A couple of weeks ago, I asked had an interesting conversation with a senior airline executive in Asia. Here’s how it went:
SN: What’s the emotional motivation (not $) for your customers to fly your airline?
Airline exec: Erm…I’m not sure.
SN: Hmm…is there someone front-line I can speak with who’d know, like the check-in staff, or flight crew?
Airline exec: Actually, the airport crew is outsourced, so we have little inputs, and it’s logistically tough to reach out to the crew.
What fascinated me the most were two things. One – I was talking to a (very) senior executive who didn’t know what, beyond price, attracts his customers. And secondly, the fact that the airport crew is outsourced may be a short term gain ($$ savings) but a long term loss due to the lack of front line inputs.
Twitter to the rescue! Tweet. Tweet.
But market research need not be that difficult. Especially when tools like Twitter exist these days, which allow you to connect with anyone – inside or outside your company – to seek opinions, cheaply and in real-time. Twitter is the in-thing these days. An article in Forbes last week urged CEOs to tweet actively. Addison Schonland from IAG had an insightful podcast featuring three kings of airline twittering – Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska. And just yesterday, “Flying with Fish” blog wrote an article on the topic too. So, what’s the fuss all about?
An airline executive I met for lunch earlier this week in New York City told me that she doesn’t have the money or resources to spare for a dedicated effort like Twitter. Unless, it somehow could be linked to revenue. That got me thinking. And here’s what came out – three ways of driving revenue from Twitter for airlines.
1. Special discounts on Twitter – acquire new fliers
Dell recently reported that it made $1 million off Twitter last year by releasing special offers to its followers. Those are some of the first ROI figures coming out of corporates on Twitter. That means, airlines too can make money by releasing special deals on Twitter before releasing them elsewhere. It’s real-time. It often goes viral if done right. And it’s simple and cheap too. This way, they increase their “catchment” area to people who would have not gone on their website or not be on the mailing list for automatic noticfication of offers.
2. Nurture existing customers into loyal fans – fly more often
Twitter is great when it comes to building relationships. I was speaking with Morgan Johnston (@jetblue) when he gave me a tour of JFK T5, and he mentioned that Twitter is a chance to connect with individual customers on a personal level. It’s not the airline press release that’s coming out on Twitter, but a person communicating with another in short blurbs. Add to that the power of DM (direct messages) and you have a platform for developing first time fliers into your loyal customer base, by constantly interacting with them, seeking their feedback and answering their queries.
3. Empower them to spread the word – backbone of Web 2.0
Web 2.0 puts word of mouth marketing on steroids. If someone feels that RT (re-tweeting) something will add value to his “followers”, then he will do it. That means a whole lot of exposure for the initial messenger. If airlines can keep addding value to their customers through Twitter, they will share these stories (not just links) with their friends, especially when asked about it. So, it boils down to empowering the user to spread the word. And this is done by adding value to them, not just trying to push sales.
Overall, I feel Twitter is a great medium for airlines to tap on. Due to the fluctuating nature of the industry. Everything from weather related delays to baggage losses can be reported on Twitter and personal questions answered in real-time. And when it’s linked to revenue, I’m sure things can work out sooner than later. What are your thoughts? Do you think airlines should invest in Twitter, and in these conditions? Let’s hear it in the comments section.