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Maria Cristina Sebastian of American Airlines shares the value of twitter

“As the world shrinks and brands go global, the key is to tailor your marketing plan to be relevant to the local market,” Maria Cristina Sebastian, VP of sales & marketing EMEA at American Airlines.

When a snowstorm closed London Heathrow Airport in 2010, American Airlines turned to social media to deliver the latest updates and information to its anxious customers. Maria Cristina Sebastian, American Airlines’ vice president of sales and marketing EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), explains how the airline saw a significant take off in Twitter followers during the snowstorm and found tweeting to be the most effective and immediate way to communicate with its grounded passengers as the situation unfolded.

“What’s interesting is that we can clearly see that consumer behavior is changing,” says Sebastian, who has been in her role—and in England—for five years, and prior to that moved through the sales and revenue-management sides of the airline while based in the United States. “This changing behavior really impacts our use of social media,” she continues. “Consumers are expecting instant information, and this is impacting how our marketing organization is set up. We’re being forced—and this is good—to facilitate closer collaboration between internal departments, in order to make the most of the relationship between us and the consumer who seeks us out socially.”

However, social media isn’t just coaxing companies into a more unified internal configuration. In Europe, American Airlines recently signed a joint-business agreement with British Airways and Iberia, and Sebastian and her team now have to consider how that joint interaction will work, and what will be the implications for those brands in the social-media sphere.

Rule of
Engagement:

The customer wants to
be recognized as an individual. In order to engage, companies have to dem-onstrate personality.

Information Push & Pull
This attention to social media from major companies like American Airlines is a testimony to the ascendancy of social media as a marketing channel, one which Sebastian describes as a “push-and-pull” of information. “When we launch a new route, we find social media to be such a tremendous way to engage with potential new customers on a conversational level,” she says, “and it helps us broaden the message about our new market/route and to demonstrate who we are to a market, when a new market is less familiar with the brand.”

Tips & Tricks

How to maximize social media for business 

• Engage with the
customer.

• Be aware of how your
customers want to
engage with you.

• Pay attention to local
differences: It’s so much
more than just putting
out a Facebook or
Twitter page—social
media is a full part of
the marketing equation.

Beyond this push and pull, there is also social media’s humanizing potential for a brand. Sebastian describes how marketing is becoming more personal, how the customer wants to be recognized as an individual. In order to engage, companies have to demonstrate personality while engaging more directly with online customers.

“As the world shrinks and brands go global, the key is to tailor your marketing plan to be relevant to the local market,” Sebastian says. “You want to be true to who you are as a brand while recognizing that messages and channels have to resonate with the local market—it can’t be all the same.”

Complicating the issue from an international perspective is that social media is developing at different rates within different markets, with certain tools more relevant in one market than another. “You have to adapt, but the challenge, and the opportunity, is that you get to know exactly what is being said about you,” Sebastian says. “It’s hard to digest at times, but it is an evolution—and a reality—and you want to evolve with it so that both the customers using that tool and the brand trying to engage through it, feel that it is effective for both parties.”

Ultimately, Sebastian says social media offers businesses of all sizes the opportunity to interact with consumers, share ideas and opinions, and immediately address any concerns. All of which, when combined, allow a brand such as American Airlines to reach new heights.