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For today's Twitter showdown, we're moving away from the shelves and into the skies. With a look to two of the most talked about airlines, we're pitting Virgin America against United Airlines.

With different approaches to social media, which airline do you think will win today's social media media battle?

Virgin America

First up, Virgin America. Virgin is the more experimental of the two brands and it really uses pictures to share the experience of Virgin America. The Twitter background page is an image that makes you feel like you're in the passenger seat with a view from the back to the front of the plane and Virgin uses the same image for its cover photo on Facebook. It also uses Pinterest and Instagram to share photos from airplane geekery to events and encourages its customers to share photos of their own experiences as well. 

One thing Virgin America does stress, is that it won't address specific guest service issues on Twitter (or Facebook). What it clearly provides in its bio is the contact details customers can use to get the help they need. Virgin America provides both a link directly to its contact us page and its customer service number. This doesn't mean the Virgin social media team don't respond to people who need customer service but they often encourage customers to go directly to customer service when they can.

If you search for @virginamerica, the sentiment is neutral to positive. Either it just provides a good experience as an airline or people are getting what they need online/ are going directly to customer service offline. The nameless team behind Virgin America are on Twitter and Facebook 7 days a week and actually tweet the most on Sundays according to the numbers below. It makes perfect sense as that's when most of us fly.

What is useful for me as a customer or potential customer, is that I can go directly to Virgin America's homepage and its main social networks are listed on the top of the page. You can also click through to a social media page where Virgin America stresses what they do on each social network and how you can take part. Twitter and Facebook are also embedded so you can see what people are saying right now.

United Airlines

Now onto Virgin's competitor, United Airlines. Now United used to be very proactive about announcing its social media presence on its flights and on its website. Now if you go to its homepage, you can't find an easy link to its social networks. United instead seem to be focusing on its own customer centre, the United Hub, where it's planning to pull all its social networks into one place where it will encourage customers to go to interact with them. At this current moment though, there is nothing there to show what people are saying nor are there links to where you can comment. It's a bit like they've put up a construction shell stating "coming soon" with no indication of when it's opening its doors to the public

Though United states that Facebook and Twitter aren't for customer service issues, these messages aren't signposted very well. United include a message on the background image on Twitter and the about section in Facebook (if you click through to it) but it's not the first thing you see. Most customers won't go looking for instructions. They want to be told up front.

As for engagement, United don't engage on social networks on the weekend and though the United social team answer quite a few questions, when you search for @united on Twitter the majority of comments appear to be negative. Its lack of customer service has been a thing of much publicity from United Breaks Guitars to it's most recent issues in March when United merged its booking system with Continental so this isn't a surprise. What is a surprise is why United haven't become more savvy and been proactive about dealing with its customers online. Unfortunately, the complaints won't go away unless you do something about it.

United do have a strong community on airline forums (some may eat you alive if you post a negative comment on there) but the positive customer forces may be diminishing as United continues to have troubles outside of social media and lacks the support to manage the issues that are cropping up online.

What the numbers mean

According to the infographic by Visual.ly below, Virgin America has a significantly higher number of followers, almost three times as many in fact. Not that high numbers mean a lot with big brands but it could be because it does tweet on a regular basis and not just to follow up with customers. Virgin also follows a high number of its customers, probably so the Virgin team can DM them about any customer service issues they may have.

United, on the other hand, have a large number of mentions but as we pointed out earlier, the majority of the mentions United have lean toward negative issues rather than positive interactions with the brand. As it is deathly quiet on the social front on the weekend, the time a large number of people fly, this is not a good move toward fixing its negative customer service issues nor do United seem to really want to connect with us as its Twitter bio claims it wants to do.

The results

Sorry to say it United Airlines, but you've been had. Virgin America wins hands down.

 

Heather Taylor

Published 30 April, 2012 by Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor is the Editorial Director for Econsultancy US. You can follow her on Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.

236 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Julius Duncan

Great analysis, thanks Heather. What surprised me is that United in particular, and Virgin to some extent, are still designing their customer service and community management around what suits them, rather than what suits the community. While there is undoubtedly some effort in 're-setting' a company for an 'always-on' community management and social customer service approach, it pays back in terms of loyalty, advocacy and customer value.

over 4 years ago

Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor, Editorial Director at Econsultancy

I think it may be both a cost and a transition issue. Though I want to have my customer service where I want to be, at least Virgin is being very clear about the limitations of their social services and are stressing where you can get help. Most companies don't have a Twitter account run by the customer service team. Instead, they have to pass on your complaint to someone else and they become the middle man. For those companies able and willing to use Twitter and Facebook for customer service, hopefully more will eliminate that gap so those who have the power to help the customer will be at the end of the tweet.

over 4 years ago

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Jamie Norman

Great stuff. These head to heads are always interesting. Would be good (albeit difficult) to evaluate positive vs negative tweets. Volume alone doesn't always tell the full story.

over 4 years ago

Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor, Editorial Director at Econsultancy

I could use social mention next showdown but I find untuned, auto-sentiment to be a bit unreliable but it will give a ball park. In this case, I read the mentions for each brand and deducted.

over 4 years ago

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Stephanie

(1) the author seems biased in favor of Virgin America
(2) proofread. your article clearly says 'ass' in it.

over 4 years ago

Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor, Editorial Director at Econsultancy

Thanks for your eagle eyes Stephanie. It has been corrected!

over 4 years ago

Panos Ladas

Panos Ladas, Digital Marketing Manager at Piece of Cake

Very nice analysis.

I also don't believe that Virgin America is actually winning but I don't think that it is fair to say that the one or the other is actually winning but better break it down and see what each of them achieves or try to achieve.

It would be interesting to see how many of these tweets and retweets were positive or had information related to products/services or were more generic like news and lifestyle info...

over 4 years ago

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