TSA WANTS TO TWEET WITH TRAVELERS

The Transportation Security Administration is looking to airlines for customer service tips.

The Department of Homeland Security agency plans to set up a new Twitter account, @AskTSA, to respond directly to customer complaints and questions, according to a new solicitation.

Though its public affairs office currently uses social media to “communicate messages/information to the general public,” other brands, “including airlines, use social media in a different way: communicating directly with their customers, answering questions and resolving issues in real-time,” the solicitation said.

American Airlines’ Twitter handle, @AmericanAir, for instance, has 1.13 million followers and is used to respond publicly, and directly, to individual customers. In one case, on Thursday afternoon, @AmericanAir tweeted directly at a customer to “please advise a crewmember” when she took to Twitter to complain about a potentially faulty cooling system.

The solicitation could be part of TSA’s broader efforts to connect with customers digitally. The agency already has an Instagram account with roughly 303,000 followers, where it often posts photos of confiscated items, such as a set of throwing star weapons discovered last week at Alexandria International Airport in Louisiana. (TSA posted the image with the hashtag #TSAGoodCatch.) The agency’s main Twitter account, @TSA, created in 2011, has more than 46,000 followers.

The notice comes a few days after travel website Travelmath released an analysis of Twitter users’ sentiments toward TSA, using an algorithm to rank Twitter mentions in the United States as positive, negative or neutral. Among states that had enough TSA mentions to process, “nearly three times as many had a negative sentiment than a positive one,” that report said. (Words such as “confiscate,” “grope” and “rude” were among words frequently mentioned in those tweets, according to Travelmath.)

Though TSA’s solicitation is “for market research only,” the agency is searching for small businesses who can provide a Web-based customer engagement platform that up to 10 TSA staffers can log onto concurrently, according to the posting on FedBizOpps.

The Web platform must have many functions, including a “robust content repository to store pre-approved content, canned responses and approved images,” and an “interactive dashboard to engage in real time, one-to one conversations without ticket assignment,” according to the solicitation.

The goal, according to a TSA statement provided to Nextgov, is to “improve the traveler’s experience through one-to-one conversations on Twitter to actively assist customers before, during and after their travel.”

But it’s unclear what the timeline is for @AskTSA, and if TSA even owns the handle — TSA officials could not be reached for interview. Though the handle exists, it has no avatar, bio or tweets, and has so far racked up only two followers.

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