Conversation marketing: a train from an airline company

15 Sep

When you write a blog about conversation marketing, you of course start with the bible on conversations: the Cluetrain Manifesto. But before I do, I want to start with what I think is the best example on conversation marketing: the tweets of airline KLM. And when I decided to start writing about KLM, I decided to just ask the KLM people to get involved on my blog. And while I waited for their first reaction, I read this interesting interview about the way KLM has structured its social media activities.

What is especially interesting, is that the use of social media at airline KLM started, as in other companies, in the form of campaigns. We marketers still have to get used to the idea of ‘real time marketing’, the concept that David Meerman Scott is stressing for years: “It’s a real time world now, and if you’re not engaged, ten you’re on your way to marketplace irrelevance”. The moment that KLM learnt this the hard way was in April 2010, when the Icelandic vulcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, as did KLM’s phone system. The company started placing status updates (‘broadcasting’) on Twitter, and ended with a 24/7 team of many KLM employees that could reroute people than replied on social media to other flights.
But when after a while the vulcano calmed down (as the phone system did), the CEO of KLM asked his social media strategist to keep the ‘dialogue’ alive. In a few days, the whole company culture had changed, a beautiful story. As a (social media) phoenix, KLM rose from the ashes of a vulcano. And while I wrote this paragraph, KLM started tweeting (me) about their social media activities. And although they couldn’t disclose their social media strategy to me at that moment, a few weeks later they decided to put it online (click here).

What I often notice is the fear at companies for these kinds of cultural changes, we rather hide behind the brand and the central phone number. Actually this knowledge is not new, it was already written down in the Cluetrain Manifesto many many years ago (eh in internet years then: 1999). Although the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto (click here to read them) were based upon the 95 theses that Martin Luther put forward as a protest to the catholic church, they were no religious complaint. The writers had soon noticed the influence of the internet on humanity, business and the hierarchy within companies. They predicted that people would be ‘conversing’ with each other, en that companies that didn’t see this would eventually become irrelevant. They bundled the 95 theses into the next categories (en notice how good they predicted the present):

  • Theses 1-6: Markets are conversations between people: “Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors” (these 2).
  • These 7: “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”.
  • Theses 8-13: Companies should communicate like markets: “There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone” (12)
  • Theses 14-25: Companies will have to jump in the conversation with the market, in the language of the market: “In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court” (15).
  • Theses 26-40: Marketing and an authentic reaction: “Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company” (28).
  • These 41-52: Intranets and their influence on hierarchy: “Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority” (50)
  • Theses 53-75: The connection of intranets with the internet: “Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall” (62).
  • Theses 72-95: The new market: “Don’t worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it’s not the only thing on your mind” (80).

The theses above were written in 1999, so 13 years ago (ancient in internet time). But when you read them you will notice how strong the vision of the writers was. Just ask the people @KLM.

This post is the seventh chapter of the yet to be written book (click here) about ‘REAL Inbound Marketing’. All comments are welcome!


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