Does United “get it” with social media?


I have been reasonably convinced in recent months that United Airlines has just decided to focus on other efforts rather than building up their social media presence. I figured they decided to focus their marketing on other areas and that they didn’t mind falling behind other US carriers who have successfully leveraged various social media platforms. JetBlue, Delta, American Airlines and Us Airways have all made notable efforts in this area. Even smaller players Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines have a reasonable presence. But, like I said, I figured that United was happy to be somewhat behind, waiting for other things to clear up before focusing some efforts in the social media space.

Apparently not so much.

At the Associate of Travel Marketing Executives conference in Chicago today United’s SVP Marketing, Mark Bergsurd was talking about various branding efforts when he apparently launched two doozies on the crowd, as reported by some of the attendees:

image

and

image

Zoinks!

Maybe he’s proud because he doesn’t really get it and the people inside are telling him it is OK? But, seriously, shouldn’t someone at the top know to look outside for validation? And to look at what others are doing and compare? If I had to guess I’d say that Bergsrud not only "doesn’t always get it," but that he also doesn’t really seem to care all that much. Maybe that’s ok, but it certainly doesn’t say much for vision or foresight. And that’s probably not the image I’d want to be presenting at an industry conference.

Bergsrud did share some good insight on other issues, noting that the company has a trust issue with customers and that the website still needs some work. But making statements like these is, if anything, mostly proof that the second comment really is true.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

16 Comments

  1. There’s no way that UA gets it. The Ex-CO people ran an airline that didn’t have a huge presence, and the trust thing goes both ways with the PMUA employees. They fear their customers and created an entitlement monster.

  2. CO was pretty good with marketing in general pre-merger – especially on forums and whatnot – while UA was not, but combined their social media presence has been negative. Not minimal…but completely negative. In fact, the only marketing at all that UA does anymore is that smartass CO Chase Explorer dude that I want to beat with an iron pipe…”I have lounge passes!!!” Horrible advertisements and typical of the recent smug crap that represents a lot of things that are wrong with the general perception of the merged airline. 🙁

  3. The new UA must have some tremendous turf battles and organizational silos, with people not able to operate effectively across organizational boundaries. UA’s efforts that work with blogs and FT/MP seems to reside in their customer relations group, while social media are in marketing, and they just don’t work together. But even the folks in customer relations don’t seem to get listened to very much by other organizations within the company. They seem to have some real cultural issues to work through. Publicly the airline seems to speak with a forked tongue and double-speak, and that is likely also going on within the company. Maybe people who speak the truth when it isn’t what the execs want to hear get punished for speaking the truth. There’s simply no excuse for the SVP of marketing not to have a realistic view of his company’s efforts. He could say “we decided not to invest much in social marketing” – that would be reality. And whether he knows social media or not, he has people working for the airline who have a realistic view – why can’t they tell him? Or won’t he listen to them?

  4. For other carriers that you think are being particularly effective with their social media presence, I’m curious to hear what they’re doing that you think is particularly effective? Or for that matter, if there are brands in general that you admire for their social media programs?

  5. No doubt, Gary, that Maggie wasn’t intending it as criticism. But when that’s the content being shared I struggle to find any other reasonable response.

    As for what other brands do which is effective, Matt, engagement is key to me. These platforms are built for conversations, not broadcasts. The companies which get that do better IMO. The companies which try to only use their channel to broadcast information end up with debacles like the most recent McD’s hash tag hijacking.

  6. I work in online marketing and social media is really becoming key to a business’s online presence, mostly because of the buzz and traffic associated. Other than hype it’s really just a waste of time, but a business would be foolish to disregard or lightly treat the social media scene.

  7. Any VP of marketing of ANY type of company that doesn’t “get” social media should be fired.

    It’s 2012. If you don’t get it. You’re not doing you job and you’ll be left behind.

    Plenty of your competitors DO “get” it.

  8. UA is an idiot when it comes to social media. They hardly paid attention to twitter and when they do, they only select like 2 for every 5 hours or something and most of those are mostly compliment than complain. I have seen other airlines, AA especially, who are more attentative and responsive when it comes to tweets to their accounts. Would UA listen? Probably no, b/c why bother. But its things like the past few weeks that I am really thinking about switching my loyalty to somewhere else.

  9. I definitely did not mean it as criticism or judgement. I merely quoted him directly like other soundbites. If I meant to criticize I would have added commentary or a POV (which for those that follow me … I often do quite liberally). 😉

  10. Oh and PS) I don’t work for United anymore but those guys remain good friends and I’m now a loyal United customer. 🙂

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