For this SocialMedia.org member profile, we sat down with Karin Moan, Director of Social Media at United Airlines. Karin has been a member since July 2012 and presented at our very first Brands-Only Summit in Orlando with United's Manager of Social Media Operations, Lora O'Riordan.
It's hard to say what an average social media team size looks like for big corporations. Some may have dozens of employees and several teams working on social, while others run a one-person show.
One thing was obvious to United Airlines though: Their team was too small.
The second largest airline in the world needed more than just two people to handle their entire social media presence.
As Karin Moan, United's Director of Social Media explains, with just two social media employees in 2012, they were engaging in less than two percent of online conversations about United.
Now, they've got a team that includes 12 Reservations agents plus additional team members who are monitoring 25,000 incoming messages per week, and responding 24/7 within an average of 1.5 hours (but most often handled within 30 minutes) — a huge improvement.
But it didn't come easy.
Before they could grow, they had to show the value of increasing social media team support.
“We needed to spend time with the resources we had, analyzing the current state of our social program,” says Karin. “We had to show leadership what our current state looked like from sentiment, volume, missed opportunities, and the customer perspective.”
“We presented data on other airlines' social teams, what United's customers were looking for and who they were, what they were talking about, what they told us through surveys and social interactions, and we showed the impact of our lack of response.”
In fact, a large proportion of the people tweeting at United were premier members and influential business travellers.
Karin says, “Our social media fans and followers include many of our most active MileagePlus Premier members. They are important to our business and we found that through social media engagement we help build and grow our relationship with our most engaged customers. That's what helped us justify our investment in the social team.”
Once they gained support to grow, they had to find the right people to help them do it.
The core skills United social media needed for customer service support aligned closely with the requirements of their reservation call center employees with one exception – they needed to write and understand the nuances of social media conversations.
“Their qualities were essentially the same. We needed people who were friendly, highly knowledgeable, and great communicators. But to become social agents, they also had to have an adept ability with social tools, using different platforms, and writing.”
Reservations agents joined the social media team through a six-month pilot program, and the results showed clear success. They continued to partner with the Reservations department which allowed them to support customers when they needed help, wherever they asked for it, at any time.
United's social agents had to have more than just traditional call center skills.
The United social operations team starts onboarding with a 158-page playbook. They also train for their overall response time, handle time, and the quality of their response.
“We do this through one-on-one training, monitoring, and giving specific feedback on things like process steps to improve,” says Karin.
But it's not all about just responding to customers, United encourages their social agents to do it with personality.
Karin says they work hard to identify each social agent and to allow him or her to have a voice while staying within the guidelines. That can mean tactical applications like using their initials in each tweet or post, but it also means making relationships with their most engaged passengers.
For example, in their Brands-Only Summit presentation, Karin and Lora considered it a win when one customer asked for a specific social agent saying, “Where's FM? I really want to talk to her.”
“Our social agents love making personal connections with all of our passengers. For example, because one man's flight was delayed, he was going to miss his date. He asked us to vouch for him since he's always late. We let his date know there was indeed a delay, and he appreciated us having a little fun with the situation,” Karin explains.
To make those personal connections, Karin says they have to learn how to scale.
But scaling doesn't mean just adding more employees to the roster.
“Efficiency is the big challenge. We're not set up for success just by adding people to the team. We set up our team for the long-term so that as interaction and volume increases, we don't always need to hire another person to handle it.”
“We’re continuing to grow and focus on having more personal connections with our customers. It’s an important part of our business,” Karin says. “We’re invested in making social media connections with United a meaningful experience.”