Monday, April 6, 2009

Twitter helps Alaska Airlines to go North of Expected

Living in Seattle, Alaska Airlines is the home town airline. So recently I took special interest in the company’s presence on Twitter. I reached out to Elliott Pesut who maintains the AlaskaAir twitter account to get his perspective on Twitter and how the company FireShot capture #16 - 'Alaska Airlines _ Horizon Air' - www_alaskaair_com_Default_aspx_ASDBD=J1 uses it. Full disclosure, I have always had a favorable opinion of Alaska and am an MVP frequent flyer. Sometimes I even look forward to purchasing one of their foil-wrapped sandwiches. Recently I even tweeted about Alaska’s CEO, Bill Ayer, flying in coach on my flight back from the Gravity Summit in LA. But more about Elliott and AlaskaAir.

What is your role at AS?
I’ve been working for the company for a little over a year in Flight Operations Training where I was a Courseware Developer. It wasn’t until five weeks ago that I was offered a spot in Alaska Airlines CRM (Customer Relationship Management) department. My official title is Campaign Management Specialist and I’m part of a team that is responsible for Alaska Airlines’ social media policy.

Does anyone else manage the account with you?
As of right now, I’m the main person tweeting on the account. I do have back up from our folks in corporate communications as well. As far as knowing what to tweet, that really is a team effort. We do our best to respond as if the Twitter account encompasses all departments/customer touch points. Some responses require multiple phone calls/emails to build the context for a response. It’s been a great way to meet different individuals in the company.
We’re a small company (for an airline) and with our sister airline, Horizon Air, it’s like a family – everyone helps out.

What are the company’s goals with Twitter?
This is always a hard question. :) Our first goal is to listen and help customer’s with their questions or issues. Over the past year we’ve done some soul searching when it comes to our brand. It’s important to have consistent trade-offs and guidelines that help employees make every day decisions about “what Alaska Airlines would do” in a given situation. Our greatest strength is our genuine and caring service. There are many great airline employees out there, but you ask travelers about their experiences with Alaska Airlines, and I’ll bet they will reflect upon their experience positively. I’m not saying that we make everyone happy, but we definitely get high marks – our employees regularly go above and beyond what is
Our second goal, to be accessible. Accessibility has helped us establish a very open and honest relationship with our Frequent Fliers. Twitter lends itself to accessibility. It’s a terrific listening post – we can field questions, ask for suggestions and reach out to distressed customers. Bottom line, we’re making ourselves available to help and make travel easier. I love that I’m only a tweet away from customers while they travel. You don’t get more accessible than
that. :)

Which department is the corporate sponsor of the Twitter service?
Marketing – specifically, under the CRM & Interactive Marketing umbrella. Corporate Communications and Customer Care also have a long-term role in @AlaskaAir's success.

How long has the company been using Twitter?
We’ve had the Twitter account since Dec. of ‘08. We only started actively tweeting five weeks ago.

How do you measure success on Twitter?
Right now, we measure the success of our account by follower growth and interactions with Customers – both of which have skyrocketed since the volcanic eruption of Mt. Redoubt. We also measure clicks via

Tell me about how you got the placement of the Twitter message on the top of the homepage?Alaska
Over the past three months, we had been prepping for a Mt. Redoubt eruption. We knew it would be disruptive to our operation. Press releases take time to write and are typically static; we needed a real-time method for communicating with passengers and media. Twitter has filled that role better than we ever imagined. When customers are delayed, the best thing we can do is provide timely and accurate information. While our press releases remain the official source of information, Twitter has helped us keep our customers informed in near real-time.

Is it temporary due to the volcano or will it be there for a while?
Yes it is temporary. And actually, at this time it has been taken down and moved to our Irregular Operations page. Efforts are underway to tell our customers that we’re on Twitter via email and other means. You may also see it back up on the home page from time to time as we research the best placement
for our customers.

What else does AS do in Social Media?
We’re very new to the social media scene and trying to find what fits. Our efforts are largely driven by internal employees. Right now we have the most interest/support for Twitter, FlyerTalk and Facebook. We would like to do our best to engage those channels well before we start anything else.

How do you let your travelers/ members know about the AS Twitter account?
Right now, the only way to know we have an account would be if someone told you or I followed you because you made a comment on “Alaska Airlines”. :) We originally had plans to grow it organically via WOM. However, the volcano eruption has sped the process up, quite a bit.

Can you see using Twitter for transactional activities like flight updates/gate changes?
Absolutely. I read somewhere that Twitter is the new phone book and I think that’s a great analogy. We’re only a text message away for our customers. We are currently experimenting with ideas around TaaS (Twitter as a Service). Our Director of IT Enterprise Architecture, Mike Lorengo, has developed a flight status bot: @TravelerBot,
that when DM’ed, will send you your flights status. While this is highly experimental, I think it’s safe to say this channel has great potential for transactional-based correspondence.

Which brands on Twitter do you try to emulate?I monitor lots of brand Twitter accounts - several airlines,
@WholeFoods and @Starbucks. They all do a terrific job! I think right now, we're trying to find the right mix for our brand. I am a big fan of @JetBlue's approach in using DM liberally to talk with customers. It's much easier to be myself, rather than "Alaska Airlines". We also need to balance the DMs with @’s
– that way people know we’re responding. Our comfort level grows a little bit each day.

Do you search for different keywords/ conversations on Twitter that you think are relevant to AS?
Yes. We search for terms like MVP, MVPG, Mileage Plan, Alaska Airlines, Alaskan Airlines.

What do you think about Janis Krums using Twitter to report on US Flight 1549 emergency landing?
I think it’s awesome. I even tweeted the other day on my personal account that I’ve fallen in love with Twitter’s real-time nature. I can tell, it's altering my online search expectations. And what a great tool for airlines, we can easily monitor situations and respond quickly if things get out of hand.

Nice work, Elliott. Love to see you guys on Twitter. And of course, an MVP Gold upgrade is always appreciated – just kidding. I hope to earn it this year.


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