For leading JetBlue to social media stardom, Morgan Johnston is the SimpliFlying Hero of April 2012

JetBlue has established itself so firmly as a star in social media that it needs no introduction. Unsurprisingly, they were voted to the first position in the April round of SimpliFlying Heroes, receiving an overwhelming 82% of the votes. We reached out to Morgan Johnston, who heads JetBlue’s social efforts, and he most kindly obliged us with some tidbits about JetBlue’s social media efforts.

Morgan Johnston leads JetBlue’s social media efforts

JetBlue’s first jump into social media was after the ice-storm of February 2007 when they needed to address their customers to talk to them about lessons learned from an operational failure. They made the decision to address customers directly through YouTube and learned very quickly that establishing a direct relationship with customers through these channels was appreciated – and also provided an invaluable resource to learn more.


On the road to greatness

When Twitter began to gain additional prominence in March, JetBlue recognised the opportunity of the real-time nature of the medium. Because users were posting their experiences as they happened, the airline could talk with them as they were travelling. This offered amazing customer recovery opportunities

Morgan admits that while he loves the communities they’ve built, and the audience they’ve developed, the best aspect of their social strategy has nothing to with their accounts. The most important thing JetBlue did was use the networks to listen to what their customers were saying about them, and using that information to affect change internally.

While JetBlue doesn’t release information specifically on the revenue generated from social media activities, there are a number of metrics they watch regularly to measure success. One metric that they spend a great deal of time on is the engagement and sentiment of their customer base. NPS (Net Promoter Score) is a core metric at JetBlue and “the ability to refine what we know about our service through surveys, emails, and social media monitoring is incredible. Particular to social, our ability to track how online sentiment and knowledge is changed depending on our ability to communicate with the online audience is incredibly useful.”


Social Media and the Art of Crisis Management

When asked about the recent crisis with the indisposed pilot, Morgan says that like any carrier, JetBlue has plans developed for any number of situations. However, the specifics around the diversion of flight 191 to Amarillo, TX was a new and unexpected scenario for them.

It’s interesting to note that the first indication that this wasn’t a standard medical diversion came from a customer’s Tweet from the plane when it landed. Many of JetBlue’s plans anticipate customers tweeting from the scene, and they plan the scale of public responses as needed.

“Suffice it to say, there was a lot of interest about what happened to Captain Osbon, so we knew we needed to move fast. However, while we needed to move fast, we also take the responsibility of reporting only verified information very seriously, and also need to respect the privacy of our crewmembers and customers.”

A JetBlue pilot captain Clayton Osbon, is removed from the plane after erratic behavior forced the crew to land in Amarillo, Texas. Source:

Their initial blog post – and the subsequent updates were all done with a desire to balance the established goal of transparency, and the customers’ desire for information, with the responsibility to be sensitive and accurate with information. As Morgan says, “… trust we have built over the years went a long way to make our customers more understanding of the situation.”

As for internal policies regarding what employees can utter online, Morgan says that JetBlue asks their crewmembers to be responsible with their communications online, be transparent about their affiliation, and put disclaimers where needed, and above all make it clear they’re accountable for what they say, and the promises they might make to customers in online spaces. “Past that, our social network policy boils down to, “don’t be stupid.” – and we’ve had pretty good success with that to date.”


Building a co-ordinated, responsive team

JetBlue’s Social Media team is lead by representatives from their internal teams representing Marketing, Corporate Communications, and Customer Commitment. They all work together on initiatives. As the advertising team works with their ad agency on campaigns, they also work to incorporate the social components of those into their strategy.

A distributed team handles their social media strategy. The front line of their monitoring and engagement is the Real Time Recovery team. This team consists of 21 part time crewmembers based within their Customer Commitment team in the Salt Lake City, Utah area. The team has responsibility over a number of things within their operation including answering customer emails, working with operations on real time customer recovery, working with special needs customers preparing for flights, and the 24/7 monitoring and customer engagement through social media.

The Real Time Recovery team is augmented by the Corporate Communications and Marketing teams that jump in when larger issues present themselves, or when particular messages need to be presented to customers. These three teams work together with equal authority over our strategy, keeping proper checks and balances in place.

JetBlue was one of the first companies to start actively using CoTweet when it came onto the scene, and have enjoyed being part of their evolution into SocialEngage. Morgan says that the integration of Twitter and Facebook into a dashboard that allows tracking, assigning, tagging of customer comments, and tracking of effectiveness of posts is perfect for their multi-unit social team. For Facebook, they also use Buddy Media and other third party app developers where appropriate.


The importance of experimenting, adapting and talking to customers

Social media is all about the conversation. Pitches and promotions, give-aways or contests, Morgans says, are all fun, but they can be done anywhere and they’re not necessarily social. The real advantage of social media is the ability to talk with your customers, learn from them and earn their trust by showcasing your employees’ humanity.

That trust is the real opportunity. It builds the good will you may need one day, and it builds the advocates and evangelists that will fight on your behalf and share your messages to their audiences.

“We made the mistake of pitching without first earning the trust, and our messages fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until we asked our customers what they wanted of us, that we started building the relationship that would be the foundation of our social strategy.”

As for those looking to build their own social initiatives, Morgan has some handy tips. Collaborate with your customers to come up with the product that’s right for everyone. You have ideas of what you’d like to see for goals, and they’ll most certainly have ideas on what they’d like to see. Talk it out, experiment, adapt, and never get too attached to any one particular “right answer,” it may change overnight.

Well said, Morgan! We can’t wait to see more from JetBlue this year!


Know someone who’s worthy of being a SimpliFlying Hero?

Simpliflying Heroes are individuals recognized for outstanding social media use in the world of aviation. Do you know of somebody who uses social media effectively in their airline or airport to achieve specific business results? Or do you think you fit the bill?

Then go ahead and fill up the SimpliFlying Heroes nomination form. By filling out the nomination form, you bring them a step closer to being recognized by SimpliFlying for their efforts.

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