This morning as the sun rose over United Airlines’ headquarters in Chicago, the airline was embarking on the start of a new era dubbed Customer Day One. Along with new changes in logos and branding being unveiled at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the airline made a change in its social media …
… on the afternoon of March 4th 2011, United Airlines began planning for its transition to merge its two Twitterstreams, @UnitedAirlines and @Continental, to a single Twitterstream for the new airline … @United. The unveiling of this new Twitterstream was scheduled to coincide with the airline’s Customer Day One campaign, and this morning, shortly after 6:00am in Chicago @United tweeted “Welcome to @united. Here you’ll find updates about the new United, so spread the news about our new location on Twitter.”
The introduction of a single Twitterstream for both airlines was not unexpected; the transition to @United was not unexpected … however in this transition the airline made a significant tactical error in leaving more than 193,000 @UnitedAirlines followers behind. When United Airlines launched the new Twitterstream they didn’t simply change the name of one of the Twitterstreams to preserve its followers, those it follows and its continuity, it started an entirely new Twitterstream, with zero followers, following zero people.
Changing a Twittername and preserving all your followers, so they automatically are following your new Twittername is easy. Twitter users simply need to click Settings, then scroll down the Username field, type in the new Twittername you’d like … and that’s it. You have a new Twittername and everyone you follow and who follows you is automatically transferred.
While it was not possible for United Airlines to retain both @UnitedAirlines’ 193,000+ followers and @Continental’s 143,000+ followers, I was puzzled by United Airlines’ choice in leaving all their followers behind and enquired as to the logic behind this decision. The following is the response I received from United Airlines, via Rahsaan Johnson in the airline’s public relations department:
“Twitter told us our option was to change either @continental or @unitedairlines to @united, or to start fresh. So we elected to start fresh. And with more than 5000 followers today alone, there’s no doubt people want to talk to us”
While the new @United Twitterstream may already have more than 5,000 followers after less than a day, the airline has still left a massive number of followers behind. The logic behind the decision to start fresh with @United can be equated like this.
“We had two bank accounts. We were told we could take $193,000 and convert it to a new account, or we could throw that $193,000 away and hope some of the money floats back to us while starting to earn new money, from zero. We chose to throw that $193,000 away and start from scratch.”
In social media airlines, and all companies, need to be proactive and maintain their relationship with their customers. Companies engaging in social media must protect their followers, and leverage their skills to attract new followers and build loyalty. United Airlines faced a difficult challenge in having to coax their 143,000+ @Continental followers to migrate to the new @United Twitterstream … but now the airline is faced with the challenge of transferring 336,000+ followers to the new account. Yes, some people followed both accounts, but likely the major of followers did not follow both Twitterstreams.
United Airlines could have done this transition more effectively. The airline had @United in their possession for 75 days prior to today and has known about Customer Day One for far longer than that. The efforts United Airlines must put forth to rebuild their Twitter follower base could have been used in a more effective manner, because throwing away something you already have, that you know you need to retain, is never a good decision.