GM, American Airlines look to social media

28 October 2009

NEW YORK: General Motors and American Airlines are among a growing number of companies attempting to use social media portals like Facebook and Twitter to counteract negative word-of-mouth posted by consumers on the internet.

As previously reported, a wide range of marketers from AT&T to Kraft have sought to utilise Web 2.0 properties as part of their customer relationship management efforts.

When filing for bankruptcy protection, General Motors faced a large amount of critical commentary not only from the political, media and financial sectors, but also among normal web users.

Christopher Preuss, its vice president of communications, argued that while much of the disapproval from official sources was expected, that coming from consumers was more of a surprise.

General Motors has a team of six people responsible for both for spreading news about its brands and interacting with members of social media sites.

One example of its activity in this area was its response to a blog post written by David Meerman Scott, a marketing author, who criticised the automaker's "faceless" and "nameless" marketing.

Scott, who has more than 25,000 "followers" on Twitter, was invited to the firm's headquarters in Detroit to interview Fritz Henderson, its ceo, and other senior executives, before uploading video clips of his experience to the web.

Earlier this year, GM also launched, which allows netizens to submit questions to its chief executive, a move Preuss suggested had helped provide a valuable outlet for consumers.

American Airlines also employed Twitter and Facebook to communicate with its customers when a terminal at LaGuardia airport in New York was closed due to a bomb scare in August this year.

These messages provided information about lost luggage, as well as detailing the situation regarding possible delays and cancellations to flights.

Such a strategy enabled the air carrier to avert angry eWom from passengers who would otherwise have travelled to the airport, only to find they could not make their planned journey, Roger Frizzell, its vp of corporate communications, brand and advertising, said.

"Badvocates", the name applied to web users who are often highly vocal in their criticism of brands, make up around 20% of the adult internet audience worldwide, WeberShandwick estimates.

Jack Leslie, chairman of the PR firm, said it was important to respond to any sort of unfavourable material delivered by this group as quickly as possible, and also to make sure all communications have a personal touch.

"It's easy for a blogger to see a company as a faceless entity. We need to know there are real people out there," he argued.

Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by Warc staff