Becoming a Better Listener

I’m a problem-solver. That’s one of the reasons I became a social strategist. I’m always on the look out for better solutions and ways to transform theory into practice. The downside to this is that I tend to not be the best listener. If you’re telling me anything that involves a problem my mind immediately focuses on that and begins to work on pulling together a variety of potential solutions. So even though I may nod and give some superficial “hmmmms…” and “then what?s” a decent part of my mind is elsewhere. While some may call that a strength- and to be sure it has often come in handy when a quick resolution is needed- it is also a potential weakness.

Social strategists must be strategic listeners as well as effective problem solvers. This can be difficult in our fast-paced world. The pressure comes externally as well as internally to make snap strategic decisions based on already known facts. But that’s leaving the “social” out of social strategist. The truth is we deal with an ever-changing landscape made up of layers upon layers of human behavior. A successful social strategy must take into account the needs and wants of the target audience and to know that requires time to listen.

When that doesn’t occur you get social #fails. At the extreme end is something like the #myNYPD hashtag flop which was an total and complete disaster. My hunch is that they didn’t consult a social strategist at all but rather thought that a hashtag campaign could be a good idea and went with it.

But more common are hashtag campaigns that simply fail to take off. I guarantee we’ll see a fair amount of these during this weekend’s SuperBowl. It’s really too bad because often these campaigns have a lot of promise and all it would take is a bit of time listening to hit them out of the park.

My personal go-to listening combo is and spiderQube.
I start off by looking at the most associated hashtags for a given topic using hashtagify. As I wrote in another blog post, this can be enormously important in the course of research to make sure you are identifying the right target community. Armed with a sense of prospective hashtag leads I then move over to Spider to get into in-depth listening. This tool allows me to zero in on who to listen to as well as additional keywords and hashtags associated with the topic.

This type of listening before a campaign can inform everyone from the right hashtag to use to the type of content that can be created. It can also loosen up the creative process as you identify other potential audiences for your marketing efforts.

With just a little bit of effort #fail can be transformed into a win- yes, even #myNYPD. All you have to do is stop and listen.

What tools do you use for social listening?

You Ignore Social Listening At Your Peril: The JetBlue #Fail

It’s hard to be an airline brand. Think about it. Flying makes even the most amicable individual on edge. All it takes is one employee having a bad day to color the whole experience. That’s no doubt one of the reasons that some airlines were some of the earliest adopters of social customer service and social listening. (My favorite is of course the case of Virgin Atlantic.) They understood that the vast majority of customers just want to know that the brand hears them. When it comes down to it we all know that the airline isn’t to blame for the weather or airport construction. But often in the heat of the moment the airline is the nearest scapegoat. A thoughtful response to a frustrated tweet can be that calming force that brings us back into a rational frame of mind.

“The airport is awful, and the weather sucks. But at least I’m flying  (airline)!”

Airlines who do social right get tons of compliments and satisfied customers. But that means that those who do it wrong can actually hurt their reputation more! In fact it can actually hurt an otherwise positive experience. “I tweeted to the airline saying that I enjoyed my flight and never got a response”. Or, even worse, the tweet can sound insensitive to a customer’s complaint.

 Here’s my recent experience:

I booked a flight on JetBlue to travel to SHRM. I used to fly JetBlue all the time in the mid-2000s back when they were a cheap and cheerful option. $99 each way to CA from DC for a college student was a dream come true! Then JetBlue raised their prices. And I mean REALLY raised their prices. Of course then prices went up across the industry. Now a days I’m shouting from the rooftops if I can get a nonstop non-red eye cross country flight for under $400. But I can never find a competitive JetBlue flight! For that reason it’s been at least 5 years since I’ve flown with them. I was kinda excited. I mean they’re the “fun” airline, right?

Then the worst happened. I got a call right before I was set to leave for the airport that my flight had been canceled due to a “disruption” and I had been rebooked for the next afternoon. I called customer service to explain that I had to be in Orlando by Sunday morning at the very latest and the woman was very kind and accommodating on the phone. She was able to schedule me for a flight Sunday morning and also took the time to explain that the disruption was due to a mechanical difficulty. Overall my impression was positive despite my irritation.

Then I found out that my hotel didn’t allow same day cancellations even due to circumstances clearly beyond my control. This was one of those situations. Technically it wasn’t JetBlue’s fault they my hotel was being so stingy. I knew this but it definitely reduced the warm feeling I had after the helpful customer service phone experience.

When I first heard about the mysterious disruption I had posted a tweet asking if anyone knew what was going on. JetBlue responded about 30 minutes later asking for my flight number so that they could check up on it. So I told them that I had been rebooked for the next day but was out $120 for a hotel night.

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Here was their totally tone deaf response:

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There are so many relatively costless things they could have done to turn my mood around. They could have given me a seat upgrade for my next flight to their “extra space seat”, a few hundred miles on my rewards card or even just a sincere apology.

Guess what they said next?


Even after my boss, social media influencer Bryan Kramer, got involved and started to generate RTs.

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Now some of you may stop and say “well that’s the airline industry for you”. But that’s not necessarily true.

Last month I flew with US Airways to go to IBM SmarterCommerce in Tampa and they blew me away with their social media skills. On my way back I ran into a weather delay and tweeted out my frustration. Here’s their impressive response:

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That made JetBlue’s response all the worst.

After all of this you can imagine the mood I was in when I got to my gate. My Saturday flight had been in the afternoon. The rebooking meant I had to wake up at 4:30am to get to the airport. So when I encountered a rude employee at the gate it was the last straw and I took to Twitter.

I included those two airlines because in addition to the desire to rub JetBlue’s face in it, I wanted to see how US Airways and Virgin America (another social airline) would respond. Less than a minute later I got my answer.

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Spot on. They didn’t engage JetBlue. They simply make it clear through their rapid response that I’m valued. That’s what an airline customer wants to hear and that’s why the next time I book a flight I’m going to go out of my way to try to make it on US Airways.

Well-executed social listening and engagement is a must in today’s world. Brands need to realize that the value of those positions rivals their ad campaign budget. They need to invest in hiring skilled specialists in community management who are always listening and crafting thoughtful responses. Because in the end, it’s all about relationships.

addendum: JetBlue never responded to my tweets but they did create a Travel Bank account with $50. As far as social listening goes, however, it’s too little too late. The damage has already been done.