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United Airlines

The Magic Of Social Media and PR

As businesses experiment with social media, their first impulses are to get onto twitter and say.


or worse yet


And yes, typically they do use all caps. I think they learned it from Oprah.

The magic of social media has nothing to do with the tools, and everything to do with the message. Oprah’s message is, “I’m here and I’m much more important than you.” It’s like when I go to Paris and refuse to speak even one syllable of French. I’m American, and I’m much too important to be bothered learning a foreign language. True story, sad but true.

Unlike Mainstream Media (MSM moving forward), social media (sometimes referred to as new media) amplifies everyone’s voice. Now, I may not have four million twitter followers, but I do have 15,000 of them, and of those 15,000 a good number of them have 15,000 or more. I may not have Oprah’s audience, but I’m here to tell you that on Twitter an average housewife has the ability to have a reach (number of eyeballs on a message) of close to a million with ease.

What is the message?

If you were lucky enough to be on my United Airlines flight from Chicago to Los Angeles last week, the message would have been, “we value your safety”, and “we want to earn your business”. While waiting at the gate for my flight the captain took the loudspeaker and introduced himself. He joked a little, and then said, “your safety is my primary responsibility. I do not take it lightly.”

And then we boarded the plane. As we walked on board the captain handed everyone a set of wings, and a little card that gave details of the plane we were in. It was the first time in many years that I’d seen passengers deferential and kind to the entire flight crew.

I used social media tools to catch him in the act.

To be very clear, this was an old crappy airplane. It didn’t have wifi, tv’s or disco lighting. It did have a seasoned pilot, and a happy crew. I couldn’t tweet my entire flight, and I’m unaware of any particular efforts United may made regarding social media.

Before the flight landed the pilot asked everyone to grab the cards that he’d passed out to everyone as they entered the airplane. Two of them had his signature on them. Those folks would each receive a bottle of wine if they gave the flight attendant their cards. It cost United about $4 to delight an airplane full of passengers.

I know that if you run a great company, that gives great service, you’ll probably want to give folks an opportunity (perhaps even a forum) to catch you in the act of doing something grand. I’m surrounded by companies, brands and publicists who wave social media tools in your face and hope and pray that you’ll say something nice.

Just give me an opportunity to say something nice. Be daring, be grand, be wonderful, and those tools will become part of your toolkit.