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If you’re looking for a company that pays no attention to social media other than to use it to “advertise their stuff” look no further than US Airways. Their strategy stinks.

After writing Social Media Sushi, about the Mandarin Oriental Miami’s perfect social networking strategy, it’s hard not to notice when other companies do social media badly. In the Mandarin’s case, it started with a simple, customer-specific interaction with me on their Facebook Page, and ended with a hand-delivered plate of chocolate sushi thanking me for becoming a fan.

In the case of US Airways social media strategy, what we see instead is an experience hand-rolled in a ripe, smelly carp.

Why? Because US Airways apparently has no social media strategy to speak of. Their Facebook Page is as un-social as you can get: A “protected” page that simply lists their latest advertisements. Fans cannot post anything to the wall, except comments. Nobody comes back to comment on yet another “price discount” offer. Maybe that’s why US Airways has barely over 10,000 Facebook fans (heck, we have over 3,000).

Consider this experience: Leaving the Mandarin Oriental in Miami today for Chicago on US Airways flight 1700, my ticket said I had a “Choice” seat. That’s US Airways’ version of the extra legroom seating most airlines upsell on a coach ticket price. What the customer expects is a few extra inches of legroom compared to the cattle class. Here’s how it’s done on US Airways flight 1700:


Now, I’m only 6 foot 1. Not a giant, by any stretch of the imagination. But I wasn’t the only one in the Choice seating section to notice there wasn’t any more legroom. We were all asking each other, “Did you pay $20 extra, too?” Apparently, nobody had told maintenance to space the seats out a few extra inches. Yet the reservations website took our twenty bucks all the same.

So, what did I do? I didn’t dare complain to the flight attendant: She clearly left her screwdriver with her smile back in her hotel room today. So I did what all modern customers do: took out my smartphone, snapped a photo and posted in to my Facebook page. I originally tried to post it to US Airways Facebook page, but, as I said, it’s protected so Fans can’t share anything. I also Tweeted it the photo with tag “@usair” hoping to catch someone’s attention. Perhaps the company was monitoring their brand in the Twitter stream, and I’d have a direct message by the time I landed in Chicago.

Little did I know that nobody at US Airways headquarters knows how to use Twitter. Their Twitter account’s profile actually says:

usairways twitter account failure

Go to their website to file a complaint? Really?

Of course, that hasn’t stopped customers from having their say on Twitter. Good and bad, tons of tweets tout their experiences with the airline. But since US Airways doesn’t consider social media a valid customer service tool, (We aren’t able to provide a proper response on Twitter) there’s never a reply, a direct message or even just a “we hear you” added to the conversation.

Just the worst of all social medial strategies: Social media silence.

And social media silence stinks. It’s the sign of a company that doesn’t take social media seriously. That treats it merely as another advertising channel. That doesn’t see the learning opportunities, let alone the customer service opportunities.

That apparently has no clue that modern customers don’t fill out online forms on your website any more.

Of course, it’s not just US Airways that suffers from this attitude. Plenty of companies in my favorite industry, real estate,  show little signs of understanding how social media is different from advertising. Lots of smelly carps are on display on real estate Pages and Tweets: Just look for companies constantly carping about their latest listings, their price reductions, their open houses…. blah, blah, blah.

Social networking isn’t about you. It’s about your customers. Give then a venue to talk, and make sure someone at your company is listening. Create a dialogue, not a monologue. Most of all, be there. Companies no longer get to set the terms for talking to (and hearing from) customers. Close your call centers and delete your website contact forms. Reassign all those people to social media accounts, where they can watch, learn and most of all, interact with customers.

Today it’s Facebook and Twitter and texting. Tomorrow it’s going to be something else. But if your social media strategy is just another stream of advertisements, where customers can’t interact and have their say, then you’re never going to carpe diem with the help of social media.

You’ll simply end up with a smelly carp.