to relay specific messages, via their own social networking platforms, such as where to find cancellation information on the United Web site.

On the United Twitter and Facebook pages, he tailored his own messages to reflect individuals' requests. For example, rather than post the lengthy list of flights cancelled or responding directly to complaints, he redirected people to the Web site for specific information, such as a list of states where travelers could rebook without paying a fee. Also, rather than craft specific responses to individual Tweets, he'd communicate specific updates such as airports' status.

Courtney Mickalonis, assistant media relations manager at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority which operates both Dulles and Reagan National, explains that the team also used the opportunity to communicate via Twitter.

However, in the airports' case, she explained, “It was mostly just a way for us to test if we had the staffing to commit to keeping up with a Twitter page during an incident.”

She and a co-worker, through their own handles, tweeted the hashtag #dcaniad with a URL linking to a snow page which provides updates on the airports' status and snow removal operations.

Through traditional media relations, she added, “Our main message was for people to check with the airlines before heading out to the airport.”

She said the team plans on incorporating greater use of Twitter in its communications efforts in the future.

Southwest, on the other hand, said it didn't deviate from its standard communications strategy during the storm, which already includes heavy use of social media.

“It was an atypical weekend, but we have a standard plan in place, which is elevating Twitter and Facebook,” said Brad Hawkins, manager of communications at Southwest. “We get a sense of what people are talking about and where there might be a problem. It's biofeedback.”

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