Editor’s Note: This interview article featuring CEO of SimpliFlying, Shashank Nigam, was published in Routes News (November/ December Issue). For a soft copy of the original article, please see here.
ONLINE WITH: Social media expert and CEO of consulting firm SimpliFlying, Shashank Nigam, gives his tips for how airlines and airports can improve their social media presence.
Is aviation at the forefront of social media engagement?
The nature of aviation forces it to be at the forefront of social media engagement. Most travellers’ brand engagement with an airline lasts between two to 20 hours – compared to about 90 minutes for Starbucks, and 10 minutes for Coke! And, there are often over 30 touch-points in this engagement, from booking to travel. Each is an opportunity for the airline to gain a customer for life, or lose one.
The airline industry has a slight edge in social media to begin with because the nature of the service it sells has always been transacted online, compared to FMCG goods that are often sold in brick and mortar stores. So the selling of airline tickets blended with social media usually comes quite seamlessly. And, this ensures that the airline industry is constantly innovating and leading the forefront of social media engagement.
For example, the concept of ‘social seating’ as seen in KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ Meet & Seat, Malaysia Airlines’ MHBuddy and airBaltic’s Seatbuddy makes a mundane purchase experience more interesting by providing its passengers the option to choose a seat next to friends they may know on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Can social media make airlines money?
It certainly can. Canada’s WestJet, the winner of this year’s SimpliFlying award for driving revenue through social media, drove $1.3 million in incremental revenue when a video they released on April Fool’s day went viral. It was accompanied by a 10% discount code.
In ‘The Connected Traveler Lifecycle’, developed by SimpliFlying, a connected traveller goes through four stages: he dreams of a trip, plans the trip, books the trip and finally travels on the trip. At each stage, he can influence his friends by sharing information on his social networks, thereby amplifying the potential contribution to an airline’s bottom line.
In an example cited earlier, KLM, airBaltic and Malaysia Airlines have developed social booking and social seating as their latest, cutting-edge ancillary products. Passengers can pay a fee to sit next to a Facebook or LinkedIn friend. This is one of the many ways airlines can increase their revenues substantially through ancillary means enabled by social media.
Can social media play a role in airline route development?
In SimpliFlying’s recent Airline Social Media Outlook 2012, we found out that over 65% of the airlines surveyed use social media metrics for new product or route development. Unlike the traditional model of paying for focus groups or buying customer data, airlines are now obtaining insights through their own social media network presence. This method is not only cost- effective, it is more customised and specific to each airline.
SAS Scandinavian Airlines recently became the first airline to crowd-source a new route via Facebook – they asked their fans where they’d like to fly in the summer. And Alanya, Turkey was launched after it was the most voted destination.
Volaris, a leading Mexican LCC, is very good at launching new routes through social media. They drive buzz and engagement through social media, often involving their passengers. From Facebook sales alone they’ve had revenues amounting to $2 million Mexican Pesos on a monthly basis.
How closely should a social media account reflect an airline’s brand?
A social media account should reflect the airline’s brand personality as close as possible. There are now over 200 airlines on social media. To stand out from this crowd, the airline needs to have a strong and distinct brand voice that the target audience can relate to. As such, the staff in charge of the social media account needs to reflect the true brand voice when dealing with posts on social media.