Social media is evolving and a very dynamic place to put your marketing efforts these days. Companies (and people, i.e. politicians) are just now learning to harness the power. There are many mainland examples of “success stories” in social media, but it got me thinking about companies locally – and who is using social media in a locally cutting edge way.

One company in Hawaii has really caught my eye. Hawaiian Airlines @flyhawaiian account is monitored regularly and consistently, and more importantly, they are following some of the best practices for both social media and marketing.

Let’s take a look at this awesome case study happening in our own backyard.

LISTENING: Hawaiian Airlines is clearly monitoring mentions for keywords, including their own company name as well as direct mentions. Listening is one of the most important things a brand can do with social media. Many times a brand will fear listening, expressing a concern about how to handle negative comments.

On the Hawaiian Airlines Facebook page, there is even a discussion for “Gripes”. Pretty gutsy since airlines often get passionately negative comments, particularly when soliciting gripes. But, when you read the gripes page, you can see that the social media team is learning how to deal with what they hear and see, but again, what they do right: listen (and respond).

Alternately, when someone flames the Facebook page complaining about fares, Hawaiian Airlines knows not to take the bait, instead letting other fans handle the inflammatory comment, which they quickly do. It would be nice to see SOME engagement by Hawaiian Airlines in this discussion, but they largely allow their fans to have the conversation on their own.

The handling of “gripes” on Facebook is a great example that lots of other companies can learn from: know when to respond and respond directly. BUT, remember that social media is just that, social, and your fans and customers view a brands page as “theirs” and too much engagement will start to feel like another marketing forum. Boring for customers and fans. Hawaiian Airlines manages this balance quite nicely!

Alternately, on Twitter, the comments are largely positive, a great testament to the other departments of Hawaiian Airlines.  Maybe negative comments are fewer (in our short view) because they are so engaged, giving Hawaiian Airlines a human presence. But based on the Facebook page, one gets the sense that if there were negative comments, @flyhawaiian would respond appropriately.

The handling of “gripes” can be sticky no matter what the brand or industry, but the key to remember is whether you see it or not, people are probably saying things about your company. What’s better: responding directly or ignoring it?  Showing a frustrated customer that you heard them can turn them into an advocate.

ENGAGEMENT: There are numerous direct questions to @flyhawaiian, including customer service inquiries and future flight plans. @flyhawaiian responds directly to each of the questions and directs the customer appropriately and within a timely manner. Adding a personal touch, @flyhawaiian even RT’s pictures and spreads the Aloha by wishing those who mention Hawaiian Airlines a good flight. Since people are taking pictures, and Hawaiian Airlines has a Flickr presence, encouraging people to upload to Flickr using particular tags would be a great connection. Regularly letting people know about the tag would be key.

Strategic use of the RT is in full effect here. When people mention specials on behalf of Hawaiian Airlines, they get a shout-out from Hawaiian. Twitter fans love this, as it helps build their follower base – Hawaiian shows its friendly to Twitter fans AND highlights that others are talking about their specials. Notice though that the RT’s are strategic and don’t dominate the @flyhawaiian stream.

On Facebook discussions page, people are (still) asking about the new A330. It will be interesting to watch how Hawaiian takes advantage of this curiosity on both Facebook and Twitter. They’ve already put some of the questions to rest with YouTube tours and vids. But, they can have lots of fun with this, and get some chatter and traction going, particularly now that that A330 is flying regularly.  Fans on Facebook clearly approve of the the A330 experience – I’d love to see Hawaiian Airlines take advantage of this excitement through the use of photos which fans can upload. A contest would be fun to see and based on the passionate actively by fans, would be well received. They could do this on Facebook or Flickr.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF #HASHTAGS: Hawaii isn’t the only place looking forward to #Hawaii50, but we ARE excited and lots of Twitter fans and @flyhawaiian’s customers are following the latest on the show through the hashtag. Hawaiian Airlines is previewing episodes exclusively on their flights, so they legitimately have a great reason to ride the #Hawaii50 wave. As we get closer to the premier, its likely that the #hashtag will pick up and @flyhawaiian will be uniquely poised to take advantage of the chatter about the show. They are also actively promoting the Hawaii launch of Hawaii 5-0 on Queen’s Beach on their stream, which is fun for both local followers and those planning a Hawaii trip.

A couple of months ago, @flyhawaiian encouraged RT’s by offering entry into a ticket contest for those who used a particular #hashtag in a Tweet. It was fun to watch people get into it, and it seemed to get some traction, though I haven’t seen a repeat of the program. You have to hand it to Hawaiian Airlines for throwing it out there to test the waters. Its gives them an opportunity to engage (which they weren’t doing as effectively then) and allows them to better understand their followers..and maybe even create brand ambassadors.

Again, using tags WITH their followers and fans on Flickr would be a great next step for Hawaiian Airlines. Kudos for having a Flickr presence, but its a little stale and staid and customer engagement on Flickr would most certainly change that! Machine tags could make the new A330’s go even more viral.

YOUTUBE: Hawaiian Airlines gets kudos for having a branded YouTube presence and even for responding to comments and questions on YouTube. The actual videos are pretty traditional in terms of marketing promo, they could have some fun with the polished video and invite customer engagement on the YouTube channel too, who knows – something might even go viral!

The time lapse video of the A330 could have probably gotten more traction were the video itself not so hard to watch with its multiple images on the screen. Its too bad, because its a great idea.

The two smiling pilots are definitely an Aloha greeting. With all due respect to the handsome pilots, it could be said that one of the gorgeous hula dancers in the video or a gorgeous local girl might have been a better choice in terms of encouraging sharing.

#InClosing: Hawaiian Airlines is growing their social media presence and its great to see. They are one of the most active and engaged examples of social media in Hawaii, and they are clearly learning how to best use it to communicate with customers or potential customers.

In the future, Hawaiian Airlines may find having separate Twitter accounts for inquiries about miles or other customer service issues will be helpful (as other airlines do),but for now, they appear to be learning how to best use social media to communicate WITH (rather than AT) their customers. Engagement and discussion are the primary distinctions of social media vs. advertising, and Hawaiian is working through this one social media tool at a time. It will surely be fun to continue to watch @flyhawaiian and its other social media profiles!