Friday, 4 March 2011

Politicians can learn from airlines how to communicate

According to a fascinating report in the Daily Telegraph British airlines are failing to successfully use social media to build brand loyalty and improve service levels.

Previously airlines have been slow to react to criticism - some of you may remember the terrible blow to the reputation of United Airlines when a passenger had a worldwide internet hit with a song criticising the airline for breaking his guitar:


video

Since then it seems that some airlines have become cute to the power of social media; it is now used to integrate frequent flyer programmes, register feedback (good and bad), see if your friends are on the same flight, as well as even providing a resource for booking a ticket.

These radical developments have been happening in the hotly contested US domestic market with UK airlines lagging far behind. While David Cameron led most other politicians across the world with Web Cameron it seems that things have also stalled somewhat since last May in UK politics.

Sit on any London bus, park bench or in any coffee shop and the people around you will be dipping into Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Increasingly it is the first place people turn to for news, views and comment. If the trend seen in the airline industry is to be believed then social media will, in all likelihood, be our portal to many of our interactions whether personal or for business.

So why does this matter to politicians? It matters for the same reasons it does for business. Direct and transparent interaction with customers (or voters) builds loyalty and passion for that brand. Of all the positives here the one politicians should be most interested in is that interaction is direct.

There is no media channelling, diluting or distorting the message. What you see is what you get. Fully transparent, immediate and open to criticism as well as a way to build coalitions and campaigns. The problem? To do this well needs resources which politicians simply don't have. Speak to almost any politician, whether a local councillor or a member of Parliament and they will bemoan the torrent of e-mails that come their way. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but instant, direct interaction is what people increasingly expect - from their airlines and from their politicians.

The latest generation of secondary school children, like me when I was their age, don't use e-mail but, unlike me who didn't because it was hardly even invented, by-pass e-mail and communicate through social media. This is the way of the future. It is an enormous challenge for anyone needing to communicate.

While airlines can invest their marketing budgets in merging their loyalty schemes and social media, politicians don't have this luxury. If they don't work out what is required to communicate in the modern world then their opponents probably will. The benefits of getting this right are huge, as are the pitfalls.    

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