United Airlines tries to fly in the world of social media

Can United Airlines break away from previous social media PR disasters and start anew?

In Chicago, United Airlines employees stare at computer screens, tasked with communicating to their customers over Twitter and Facebook.

The social media team have to cope with the plethora of messages concerned over delays, weather and pets -- as well as continual rages over flights and customer services. Ranking below many in the industry for response times to messages through social media, the carrier is trying to figure out what it's all for.

It may be out of corporate comfort zones, but as young consumers turn to social media to connect to businesses, ignoring the communications channel can not only impact reputation but leave a firm floundering when something goes wrong.

By responding in real-time, 140 word replies can be taken out of context or mistakes made, but a singular, public "thank you" can be PR gold.

At the moment, the carrier's response times and social media usage is lower than rivals including Virgin America, American Airlines and JetBlue Airways -- and the airline's mere 240,000 followers show the lag, as well as the average 30 minute response time.

However, United Airlines has recently ramped up its efforts by increasing dedicated social media staff from two to 20 and making customer service agents available from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Mark Krolick, United's managing director of marketing and product development commented:

"Over the past year, we have realized a lot of the value in social media comes from being able to better service your customers and having a two-way dialogue versus us only putting marketing material out into the social media channels."

Let's hope United doesn't have another Dave Carroll scene on its hands. Disgruntled by poor customer service, the songwriter posted a YouTube video titled "United Breaks Guitars" which has been viewed over 13 million times since 2009.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com