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.

Southwest Twitter

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.

P.S: If you’re keen on learning how airlines are implementing Twitter, I highly recommend listening to the podcast on IAG, and also, I’d encourage you to follow me on Twitter (@simplifling)

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

CEO at SimpliFlying
Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco.

Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others.

Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
Shashank Nigam
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  • http://niikura.wordpress.com/ fluxnote

    Using Twitter means accepting disclosure and share of every kinda information on their operations from users to users. It might sometimes risky for Airlines. However, I think I will feel the Airline is serious about improving their service levels using new technologies, and happy to use the Airline if they use Twitter.

  • http://www.creativityatwork.com Linda Naiman

    Twitter is something I like to read about, but have yet to act on. Your advice to airlines on how to make money from Twitter could be applied to any product or service, and you make an excellent case for getting on board. Thanks for your insights.

  • http://paulrevel.wordpress.com/ Paul Revel

    re: Dell’s $1m – this is the first time I’ve read about making hard cash from twitter, really interesting. If I knew there were really worthwhile Twitter-only offers from airlines (or other suppliers), I’d sit up & take notice. & if it’s a workable process we’d be interested here at TTG. With so many followers & followees, it would be difficult for a twitterer to be sure of catching offers, but I suppose with direct messages it could work.
    Interesting using the term ROI, since twittering shouldn’t cost much investment, apart from time & effort…

  • Tom Romanski

    1. People have such short attention spans nowadays with some many brands and products out there you can only command a few seconds of a persons time daily. Something efficient and with reach like Twitter is great for strengthening ties with consumers as it allows you to provide people with snippets or info, much better than newsletters or emailers. Strong relationships means trust in your brand hence higher chances of getting customers to be loyal and using your airline.
    2. Trust and integrity, people trust the word of their friends and family and exchanging experiences (positive or negative) can be a strong motivator as to what brand or airline someone uses. Hopefully if your airline is great people will spread positive experiences, fly more frequently on your carrier as well as convince others to do the same. Equals better revenue.
    3. Focusing on twitter activities can help you streamline some of your customer communication which can mean staff are more free to be creative and spend time more effectively, innovating services and developing company strategies.

    In the end twitter is efficient social tool that lets you cut down on some un-needed communication tools not to mention reduce paper waste from potential items requiring to be printed, in the end its all about what’s behind your brand, does it really do what it says on the box so to speak.

  • Luciana Bittencourt

    Theuy can do promotion with the followers. Show the politic of the company with articles. Answer their costumers in the Twitter. Interact with all.

  • Tim Owens

    Very nice! Terrific insight! A scarey conversation for that airline though? I believe a business competing solely on price should get out of that business! If leadership can’t answer the question you posed to him, I think dire straights are on there way. Glad I am not a shareholder. Thanks for this blog!

  • Rupert Whiting

    why not twitter last minute deals when the flights aren’t full? 3 hours before departure twitter that there are 2 seats available at discount to the first to arrive at the terminal or book online using a special code? More bums on seats has to be good for them. Making it tight enough to the depature time would stop people from not booking at regular prices if they need to travel but for those who can just drop everything and jet to Hawaii or Vegas (or local equivalent) at the drop of a hat it may work.

  • Greg Kadonada

    Great idea, but how would they handle those 1,000 people responding and rushing to the airport for those 3 open seats at dirt cheap prices?

  • Rupert Whiting

    That then becomes a cultural acceptance thing of “some you win some you lose” or you have to get the ticket booked online before making your way there.

  • Greg Kadonada

    getting the ticket booked online, and up to the second twitter updates from the airline on those bookings would be the only viable option, to avoid getting upset customers. I love this idea though.. always thinking about those empty seats every weekend and how much airlines would benefit if I showed up and got the seat for $30, instead of $0.

  • Christian Hudson

    I find that most of the twitter discussions these days focus on getting ‘special’ offers out to a subset of your clients. In reality isnt this just an accelerated version of the mail to email/web to txt/IM lifecycle. Yes it should be utilized but I dont believe this is truly where the long-term opportunity is. I like the third point in the post about being able to better understand your community and how you fit or dont fit within it. This will take A LOT more effort then just posting coupons but if done right I believe that the rewards are much greater.

  • Joan Powell

    I agree. Or announce sale price structures on twitter first (versus their web site and email). They would have to have some type of almost immediate call to action – such as – click here to find out about the discounts. I think it would be very interesting to see how the results from twitter compare to traditional marketing…

  • Chris Knorr

    Its’ all about creating Buzz, if you ask me. Limited, Hurry Now, get people to want what you have. Brilliant these marketing folks. Toss a few bones and get people looking for the next one. I think twitter will become a better business tool than what we know right now.

  • Ronald Dolfing MBA

    All airlines work with loyalty scemes and frequentflyer cards. You could supply a special status or card (could also be an electronic tag) to the twitter community and award points, thus stimulating desired behaviour, input etc. It would furthermore enable you to track behaviour and monitor benefits/revenue to the organization.
    A company would have to integrate this approach structurally into their marketing approach.

  • Joey Silvian

    I really like Ronald’s idea. You could create an entire customer loyalty program with Twitter and “tweet” out special deals. If people are “tweeting” about customer service, you could have airline reps responding via tweetdeck..

    One of current problems in airline industry is that 40% of revenue from flights is from first class seats and that booking is diminishing with the economy. Twitter campaign could promote use/deals for flying that class – even offer dedicated “tweet” capability as airlines begin to clear the air for wireless use.

  • Larry Davis, MBA, CPA

    The problem with last minute deals, i.e., sending a tweet three hours before departure, is that purchasing a ticket this close to departure triggers security alerts. The “winner” of these cheap seats will be “rewarded” with additional screening procedures at US airports.

  • Steven Groves

    Good suggestions… the just-in-time nature of Twitter can drive immediate responses. The only idea I might add is to make sure the offers made via Twitter are noted as time sensitive and not open ended. Permit / suggest that the offers get Re-Tweeted too.

  • Craig Stark

    Twitter seems like a good tool for propagating direct messages to travellers.

    I see 2 “threats” to the airlines; Twitter gets saavy and creates search related ads which negate offers (drives a competitive offer) and also the latency of SMS network traffic providing offers that are expired to travellers currently en route – they become worthless and then future offers are blocked.

    Airlines will want to see how they can use Twitter without being exposed to “proprietary” limitations and possible downline fees over time.

    Relying on one platform becomes dangerous especially when your competitors are all using it as well. FFP Management also need to control the offers end to end, which may become an issue to tracking fulfillment-if someone knows how to use Twitter in that capacity I would like to hear about it please.

    regards,

    Craig

  • http://www.univbrands.com Sumit Roy

    Give your existing customer an unexpected experience to tweet about.

    Most airlines have feedback forms. Encourage people to tweet about what they liked and what they didn’t. It will keep airlines staff on their toes. Your customers are probably tweeting about their experience anway. Just encourage them to say it through tweets to add to their frequent flyer points. Gve them points for positive tweets as well as critical ones.

    It will help your consumers become prosumers. And cut down on advertising costs. Apart from winning over new customers.

    After all, the consumer is still the world’s strongest medium.

    • http://simpliflying.com Shashank Nigam

      @Sumit: Brilliant suggestions!

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  • Dean Kakridas

    A few ideas that I think could work (at least they would work on me) are:
    -last minute deal offers
    -exotic vacation package offers (highly transparent)
    -special promotions to buy executive lounge passes and upgrades

  • Mark Wolstencroft

    Hi Shashank,
    I think Twitter can enhance brand equity if consumers write positive things about them. It is, however, a double-edged sword. Get things wrong and the whole world can read about it.

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  • pest

    Great post! I would also recommend the book E-myth, every entrepreneur should give it a read.
    html to pdf

    • http://www.virtualsocialmedia.com/social-media-marketing-optimization-services/social-media-pricing/ Social Media Pricing

      Twitter marketing for Airline industry has become a major marketing tool..

  • jacqeb

    Great post! I would also recommend the book E-myth, every entrepreneur should give it a read.
    html to pdf

  • http://maverickmoneymakersreview.ws/maverick-money-makers-club Maverick Moneymakers Review

    i think If Dell can make $6.5 million from Twitter, why can't airlines? … the likelihood that those customers will evangelize the brand to fellow travelers!

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