Twenty thousand people have landed in Austin for five days of workshops, panel discussions, and parties at the SXSW Interactive festival. This annual event is a big showcase of new products, apps, and services from small startups you haven’t heard of (yet) and large companies you know very well, like Highlight, Google, Facebook, Pintrest, Twitter, HootSuite, GM, Pepsi, Samsung.
American Airlines is here too, and they hosted an event Sunday evening to talk about their expanding social media presence, and some of the things they’re doing with mobile technology. They were kind enough to extend me an invite, so I stopped by to visit.
For me, it was a great opportunity to meet the American Airlines social team, and to be able to put a face with an avatar, email address, or Twitter handle. I was also able to meet Phil Easter, the Director of Mobile Apps and get a sneak preview of some of the software that his group has been busy developing.
One of the highlights of the evening was getting to meet two of AA’s most active Facebook fans: Will F. and Duane. C. Will is in town for the conference and Duane flew in from Chicago just to attend the American event, I was really glad to have met them.
Anyway, I got the impression that both the Mobile App team and the Social Media team function like small startups: they’ve had to create roles and functions where previously none existed, they’re passionate about what they’re doing, and they’re doing some cool stuff.
Phil Easter leads American’s mobile strategy and development. He was on hand to demonstrate a new version of the American Airlines iPad App. It’s been completely redone to take advantage of of the iPad’s larger screen. The main menu is now more of a dashboard. You’ll be able to view important info without having to move through several menus, most of your information will be available just by scrolling. The graphic elements of the user interface have also been completely redesigned. It has a more polished, data driven interface, and looks less like the website and more like an iPad App.
Another improvement…I promised not to say much about it, but Sudoku fans will be really happy with version 2.0. They’re doing something really clever with gameplay. The new app will be out later this year.
Some other AA mobile app news: American will be coming out with a new game app later this year. I promised not to say more until they open it up for beta testing, but it has a social gaming element and you’ll be able to earn badges and AAdvantage Miles.
It’s not like anything I’ve seen before. It’s not just a “private label” version of an existing mobile game, it’s completely original, and I’m not sure another app development company could pull if off without having their own airline and frequent flyer program.
Social Media Strategy
American has been busy the last year and half building a team around some of the new social media communication services. Three years ago they we just blasting marketing messages on Facebook and Twitter and they weren’t having a lot of success with that strategy. Then two years ago they decided to do things differently.
Since then, they’ve crafted a strategy that uses these channels to talk to customers, resolve customer service issues, trace lost luggage, provide information about weather related delays, and still keep their customers up to date on mileage offers and fare sales. They started out with three people and now they’re up to eleven and still expanding.
Something that I thought was really interesting: they spend a lot of time reading and following milepoint and FlyerTalk. I know that they post in both forums from time to time. but I wasn’t sure how closely they monitored the discussions.
It turns out that they were familiar with all the threads and topics, they knew the forum usernames of the most active participants, and they were impressed with the quantity and quality of information available in the forums.
Congratulations to Jay, the winner of Friday’s Reader Giveaway! Friday I asked readers to look at the Q2 Citi reduced mileage award chart and name the city they would most like to visit.
Three readers suggested my favorite destination, Montreal. Jay had a great suggestion too, with Lexington, KY, home of Valhalla Golf Club, site of the 2008 Ryder Cup.
Win an American Airlines USB Card and Free Code for Gogo Wifi
The AA social media team was nice enough to give me five USB cards with free codes for Gogo Inflight Wifi, so each day this week I’ll be giving one away.
To celebrate SXSW, all you have to do to enter is share the name of your favorite mobile travel app in the comments section. If you don’t have a favorite, you can share that fact instead.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll have a random drawing to pick a winner, and will announce the results Tuesday’s post. One entry per person. The deadline to enter is tonight, March 12, at 11:59PM Pacific.