[Infographic] How airlines around the world are using Instagram and what should you be doing

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by UK-based Dirk Singer from The Rabbit Agency, which is the creative force behind BMI’s rise on Instagram.

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A year ago, the mobile photo social network Instagram had less than ten million users.  Yet it was growing faster than Facebook or Twitter were at comparable periods.

As a result, it attracted a fair amount of attention, and a few early adopter airline brands signed up, recognising the obvious link between travel and people taking and sharing pictures with their mobile phones. Fast-forward and the now Facebook-owned network has over fifty million users.   However, most airlines still don’t have a presence and many that do are using it sporadically and inconsistently.

We scanned through Instagram to look for 20 airline feeds so we could put together a comparative report.  In fact, even coming up with 20 airlines on Instagram wasn’t as straight-forward as we thought, as a number of major players are notable by their absence.

The infographic we’ve commissioned (see below) shows Air Asia leads in followers, bmibaby on activity and British Airways in likes.  It also throws up a few questions about how most airlines use Instagram and how they could use it more effectively.

To take a few feeds as examples:

  • British Airways (@british_airways).   BA recently generated a fair amount of excitement on Instagram due to showing off the 787 Dreamliner.  In general, it uses it as a visual news feed.  Events, staff, planes, souvenirs and so on, which seems to be well received. The average number of likes is very high (an average of 250+ per post for the last ten), despite the feed having posted a little over 50x.  Clearly this is something BA could take advantage of, and make more of.
  • Air Asia (@airasia) seems to use Instagram to try and get across the essence of the brand, via shots of the people who work there, including Airline boss Tony Fernandes.  It works – their Instagram account is very large (almost 15,000 followers) and they are extensively posted about on the network.
  • Air France (@airfrance).  Air France’s Instagram account is a mix of everything – new routes, retro gear and destination pics.   At the end of last year, Air France also ran a #spotairfrance competition in the UK, France and Switzerland.   This was a competition for people to upload posts of their Air France experience, and tag them #spotairfrance. With 377 posts being submitted around the competition, Air France is still one of the few airlines to have used Instagram to encourage actual interaction from its followers via a competition or promotion.
  • American Airlines (@americanair).   American Airlines posted sporadically until earlier this year, when it started uploading pictures of its new seats.   Since 7 March the feed has been quiet though.   Has there really been nothing to say at an airline as large as American for two months?

You’d be hard pressed to find Lufthansa, Alitalia or Iberia on Instagram, but you can find Russian airline Aeroflot (@aeroflot).  By and large the feed is made up of plane shots, but the fact that it posts fairly consistently already puts Aeroflot ahead of most other airlines on Instagram, and it deserves more than its 87 followers.

At Rabbit we’ve worked with both bmi and bmibaby, and this is what we did with their accounts:

We took on the bmi (@flybmi) feed earlier in the year with a brief to grow followers (at the time 200) and engagement and also to showcase destinations in line with the bmi Spring sale.   Edit challenges (take a master image and enhance it) are part of Instagram culture, and so we set up a weekly #bmieditchallenge around different destinations from Amman to Vienna.   We received almost 1000 posts in response, and grew the account five-fold to over 1000 followers.

bmibaby.  bmibaby may be the smallest airline on the list, but it is also the most active, having posted 228 times.

Our strategy was to use Instagram to showcase bmibaby destinations and also to build up relationships with influencers on the network.  As a result, we rolled out a six month campaign called My Europe, which resulted in over 35,000 destination photos being submitted, supplemented by Instagram inspired online destination guides and “insta-meets” (real world Instagram exchanges).

So what should airlines be doing?   A few things in particular:

1 – Make Instagram feeds dynamic rather than static.  With exceptions such as Air France, bmi and bmibaby, most airline Instagram feeds are one-way and don’t encourage fans to post their own images.   Encouraging engagement doesn’t always have to involve competitions or promotions.   A very simple thing airlines could do is to use the ‘repost’ function on Statigram (a web service linked to Instagram) to showcase a fan photo of the week – this is something we do for Gatwick Airport.

2 – Give the feed a theme.   What’s your Instagram feed for?   Most airline accounts are a mixed bagged and are a bit of everything.

Air Asia’s account works (and has amassed 15k followers) because a decision has clearly been taken to show the human side of the business – the staff.   Similarly, Aeroflot uses its feed to show off its planes and could probably quickly increase its following by tapping into the active ‘AV Geek’ community on social media.  Like with other social media channels, there needs to be a content strategy and plan.

3 – Look out for the quality of images. We noticed that a lot of airlines use their Instagram feeds a little like they would Twitpic – the photo service that allows you to attach images to tweets.   In fact, Instagram and other photo-sharing networks like Tadaa and Streamzoo have sold themselves on their in-app filters, which significantly enhance ordinary photos.   Again, a number of airlines seem to take care and attention with what they post, one example is SAS (@flysas)

4 – Be consistent.   Once you have created your Instagram account, have a content timetable and be consistent.   A few feeds we looked at had obviously created their Instagram account and then done nothing with it – in one high profile case since Christmas.   As with other social channels, you build engagement and follower by being visible and showing you are committed to the network and community.

The fact is Instagram and other up and coming photo sharing networks like Tadaa, Streamzoo and EyeEm can be powerful tools in an airline’s social media arsenal.   They can be very effective in sourcing good  user generated content, they can showcase destinations, they are good for visualising major news events and they are good for engaging a community that very often won’t be found on other social channels.

To end with, some more stats:  In the US and UK most mobile phones are now smartphones, with cameras as good as some entry level digital cameras.   In the USA, more smartphones (150 million) will sell than all cameras combined.   In the US, the % of pictures taken with a smartphone jumped from 17% in 2010 to 27% in 2011.   The most popular camera on Flickr has for a while now been the iPhone.   As an airline, your business is inherently visual.  Isn’t this a trend you should be taking advantage of?

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

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
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