Content Marketing All-Stars Q&A: Katy Phillips of American Airlines

By NativeAI / June 8, 2015

Think you’ve
got a lot happening on social media? Try being American Airlines.

In the first
quarter of 2015 alone, the company received over 280,000 tweets and sent nearly
88,000 to its followers. Extend that engagement to seven other platforms and
you get a sense of how massive the airline’s social media presence is.

So how does
American handle it all? Which metrics does it use to measure success? How does
it strike the right balance between telling its brand story and responding to
customer service issues? What new digital storytelling methods is it
experimenting with?

To find out, we chatted with Katy
Phillips, Senior Analyst at American Airlines, who
leads the company’s social engagement team.

Check out our latest Content Marketing
All-Stars Q&A below:

Q: Fill in the blank, the best content does what?

A:  The best content resonates with its
audiences’ motivations.  The best content
creators understand why people share and engage with their content; is it
because it will make me seem funny or knowledgeable if I share it? Or is it
because it is a behind-the-scenes, exclusive look at something? Will I be the
first to know that something cool is on the horizon?

If my audience
members feel that connection to my message, they’re much more likely to share
it, like it, and remember it.

Q: So how does that fit in at American Airlines? How do you
balance using social media as a customer service channel with using it as a content
marketing channel that connects with consumers?

A:  Well, social media plays a number of roles at
American Airlines.  There are the two roles you
mentioned: customer service and content marketing, and every day, we’re
ensuring that we’re collaborating very closely

Our teams
report up to the same director, which is fairly unusual for social media
organization. This allows us to quickly and easily share information between
our groups, which is imperative for an operationally focused organization like
an airline.  

As far as the
balance goes, we have a single brand channel on Twitter, @AmericanAir, and that’s very intentional.  Our goal is to have a single point of contact
for our customers.  It shouldn’t be up to
them to have figure out where to go, who to tweet, what to say to get our
attention. They may begin following @AmericanAir because we’re able to assist them with a customer service
issue, but they stay because of the story that we’re sharing – and vice versa.

Social for us
is also an incredibly valuable source of feedback, an early warning system, a
place to connect with our customers and develop a relationship, and more.. Our
insights analysts share trending comments from social media to inform very real
decisions across the business – whether it’s the music we’re using for
boarding a plane or the food that we’re serving; if you’re sending us a tweet
there are very real eyeballs on it determining the necessary follow-up.  

Q:  Would it be fair to
say then at social – whether it’s Twitter or anything else – is really kind
of a megaphone for either what the customers are saying or for what American
has to say through its own content?

A:  Absolutely. Whenever customers are tweeting
us, we’re looking at every single message – and we have a line of sight
through to all parts of the business; social is absolutely a consideration
whenever there are any decisions being made. 

It’s very easy
via social for our team to understand what’s going on. So when we roll out a
decision – whether that’s a change to the loyalty program, or something new on
board, or whatever it is – we are all looking at what’s coming through on
social and we’re sharing that back to the business in the moment.

Q:  You
mentioned that there are real eyeballs on these tweets and that they influence
business decisions.  How do you manage

A: So in the
first quarter of 2015 alone we received over 280,000 tweets to @AmericanAir and we sent nearly 88,000 tweets – and that doesn’t even
include the private direct messages, which for us are even more time-intensive.
So it’s obviously huge number and our customer experience team does a
tremendous job handling the volume.

The team is
working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, responding to and engaging with our
customers.  In addition to that, the
engagement team, my team, is working with over 30 different business units to develop
and share content out to our followers. On average we are posting two to three
times a day on up to eight different social platforms.

Q: We came across this great Netbase piece about
how you shifted the words you use on social to “action words.” Can you talk a
bit about that? How have you established an AA voice and approach on social?

A: At the center
of it all is the customer.  The customer
is the heartbeat of our social strategy and we are constantly evaluating the
ways that we are engaging with our customers to ensure that we’re being

So I’ll rewind
a bit. Several years ago, a group of us got in a room and asked ourselves: What’s
our social tone? What’s our social style? What’s our personality?

We knew that
in order to engage with our customers effectively we really had to consider our
social tone of voice.  We really had to
think about it.

So we had a
whiteboard and we came up with terms like “authentic” and “genuine” and “savvy”
and “confident,” as well as “empathetic” and “gracious.”  We really thought it was important to be
transparent as well as warm and witty.


Today our new customer
experience team members go through a several-weeks-long training, and the first
week is actually dedicated to the tone of voice; it’s about how do we talk with
our customers, how do we build a rapport with them where they want to continue
that relationship.

Sincerely, our
customers are our friends and many of them have become like family through
these interactions.  They know that when
they come to us they’ll receive honest and caring feedback and help –along
with some humor too.   

Q: When it comes to things like delays, it seems that it must
be difficult for customers to understand the massive size of an airline’s operations
and the factors that are outside of your control.

A: I think
that’s why it is so important for us to communicate on all levels – whether
that’s the pilot in the cockpit or through email or web communications.

When someone’s
flight is delayed, it is on us to come back and say: “You know what, we get it,
what’s your flight number, let’s see if we can at least explain why it’s
delayed. Can we at least shed some light to try to make this a little easier
for you and if not, what can we do to make this situation better, whether it
was in our hands or not?”

I think a lot
of the time, especially with airlines and travel, people just want information;
people understand that weather happens and that the mechanical issues happen;
they just want to know what’s going on.

We’re trying
to be cognizant of that on the engagement side; we’ve done a number of
different things over the years to try to give more information to our
customers, make them feel like they have the information they need.

So we’ve put
out more operational information on our Twitter channel. For example if there’s
a volcano that’s erupted in Chile, we’ll post the travel policy, information about
delayed flights, and how to change a flight.

We’ve also done
a behind-the-scenes video series aptly titled Behind
the Scenes @AmericanAir
, and it
explores things like: Where does my bag go when it’s checked? What is de-icing
and how does it work

Q:  Who is the audience
for your content? What sort of content tends to resonate best?

A: Our audience
is everyone from the first-time flyer to the expert traveler to those who
aspire to travel – whether it’s on American or another airline.  It is our passengers, it is the media, and it
is aviation geeks in general.  We do skew
a little older and more professional as far as our audience goes, but it’s
nearly 50-50 male/female and spans all ages, all income levels, and all
regularity of travel.

Obviously, our
best customers are following us on social media, and it’s a place where they
share feedback; they’re also looking for travel inspiration, they’re looking
for the latest news. But our audience is much more than just our
passengers.  It’s anyone interested in
travel and aviation.

And regardless
of who it is, the content that really gets our audience excited is around the
travel experience; whether that’s details on our new airplanes, or a gorgeous
shot from the window seat. I mentioned aviation geeks earlier, we
affectionately call them AvGeeks – and geek is a term of endearment by the
way. They follow us and they love nothing more than to see our silver birds

Q: Speaking of AvGeeks, we loved the #TravelTots user
generated photos that you’ve been sharing on social media of little flyers …


A:  A little background on that.  Our customers love to share photos of their
journeys with us.  We see tweets about
packing, we see Facebook posts about the new airplane smell, we see Instagram
shots of the world below from our airplane windows; we get dozens of these
photos every day and we love them. 

And part of
the journey that people are sharing with us oftentimes includes documenting the
experiences of our youngest fliers. The inspiration for #TravelTots was that one of our community managers saw the great
reaction that these photos would get from the internal team when they came
through our feeds; she thought they deserved a larger audience.

Q: When you share things like #TravelTots, how do you
define success? What metrics determine success?

A:  It completely depends on the campaign
objective.  There’s not a blanket metric
that determines success for our team.
Depending on the content we may place importance on reach for brand
awareness, or clicks, or re-tweets, or something entirely different.  

Our insights
analysts host a monthly meeting with the engagement team to review our content
distribution and our post performance; and we also regularly report back to our
different business units on metrics including click-throughs, reach,
impressions, revenue from airfare sales, etc. All of these help us determine
the efficacy of our posts and/or what we can do better next time.

Q: What’s your favorite
piece of social content, or campaign, created by AA?

A:  You know, this is a little like asking a
parent to choose a favorite child.

But I will say
a little over a year ago we realized there was a huge void in our content
distribution. We were talking about our new planes, we were talking about these
exciting new routes we’re launching, we were talking about many of the things
that make American Airlines great, but we weren’t talking about American’s
greatest asset of all: our people.

We knew that
needed to change, so we created #AATeam to help us tell their stories. Over the
past year we’ve shared stories of our people all over the system – from the father
and daughter who flew together
as Captain
and First Officer on her first flight, to one of our female maintenance aircraft
technicians who
had encouraging words for women
no matter their job or title.


This really
gives our audience a more intimate look at our airline, and with more than
100,000 employees we’ve got plenty of these stories to share. If we can bring
it back to these are the people who are helping you every day, who want the
best for you, who want the best for their co-workers and their airline, it
really sheds a different light on what we are doing here and why we’re doing

Q:  Outside of American
and outside of airline industry, what other organizations do you respect for
the way they’re creating content and sharing it via social media?

A:  Humans of New York is creating and sharing compelling stories every single day,
multiple times a day and I think and he has incredible insight into what makes
people tick. He is truly changing the way the world works and the way that we
view one another as just human beings.


Q:  Finally, how do you
see content marketing and social media evolving over the next few years?

A: I hope that
social continues to become more personal and honest.  We’re already seeing a shift to this in the
younger platforms.  If they’re not
already, I think brands are going to have to learn how to tell their story
instead of just using social exclusively as a marketing or advertising channel.

Mediums like
Periscope and Meerkat and Snapchat, they’re giving brands the chance to invite
customers along for behind-the-scenes moments. At American we now have the
ability to actually bring experiences to life for consumers.

For example,
this morning we celebrated our 400th Honor Flight; what these Honor
Flights do is bring veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials and to be
honored for all of the things that they’ve done for our country.  


We shared
these events in the past with photos but it really didn’t capture the emotion
of what we were doing. This time we were able to Periscope the live stream of
the deplaning process. These veterans were coming down the jet bridge and employees
were clapping and cheering, giving hugs and kisses. Then you see the veterans
come out of the gate area and there are customers and volunteers waving flags,
with a band playing music. It was amazing.

We weren’t
able to showcase this properly before. Now, even if you are not in D.C, it
doesn’t matter because you can still feel like you’re there. This is a huge
change for us and I hope that we’re able to continue to share these kinds of
moments with the folks that are following us.

Written by NativeAI / June 8, 2015