With the airline industry rolling out a number of social media engagement programmes, MyCustomer.com examines if a new marketing trend is taking off.
Airlines so often hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Bombarded with soaring complaints regarding hidden costs and lost bags, as well as recovering from the delays and cancellations caused by the 2010 Icelandic ash cloud, social media has become a catalyst for frustrated customers to vent their complaints.
In a bid to engage customers in the micro-blogging age, airlines across the board are taking to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to launch creative marketing strategies and win back customer loyalty.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines launched its ‘Meet and Seat’ initiative, allowing passengers on its long-haul flights to connect with fellow travellers via Facebook and LinkedIn. By registering their social media profiles prior to the flight, passengers can network in-flight by choosing to sit next to someone with similar interests or arrange a meet-up prior to take off.
With its facial recognition programme, ‘Know Me’, British Airways' cabin crew members are using iPads to Google customer faces and pinpoint important customers – such as Silver Executive Club members or travellers that have previously experienced customer service problems – to deliver “meaningful service”.
Air New Zealand, following in the footsteps of Dell and holiday park operator Parks Resort, launched a ‘share and earn’ scheme whereby customers can earn up to £50 cash back for every recommendation they make on Facebook, Twitter, email or blog that is turned into a premium economy booking on its 777-300 Premium Economy Spaceseat.
And Qatar Airways took a different approach to customer engagement, instead using Twitter to power its global competition ‘Tweet-a-Meet’. Upon registering, pairs of contestants must send as many tweets as possible with their destination hashtag, #tweetameet and their companions’ username. The first three teams with the highest number of tweets at the end of the race will each win a pair of business class tickets to their chosen destination.
Trend taking off?
So with airlines queuing up to utilise social media for customer engagement are we witnessing a new trend in the industry to create innovative marketing campaigns?
Simon Robinson from Responsys, a marketing software company that works with Southwest Airlines, believes it’s the competitive nature of the industry that’s driving airline companies to improve customer retention and loyalty.
He says: “This leads them to try new approaches and strategies where there might not be an incentive to do so compared with other less competitive industries. It is definitely our experience working with carriers such as Lufthansa and Southwest Airlines that operators are keen to innovate. Airlines recognise cross-channel and “new school” marketing opportunities.”
Steve Richards, MD of social media agency Yomego, agrees that there are some “great” social campaigns being rolled out in the airline industry at the moment.
He says: “There’s something about the brand experience that social offers – and that airlines understand inherently. With an airline, you have customers in a branded space for often several hours at a time. So airlines are used to thinking about reflecting their brand through a customer experience – which at its best, is what social does too.”
But with social media monitoring still causing some privacy concerns from consumers, are airlines flying too close to the sun with these initiatives? BA’s ‘Know Me’ programme landed the airline in a privacy storm when UK newspaper The Daily Mail accused the airline of “snooping” on passengers.
And share and earn schemes, such as that launched by Air New Zealand, have been slammed for unsubtle marketing and failing to strike a chord with consumers.
Mark Blinder, director of European Operations at Adobe’s Social Media Strategy Team, previously told MyCustomer.com: “Customers will feel uncomfortable doing something transparently selfish in front of their friends and I don't think it's a good association for the brand.”
Richards added: “Some seem to exist for the PR effect – and industry acclaim. But recent campaigns have moved beyond that. What’s exciting is that there’s a lot of trial of new initiatives – so even if one doesn’t work, there are others in the pipeline to generate standout.”
Robinson argues that other sectors can learn from airlines' early social media experiments.
He says: “Airlines are experts in boosting customer engagement, retention and loyalty. The air industry lends itself well to capturing customer data. Airlines capture tons of data and use this to target customers with meaningful, personalised marketing. Other industries could gain a great deal by replicating this approach.”
Jonny Rosemont, head of social media at DBD Media, agrees that whilst some of these airlines understand that social media marketing requires not only a budget and resource commitment, organisations must understand how each social media platform works and how consumers prefer their communications.
He says: “Effective social media marketing is not just about developing a presence and expecting people to find and engage with you. It is about developing a comprehensive strategy, which includes paid, owned and earned media elements.
“Once you’ve managed to get their custom, how do you encourage them to consider you the next time they are booking their flight, holiday, buying a t-shirt, buying a coffee, getting a gift for a friend, and so on. That’s the real art to master.”