Airline brands must understand that social media is like a BBQ cookout party

I’ve been seeing a lot of airlines jump into social media lately – especially on Twitter. But once they do that, most of them run around like a headless chicken – or at least that how it appears to the outsider viewer. Let me share with you a couple of examples.

Emirates Airlines – which pitches itself as one of the best in the world, joined Twitter at the start of the year, and posted 19 updates about their destinations – all on the same day (see pic below). And at the other end of the spectrum, JetBlue does quite a good job of engaging over half a million of its followers with a mix of witty remarks, contests and deals. But all of them seem to be figuring out what to do. So here’s an analogy that might explain things a little.

emirates

Why Social Media = BBQ Cookout Party

At a BBQ cookout party, people are with those they trust, with those they consider friends. They give advice, seek advice (often on BBQ cooking), share thoughts and stories, laugh a little and have fun. What they DO NOT do is only talk about their company’s product updates or swipe a credit card an buy products.

Much of social media is like a cookout. People hangout with many they know on Facebook – hence their ability to open up so easily. On Twitter, people are either imparting knowledge, gaining knowledge or sharing quick thoughts with their “followers”.  And mixing direct selling is not good in such a situation.

So how did Dell make $1 million off Twitter?

But then, Dell announced recently that they had made $1 million by selling their products on Twitter. How did they do it? They have a dedicated channel (@delloutlet) which clearly tells its followers that it will only have offers. Once the expectations are set, then people expect the same and even the followers are those looking for deals, not for help setting up their computer! And that’s where airlines are failing.

Lufthansa also started a Twitter account recently. A friend from Switzerland wrote to me, “Lufthansa is just posting auctions. There is no added value for customers and no involvement except monetary incentive.” This is a perfect example of not setting the right expectations, and hence creating disappointment among followers. They’d have done much better, had they gone with an @lufthansaAuctions account name. Don’t you think?

I don’t think indiscrimanately selling on Twitter is going to work. It might hurt the brand even more. It’s like going to a cookout, and then trying to sell your software with a discount.

Having said that, there’s a reason why Tupperware parties exist and why @DellOutlet made dell a million bucks!

What do you think? How should airline brands utilize Twitter and other social media? What are they doing wrong? Let’s discuss.

P.S: This article was inspired by my conversations with my Italian friend, Sergio Mello, of Satisfly, and my Swiss friend, Rico Wyder.


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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is the Founder and CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s largest aviation marketing firms working with over 85 aviation clients in the last ten years. Nigam is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior executives globally, from Chile to China. Nigam’s impassioned and honest perspectives on airline marketing have found their way to over 100 leading media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, and into leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He writes a dedicated monthly column in Flight’s Airline Business, challenging the typical assumptions about airline marketing. His new book on airline marketing, SOAR, is an Amazon bestseller that’s shaking up the industry and inspiring other industries to learn from the best airlines. Born in India, raised in Singapore, he now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Toronto.
Shashank Nigam
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Showing 4 comments
  • Michelle Batten
    Reply

    Hi Shashank –

    I think what has worked well are the airline brands who used Twitter to LISTEN and engage their customers needing help with flights, bags, etc. first. The intention was customer-facing, i.e. how can I help someone. Given the terrible customer experience ratings within the airline industry – this was a smart move. Then, once these brands proved they were committed to helping and conversing with customers, they added marketing offers such as discount fares and special upgrades. JetBlue and Southwest are the role models in the category.

    Going forward, I really think the airlines should maintain a focus on utility by making the flight experience as smooth as possible. Airlines who use the social media tools to do that will garner and command a serious following.

    Cheers,
    Michelle Batten
    @iMWConnect

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      @Michelle: You make a great point about listening. On the technical side, especially on Twitter, here’s how “Listening” helps. Once you follow someone, he or she can send you a Direct Message, which is only visible to you. That means, your followers are able to have with you private conversations, which many of them might be comfortable with, and frankly…might just work better for the airline! Wouldn’t an airline want a customer service mishap be sent as a DM, rather than a message to all?

      @Rico: Thanks for the inspiration for this article =)

  • Rico
    Reply

    @Michelle and @Shashank

    Totally agree with Michelle. If you have a glimpse at Lufthansa’s twitter channel, you’ll recognize 2 things: in German only, which I can accept, because Germany is their domestic market, but secondly, they follow NIL people. Are they just listening to the twittersphere through twitter search or don’t they want to interact with their customers?

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