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United Takes Delivery of the 8,000th 737

United Latest 737-900ER taxiing at Boeing Field

United’s latest 737-900ER, taxiing at Boeing Field

On Wednesday April 16th, United took delivery of its latest 737, but this one was special.

A 737-900ER was delivered from Boeing Field, marking a special occasion for not only Boeing but also United.  The aircraft was the 8,000th 737 to roll out of the Renton factory, and became one of over 550 of the type to be delivered to United since its inception.

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Checking-In On Boeing’s Social Media and Online Movement

The first Boeing 747-8 completes taxi tests at Paine Field

The first Boeing 747-8 completes taxi tests at Paine Field

Not that long ago Boeing entered into the world of social media and I wanted to take a moment to see how it is going.

Personally, I have seen huge changes in the past six months in regards to Boeing and social media. They have come an extremely long way when it comes to connecting with regular people like me and you since I started this blog just over two years ago. By making a huge push, I think they have been highly successful. However, I wanted to see how Boeing feels about their progress.

I decided to speak with Todd Blecher, Communications Director at Boeing based in Chicago, and Bernard Choi, who works for the Communications Department for Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle, to hear their take on Boeing’s progress.

When I asked Blecher if he felt their efforts have been successful he responded with: “I look at success on two levels. The first is whether we consistently generate appealing digital content. The reactions we’ve received since we started using Boeing.com as a storytelling platform and engaging through Twitter lead me to believe that we do.”

Blecher admitted that he wished their numbers were a little higher for the unique content they are creating on their website, but they were very happy with how their efforts at Farnborough turned out. “Our Farnborough micro site was a watershed moment, coming just a few months after we began communicating differently through Boeing.com,” Blecher stated. “We attracted 103,710 visitors who made more than 225,000 visits and 222,300 views of our videos. That was remarkable for us. I’m very proud of that effort.”

A new Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 test flying at Paine Field

A new Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 test flying at Paine Field

On top of making a lot of great and unique content on their website, Boeing has also been making a great effort to interact with their employees, different airlines and fans on Twitter.

I have found that a lot of companies don’t know how to make Twitter work for them. Many will have a Twitter account because they feel they need one, but they don’t know why. Talking with Blecher, I can tell he gets it. “Social media’s value rests in allowing organizations to engage in a dialogue with people around the world that can benefit both sides of that equation,  and do that at very low cost,” he explained. Boeing is not on Twitter because they want to look like they are in-touch, they are on Twitter because they want to change how they communicate to the outside world (being media, airlines and fans like you) permanently and more effectively, using technology.

Working Boeing’s three Twitter accounts (@BoeingAirplanes, @BoeingCorporate and @BoeingDefense) is very much a team effort. Blecher watches over @BoeingCorporate, Choi works on @BoeingAirplanes and Maribeth Bruno in Boeing Defense Communication watches over @BoeingDefense. I know that some larger companies have to go through a lot of hurdles to get something posted to Twitter, but Boeing makes it easy.

I have heard of horror stories from other companies, where they want to Tweet something, but it has to be approved half way around the world by five different people. It might take up to 12 hours to finally Tweet and by then, the moment is lost.

Boeing's hangars in Everett, WA (don't worry I was passenger when taking this photo)

Boeing's hangars in Everett, WA (don't worry I was passenger when taking this photo)

Blecher pointed out that Boeing is actually pretty flexible with allowing people to Tweet. All three of them that oversee the Twitter accounts are trained professionals and are able to use their own judgment on what is alright to Tweet. “Since our tweeters are media relations people by trade we all know what’s ok and what’s not ok for a tweet.” Blecher continued, “We’re used to being on a high wire without a net, so to speak. Therefore, most of our tweets aren’t subjected to lengthy review.”

He did clarify that if a Tweet is program related (ie what the 787 might be doing), they will speak with people in that department to make sure they have accurate information. On rare occasions there might be longer discussions before a Tweet goes public.

Choi explained that he might confer with a colleague, but he has the ability to use his judgment when to make a Tweet go live, “I’ll bounce ideas off of my colleagues, but there isn’t an official approval process.” There is a lot going on at Boeing all the time and it can’t all be Tweeted. I asked Choi how he gets his information, like when Randy Tinseth posts a new blog, does he get a heads up? He explained that sometimes he might, “get a heads up that Randy’s got a new blog coming or I’ll just wait like everyone else. I don’t tweet every blog entry, just as I don’t tweet every Boeing news release. It’s fairly subjective. We don’t want to overtweet, so we look for the highlights or just interesting nuggets to tweet. As you can imagine, we’re still learning as we go.” And Boeing has been learning.

Let’s take a look at what happened just last night. Boeing knew it was going to have to announce that the Boeing 787 will be delayed again. They posted their press release and Tweeted out the delay pretty much at the same time. Even though there were rumors that Boeing would release this information, they were the first one on Twitter to have the official confirmation. It was about another 15 minutes before other Twitter people responded to their original Tweet. That is being proactive and not everyone would be willing to Tweet out bad news like that.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner ZA001 during its taxi testing with Dreamlifter in the background.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner ZA001 during its taxi testing with Dreamlifter in the background.

Boeing has learned a lot from their interactions on Twitter, from posting online media and their Boeing Store Facebook account. They are hoping to use that information to continue to grow their online presence.  They hope to launch an official Boeing Facebook page (there is currently an unofficial one with 30,000 fans) and YouTube channel to share videos with the public and believe me, they have some really cool stuff.

Speaking about cool stuff, Boeing is still hip with the idea of having a TweetUp sometime. That is where a bunch of airline nerds like us (don’t take offense to that, just figure you might be one if you’re reading this) get together and talk about airplanes and do some cool things (there was one last year called Aviation Geekfest). One sponsored by Boeing won’t happen soon (there is a lot of red tape), but they are motivated to try and make it work someday (And I will continue to keep reminding them).

They are currently happy with the progress they have made, yet are still cautious about growing their online presence too quickly. “With any of these tools we have to walk before we run,” Blecher explained. “We’re far ahead of where I expected we’d be and while I’d love for us to be moving faster, I realize that trying to move too fast could put our efforts at risk. A couple of high-profile mistakes in the social sphere could really set us back.” That is a very wise approach to take. Many airlines have hopped on to the online bandwagon with great momentum, just to fizzle out with time and leaving people wondering what happened. You also don’t want to be venturing into new technology without fully understanding the impact it could have on your business or your customers.

From speaking with Blecher and Choi multiple times through their transition, I constantly get the feeling that they get it. They aren’t just pushing Boeing into the online realm because it is the new fad. Boeing is very well known for being innovative and cutting edge in many of the things they accomplish. Now they want to take that Boeing innovation mentality to the way they communicate with the outside world.

Director of Boeing Communications Confirms They Are Trying to Connect More With the Public

Boeing facility at Paine Field. Photo taken by me during my Boeing 787 interior tour.

Boeing facility at Paine Field. Photo taken by me during my Boeing 787 interior tour.

When the Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner first took flight back in December 2009, there were those who questioned if Boeing really missed out on a customer relations opportunity.

Yes, Boeing had a live video feed on the internet and posted some wonderful photos and videos on their special newairplane.com website, but it still left some wanting more. People questioned why weren’t they on Twitter? Why didn’t they provide more for those that love Boeing? I somewhat agreed and felt that Boeing was making an effort, but was still distant from their fan base.

However, I think things are changing.

I have always been a frequent visitor to boeing.com, however I have been very impressed with their newer website newairplane.com. It isn’t just dry information that airlines or engineers might be interested in, but something that can really build passion for the Boeing brand. You can check out what new liveries will be on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, take a virtual tour of both the Boeing 787 or the Boeing 747, find lots of great multimedia, and much more. It looks like I am not the only fan. Bernard Choi, with Boeing Communications, tells me that newairplane.com gets about 5-6million page views each month. That alone is a great indication, people want a closer relationship to Boeing.

Boeing facility at Paine Field where the Boeing 767, 777, 747 and 787 are made.

Boeing facility at Paine Field where the Boeing 767, 777, 747 and 787 are made.

Boeing has also stepped into the world of Twitter. They now have three accounts: @BoeingAirplanes, @BoeingCorporate, and @BoeingDefense. And really, they are doing an outstanding job, especially only being on it for about two weeks. This week, they had their first real test of social media and I think they passed.

John Windsor, who specializes in marketing and advertisement, blogged that his son sent a photo to Boeing of a new airplane with a pretty cold response. Boeing sent a canned reply stating they do not take any outside ideas and have destroyed his son’s information. Of course this is a form letter sent to anyone who submits an idea and they didn’t have a specialized form letter to reply to a child. Honestly, it made Boeing look like it has no compassion.

A few people Tweeted the blog and it got to Boeing. Boeing Tweeted, “The letter Mr. Winsor posted is, as he said, a required response. For kids, we can do better. We’ll work on it.” Cool. They could have defended their actions, but admit that it was not appropriate and they want to improve the way they do things.

Also, Boeing Corporate Communications director Todd Blecher, also made a comment on Mr. Windsor’s blog:

“Mr. Winsor…I think I can address your comments. As you state, we have to respond to the thousands of unsolicited ideas we receive in a way that protects us against possible infringement claims. Having said that, we can do better when the idea clearly comes from a child as enthusiastic as your son. We will work on this. I hope Harry remains fascinated by airplanes and grows up to be an airplane designer. To help him and others like him we maintain the following website. I hope he enjoys it.”

The Boeing 747-8 during taxi testing at Paine Field before its first flight.

The Boeing 747-8 during taxi testing at Paine Field before its first flight.

To me, that is quite awesome. He made his comment right after I made mine and I like to think I am quite quick. With all the changes and this Twitter incident, I started to wonder if Boeing was trying to directly interact with customers more than they have in the past.

I decided to try and find out. I wrote to a few folks at Boeing and heard back from Todd Blecher (remember he is the Boeing Corporate Communications director that made the blog comment) very quickly. I asked if Boeing was consciously making an effort to connect better and how they were going to respond to Mr. Winsor’s son, Harry.

Blecher assured me that Boeing will be sending Harry some items and he actually spoke with him on the phone, thanking him for his drawing and he hopes when Harry grows up, he will design airplanes for Boeing.

He also confirmed my hunches that Boeing is making a real effort here. “We spent much of the past 12 months developing and now executing an approach to online communications that makes sense for Boeing and our audiences. We figured out what we could bring to the table and how we would be willing to engage. We drew inspiration from many areas, including Randy’s Journal, newairplane.com, our corporate advertising, and other organizations.”

They realize they are new to this game and the transition won’t happen overnight. “We are learning as we go but I have no doubt that are on a journey that will see us really change the way Boeing communicates…the bottom line is we’re changing.” When I asked Blecher about their future plans he told me they are looking at Facebook, thinking about a future mobile app and possibly even a Boeing TweetUp (where people on Twitter get together, ie Aviation Geekfest). Boeing talking about a TweetUp? That’s amazing.

Blecher realizes they might not make everyone happy. “Not everybody in our audiences will like our approach. But, to paraphrase Sinatra, we’re doing it our way because to try it any other way, to expect an organizational mindset to change overnight, is a sure way to set yourself up for a lot of frustration and aggravation and mistakes.” Even if they might make a few mistakes and frustrate a few people, I think it will be worth it in the long-run.

Who knows, if Boeing can really build that brand loyalty, maybe more people will be saying, “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t Going!”

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