SimpliFlying Hero July 2010: Todd Blecher, for helping move Boeing towards social media excellence
As the sun set over Farnborough 2010, it became clear that Boeing emerged a clear winner. Not just by beating all expectations in getting new orders, but also by shaking off the dust in terms of excellent social media work to engage the community. Farnborough was the epitome of work that Todd Blecher and his team has put in over the last year.
Todd is Boeing’s Communications Director and has spearheaded the organization’s ascent into a new level of statusphere, where better engagement through blogging, use of Twitter and ‘the personal touch’ are a major factor. And for this, Todd is the SimpliFlying Hero for July 2010.
Boeing’s social media engagement at Farnborough
Boeing’s social media efforts were stellar at the Farnborough 2010 – especially for an organization its size and complexity. As industry analyst Ludo Van observed,
Boeing’s onsite videos were very professional and to the point. They produced 32 reports for the show (most of them on site) while maintaining a very high level of quality and interesting content. With their new website and Farnborough microsite, I think Boeing has really taken the lead in online presence and is a great example to follow.
Boeing engaged constantly with the people present at the show, and also fans who couldn’t make it there. But what was achieved at Farnborough was the culmination of a laborious process that began a few months prior.
How Boeing got started with social media – the road to Farnborough
In an interview with SimpliFlying, Todd shared how Boeing moved slowly into what had before been uncharted territories for the aircraft manufacturer.
“I would say that by the middle of 2009 we realized that we could use the tools in ways that would help us tell stories that weren’t otherwise being told.
Since we had blog experience, notably through our Commercial Airplanes VP of Marketing Randy Tinseth’s Randy’s Journal and our site for the U.S. Air Force tanker competition, and since we already had a lot of traffic to www.boeing.com even without that being a compelling destination, we decided to first focus on longer-form storytelling through a refreshed boeing.com.
The guiding principle came from our corporate advertising campaign, which features Boeing employees. The genuineness of our employees is powerful and so we try to feature them whenever possible.”
This idea about authenticity in communication accompanies those that Todd expressed in “Obi-Wan and Boeing”, a presentation about the organization’s use of social media (watch video). Todd and Boeing have truly captured the “personal touch”.
It does not come off as faux or forced; employees are featured on the newly renovated www.boeing.com, and their smiling, honest faces make even the 787 look like a gentle giant. This was furthered at the Farnborough airshow, where press kits had an ode to Boeing employees; pictures attached to job descriptions aided the media in identifying representatives.
Todd mentioned a key to Boeing’s successful integration into social media was a gradual effort:
“Maybe it was lucky timing or maybe we did a really good job presenting the plans but by September or October of 2009 we were beyond questioning whether to do something and well into planning the new www.boeing.com. It also helped, frankly, that we were starting cautiously and not proposing to spend a lot of money on the efforts”.
He also mentioned that because of such, less internal resistance was faced. Instead, open discussion became a key tool in allocating resources to the new communications work.
“I think one of the monumental benefits of social media is that it almost forces entities that want to be successful to communicate more clearly and present stories that are more interesting. I know I thought 140 characters in Twitter was impossible to deal with. Now, I relish the challenge.”
Todd and Boeing provide an insightful look at social media and how the root values of an organization must shake to accommodate revolutionary thinking.
The catalyst – Harry Winsor, the 8 year old kid, now a Boeing fan
Every strategy needs a catalyst to get all engines firing. In Boeing’s case, it came in the form of Harry Winsor. As featured on SimpliFlying Clever Airlines, Harry (an 8yr old), drew an airplane design on a paper and his mailed it to Boeing. When all they received back was a form letter that was obviously not meant for a child, Harry’s father wrote about the issue on his blog. One thing led to the other and this turned into a significant PR situation for Boeing.
That’s when Todd dived head-on into the situation and took control. Here’s what Harry’s father had to say about Todd’s efforts:
“….most impressive of all was Todd Blecher…who jumped into the conversation in such a positive way. He started by commenting on the post. He tweeted, even though Boeing has only had a Twitter account for two weeks. He even called Harry asking him if he’d like to come on a tour of Boeing. That call made Boeing a hero to an 8-year-old boy.
In his interview with SimpliFlying, Todd said, “I think through this we recognized the value of engaging on Twitter, which has influenced what we have done with that tool since then.”
And things have taken a turn for the better over the past few months. Todd shares an incident.
“In late April we posted a story about cold testing our new 787 airplane. In the past we probably would’ve talked in very technical ways about that. This time we allowed the people on the testing team to talk as real people about what they were doing. It was much more relatable and memorable.
It’s a great example of a mindset that’s changing the way Boeing communicates. We do remarkable things every day in this company. We need to talk about those in ways that are less mysterious so our audiences appreciate what the men and women of Boeing are doing” (Check out the video here)
Boeing has enjoyed an enormous response to improvements in social media. Just as any large organization should, however, Boeing understands that communication is an ever-changing field and thus we must always look to the distance.
What’s in store for Boeing’s social media strategy?
Now that Boeing has got such a strong lead in social media, expectations are high. When asked what we should expect in the future, Todd shared:
“I expect [focus on] YouTube and Facebook. We also need to develop a mobile strategy. Those all fit with what we’re trying to accomplish. After that, who knows? Things are happening so quickly that trying to predict what we’ll use down the road is really challenging. As long as we maintain a commitment to engage with our audiences and be engaging in doing so, I think we’ll do pretty well”
SimpliFlying thinks so too, and we are looking forward to Todd and Boeing communication’s contribution to social media.
Congratulations Todd Blecher, your hard work in making Boeing communicate and engage the community in a more human way has made you a SimpliFlying Hero!