Hundreds of thousands of travelers scrambled to find alternative modes of transportation, last minute hotel bookings and even home-stays when the Icelandic volcano disrupted air travel around Europe over the last seven days. The official figure for airlines’ losses stands at $1.7 billion in just six days, with U.K.-based airlines British Airways and Virgin Atlantic likely to suffer the most.
Though it sounds like all doom and gloom, the silver lining of this crisis is that a lot of travelers looked to social media for help, and airlines and other authorities actually rose to the challenge. Here are some examples of winning information and customer service strategies that were implemented via social media.
Deep dive into social media for airlines
As I highlighted in-depth in my previous article, EuroControl was very impressive as they rushed to update passengers about the latest information about flights through a variety of online and offline mediums.
In just seven days, there were over 55,000 mentions of #ashtag, and the usage was so widespread that only 5.8% of the tweets came from the Top 10 users –- which is generally not the case.
As you can see in the SlideShare below, airlines not only updated flight statuses, but provided customer service as well, bringing down volume on their call centers. Air Baltic [Disclosure: SimpliFlying client] even confirmed with some passengers that their hotel expenses would be covered –- all this as a public conversation.
Since my first article, I learnt of many personal stories from airline staff handling the crisis. Here’s one.
To quote one person from this stealth team at SAS, “Now we have people (volunteers!) online from about 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. Most of the time there are 3-5 people working, and using the Microsoft Communicator to chat with the other members of the team, discuss issues, and make sure only one person answers a customer’s question. In total, I think about 15-20 people in both Oslo and Stockholm have been involved directly updating social media since Thursday. In terms of fans, we went from 15,000 Thursday morning, to having passed 21,000 today.”
A Blessing in Disguise?
When it comes to social media strategy, most European airlines tend to lag behind their American counterparts like JetBlue and Southwest. But in this situation, they got the basics of crisis management right by jumping straight in.
Both airlines and EuroControl took charge of the situation not just by sending out messages, but by leading and participating in conversations. Airlines like SAS quickly learned how to scale up the efforts when needed, with the help of volunteers from across the company.
And the next time a crisis occurs, they will be much better prepared to use social media as a valuable information and customer service tool. The most important thing right now is to take the lessons learned and develop a coherent strategy for handling future crises.
You can read the full article, over on Mashable.com. And I’d love to hear your comments, here and over on Twitter (@simpliflying)
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