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Strategic insights
What an 8-Year-Old Taught Boeing About Social Media

Written by on May 6, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, 8-year-old Harry Winsor (son of John Winsor, CEO of the ad agency Victors & Spoils), decided to send Boeing one of his concept designs for a new plane, done in crayon. The result was a crash course in social media for the plane manufacturer.

Most big companies, who do not yet understand the social world, come from a mindset of not being in touch with the customer. Their marketing tactics is to create an advertisement, put it into a magazine, and then forget about it.

When these companies suddenly realizes that they are need to get on the social web, they kind of miss the whole point. And it only took an 8-year-old to teach Boeing that lesson.

Boeing, being a really big enterprise, have just recently started using Twitter, so when they received the above design, they responded in the way that most big companies do - by returning a standard form letter saying:

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“Like many large companies ... we do not accept unsolicited ideas. Experience showes that most ideas had already been considered by our engineers and there can be unintended consequences to simply accepting these ideas. The time, cost, and risk involved in processing them, therefore, we not justified by the benefits gained.”

“So while we appreciate your interest, we regret to inform you that we have disposed of your message and retained no copies. Please understand that this was done on the basis of an established company policy, not on the merit of your idea.”

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In short, Boeing has a company policy, to never listen to their customers, and to respond to all requests in this way - without even looking at them. Not exactly a good recipe for embracing the social world, is it?

This obviously didn’t end here, because the web is far too powerful. John Winsor posted it to his blog, which quickly started spreading on Twitter. This then caught the attention of Boeing, who suddenly found themselves in a really bad PR situation of “how can you respond to a creative and engaged child like that?”

Boeing just got a crash course in social engagement.

  • You are not a company, but a group of talented people.
  • Respond as a person, not as a concrete box
  • Social is much more than just marketing/PR.
  • Everyone in your company needs to think about how they interact, and embracing social means far more than just creating new types of press releases.
  • The social web is powered by people, not media. It only took an 8-year-old and his father‘s blog to have a huge impact on your image.
  • Traditional mass-market thinking doesn’t work. Every interaction counts.

But, this story also has a positive ending. Boeing actually reacted extremely quickly, and instead of defending their position, they now seemed to have learned their lesson. A Boeing engineer sent Harry a long and personal letter, and Todd Blecher, Boeing’s Communications Director, responded personally, and invited Harry to get a tour of Boeing’s factory.

A lot of other companies also got involved (obviously seeing an opportunity here, but in a good way). Future of Flight invited Harry to Seattle, and offered to host “Harry Winsor Design Your Own Airplane Show.” Museum of Flight also offered Harry a free tour. Alaska Airlines, who’s logo was used on the plane, reached out in a positive way, and Harry and his father have been interviewed by a whole slew of media outlets.

What could have been a really bad experience, has now turned out to be an experience of a lifetime?

Boeing learned their lesson, albeit the hard way, and Harry is probably the happiest kid around.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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