Enterprises Move from Passive to Active Social Media Strategies

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Recognizing the potential power of social media, KLM committed to the new communication channel and expanded its efforts. Currently, the airline handles about 75,000 messages each week, across a variety of social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The firm communicates in 14 languages and recently began tinkering with country-specific social tools, like Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, WeChat, and Renren in China and VKontakte in Russia.

The airline has found novel ways to leverage social interactions and improve business processes. At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, passengers who left something on a plane had to wait days before retrieving their lost-and-found items. After noting the high volume of tweets complaining about the slow-moving process, the airline dedicated special staff to check planes and reunite people with their belongings before they left the airport. A video made to promote the service went viral, increasing positive perceptions about the airline.

Back home, General Motors is also using social media to drive business change. In 2014, the auto supplier launched two pickup trucks based on its K2XX vehicle platform, the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra. Shortly after the debut, new owners, mostly those based in the warmer southern region of the U.S., complained that the aluminum steering wheels became extremely hot. Others were unhappy that the air-cooling system blew hot air into the rear seats. General Motors had put mechanisms in place to gather such data via social channels. The company relayed that feedback to the quality, engineering, and manufacturing teams. Within months, the aluminum steering wheels became optional, and engineers worked with manufacturing teams to fix the seat-cooling air vents.


Virgin America had a guest on board who was having trouble using his credit card to purchase a menu item in-flight. The social media team came across his tweet and reached out to the operations center, which sent a message to the flight crew. An attendant delivered a sandwich to the guest, free of charge.

Five Guys, a fast-food chain with about 2,500 locations, went through the typical marketing process before changing the recipe for its popular fries. The vendor conducted market research, held focus groups, and tested the change in a few locations. Those steps went well, but when the chain began serving the new fries, consumers noticed and were incensed. "Customers were using the hashtag #soggyfries to illustrate their displeasure about the change," says Adobe's Sutter. The company became aware of the backlash, contacted the customers, gathered their input, and changed the fries again, encountering far less resistance on the second go-round.

While the number of such social media success stories is growing, the process of taking social information and turning it into meaningful business improvements is strewn with obstacles. "Most companies are not in a good position right now to leverage social data," notes DMG Consulting's Fluss.


Businesses need to make significant investments in their social monitoring tools. A wide and ever-growing array of systems are available, and their capabilities are rapidly evolving. The new solutions typically provide one piece of the puzzle, and businesses must put the pieces in place themselves. Since the tools are new, features like robust application programming interfaces (APIs) and scalability are often lacking.

Also, these products were designed in vacuums, but companies need to tie them into existing systems, like CRM. Integrating the various components can be a time-consuming and tedious task that involves both technical and human elements.

On the technology side, many existing applications have been running for years, and their APIs were designed well before social media was envisioned. Compounding the problem, new channels are constantly emerging. Video sites like YouTube and streaming tools like Hulu are becoming popular social media outposts. Since these outlets are new, their APIs are often rudimentary. Also, the new channels generate unstructured data that is difficult to tag and categorize. "Instagram generates an image but no text, so how does a social listening tool recognize it and then differentiate it from other images?" asks Adobe’s Sutter. The upshot: Integrating existing systems with fledgling social media systems can be onerous, and expensive.

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