Why Should I Friend you on Facebook or Twitter, United?

As airlines continue to grow into the social media age, there seems to be a common, clumsy mistake that will likely become a major point of contention in this space:  a call to action without a communicated incentive.

Halfway through my flight from Washington (IAD) to Seattle last week, I received a special surprise along with my ginger ale…a napkin that doubled as the most useless piece of marketing communication I’d ever received:

Umm…well, I don’t really need any more friends, thanks.

It must have been my lucky day, because after I spilled my drink and grabbed my napkin to clean up, I found the second most useless piece of marketing communication I’d ever received on the back!

Why? Are you going to help me play the stock market?

Innocent though it may be, this United napkin is a classic example of communication without a point. Without making any effort to communicate a single benefit the passenger will receive in exchange for following the call to action, it goes beyond my reason why any passenger would rush to turn on their smart phones upon landing and become a UA Facebook fan, or start tweeting UA (which, I might add, they may not even be able to find since this doesn’t specify United’s Twitter handle). To that last point, could you imagine the potential PR disaster that could happen if a passenger tried to “stay in touch” on Twitter, and ended up communicating with a United detractor (or someone who was simply unresponsive) instead?

While UA has @UnitedAirlines, think of how many alternatives are out there (@United, @UnitedAir, @UAOfficial, etc.) that United has NO control over. At least this napkin may have added a few followers to Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand’s Twitter stream (which, for the record, is the first handle that shows up when you search for “United” in Twitter). This is like putting a photo of a telephone on a poster, with the phrase “call me” next to it, and nothing else. You wouldn’t sit next to the phone expecting it to ring, would you?

145 million impressions gone to waste?

Keep in mind, United flew 145 million passengers last year. That’s nearly 400,000 impressions these simple napkins can make every single day. If you had a simple message to convey to that many people, wouldn’t you go to painstaking lengths to make sure you got the message spot-on right?

There are two simple lessons this awful napkin brings to light:

If you are going to make a call to action, 1)  at least make an attempt to communicate a user benefit for answering that call, and 2) make sure to provide clear instructions of exactly how to follow the call to action.

Hope to see United (if not other airlines), buck up! What do you think?


Steven Klimek is an airline strategist who has previously held commercial and marketing positions with Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and ATPCO. He will be a regular contributor to Simpliflying, and can be found online at http://airticulate.com or on twitter at @AIRticulate.



SimpliFlying is the leading consulting firm that specialises in aviation marketing and innovation. We are one of the largest in the world, having worked with over 100 aviation brands globally. Our growing list of clients includes American Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Turkish Airlines, LATAM Airlines, Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Toronto Pearson Airport. Headquartered in Singapore, we have presences in Canada, Europe and the Far East. Our business includes a consultancy arm, training academy marketers, events and conferences, as well as a content creation division, which among other things produces the world’s only aviation marketing magazine. If you're keen to tap our expertise, email us at contact@simpliflying.com
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Showing 3 comments
  • Troy Thompson

    Steven, great post.

    Must admit, flying United a few weeks ago, saw the napkins and thought the same exact thing. Not to mention the fact that United is, how should I say, limited, in their use of Twitter.

    Just this month, they went 4 days without a single tweet. Not a big deal for your aunt or college buddy, but if you are a Fortune 500 company, in a very public industry, who is actively distributing napkins instructing others to follow said Twitter account (if they guess correctly!), you should probably tweet more than once a week.

    Personally, I have no reason to doubt the social media team at United Airlines. I am sure they are good people, but each one of these examples adds to my overall negative perception of United.

    They simply do not understand customer service.

    Online, offline, social or phone.

    – Troy

  • DJ Waldow

    Steven: Well said. I especially love the example of posting a picture of a telephone and waiting for people to call. Classic! I posted “Why Flying Is No Longer Fun” a few weeks ago – http://socialbutterflyguy.com/2011/04/26/flying-is-no-longer-fun/ – & am working on a follow up (with suggestions) now. The post is not entirely a knock on UAL, but I ding them pretty good. I just don’t understand why they have a Twitter account (and social media “presence”) if they don’t bother to engage – at all.

    Back to calls to action…We talk about this stuff in email marketing too. Give me a reason to sign up for your emails. Make it easy. Same thing applies to social media – or any form of marketing for that matter.

    Speaking of napkins, I really like what Southwest does with their – http://blog.blueskyfactory.com/best-practice/are-you-using-every-opportunity-to-collect-email-addresses/ – While a custom URL would be nice, they do include an easy text-to-subscribe option. What do you think?

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

  • DesignerFA

    This is clearly a case of “Good Enough”. It was a good idea that was not thought out enough to become a great idea. Everyone is using Facebook & Twitter now…..If you are going to use it such a large scale is United- you better make sure you do it differently than anyone else. Someone said “Hey let’s tell our passengers to follow us on twiter and find us on facebook.” And that’s where the thought ended. There was obviously no discussion as to Why or how to do so. Whoever was in charge said “That’s a great idea. I want that done today.”

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