I’ve got a bunch of emails, tweets and comments over the last couple of days asking me how this observation applies to airlines. Firstly, let me address why airlines need to have real-world interaction with their online “fans”.
Why is real-world interaction needed to complement social media engagement?
Online interaction is good, because it allows the airline to connect with a lot of people across geographies, and allows those people to connect among themselves too.
Where online engagement falls short is often the creation of a long-lasting emotional bond, which comes only through real-life meetings. Imagine a Facebook fan of an airline, who has never flown them before, but has always taken part in online contests or discussions. Wouldn’t the relationship be cemented only if he flies that airline at least once? Or if he gets to meet in person with some of the people behind the airline? Or be invited to an event organized by the airline? The chances of turning a loyal online fan into a loyal customer increase dramatically when real-world interaction complements online engagement.
So, how can airlines foster real-world interaction?
Here are 10 simple-to-execute ideas, that work
- Organize a Tweet-up – It’s as simple as sending out a Tweet, or going to http://twitvite.com/ to create an event for your followers. If your airline doesn’t have a Twitter account, then create a Facebook event and invite your fans to hang out together. The value you’re offering is to connect them with one another in the real-world. The benefits of such events can be far beyond expected, as we experienced with the Bombardier Tweetup on-board a Q400 at the Singapore Airshow 2010.
- Translate ideas sought online into real-world action – Full fledged ideation communities are popular with brands. Starbucks is famous for My Starbucks idea, Dell has Dell Ideastorm. Airlines need not do something as extensive – but anything that gives their customers and online fans a sense of ownership of the brand can do wonders. AirTran very successfully introduced wifi on all its flights after running a competition on Everyflight.com. More recently, airBaltic [Disclosure: SimpliFlying client] painted the flags of the EU nations on its planes after seeking suggestions on its Facebook page.
- Invite your online fans to your facilities – AirAsia ran a competition on their blog last year, where the winners would get to come down to their training center in Kuala Lumpur. The event generated a lot of excitement among the fans, who got to check out what goes on behind the scenes – certainly fostering stronger bonds with the brands.
- Have a gathering in each of your major cities – Alaska Airlines is very good at organizing such meetups, especially with their loyal fans and frequent fliers. I’ve been to one of them myself, in Seattle, and it was a revelation. These meetings really help!
- Get senior executives to have candid conversations with fans, online and offline – Malaysia Airlines did a fascinating job when it got its CEO, Idris Jala, to meet with some of the selected Facebook fans from the airline’s Fanpage. And the event ended with Mr Jala playing a song on the guitar, himself. That connection was hard to achieve otherwise, and made the “CEO of an airline”, very human. It helps bridge the gap.
- Complement new route-openings with online events tied with offline ones – Southwest Airlines opened up a cafe in New York’s Bryant Park, to commemorate opening its flights to LaGuardia! And for the launch, they invited again – their Facebook fans and Twitter followers. I was there as well, and it was the first time I interacted with so many Southwest “fans”. Feels good to be part of the family
- Recognize your most loyal online fans – Just like FourSquare Mayors get free coffee at certain cafes. Boston Logan Airport sent me a black hat with the words “I’m a followers of @bostonlogan”. And what did I do? And I told everyone about it on Twitter and even posted up a photo. “Real love” always helps spread the brand further.
- Drive awareness about your online efforts, in-flight – I’ve always believed that airlines have that unique advantage that few other brands have – they hold their customer captive for long periods of time. Brand engagement in an airline’s case is much longer – in-flight, and this can be leveraged upon, for interacting with the customers at a new level. How about giving your Facebook fans free on-board wifi-access? Or giving your Twitter followers priority boarding on their birthdays? Little gestures can go far. Very far.
So, what do you think? How crucial is real-world interaction in making airlines’ social media strategy a success? Do you have examples to share? Let’s here it in the comments and on Twitter (@simpliflying)
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