Airlines & Twitter : 10 Ways Airlines Can Succeed & Drive Business

Note: This is a cross-post from Steven Frischling’s Flying with Fish blog. Steven Frischling, aka: Fish, is a self employed photographer, and founder of The Travel Strategist, who has flown approximately 1,000,000 miles since he began to track his mileage 2005.
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Businesses are engaging in ’social media’ at a breakneck pace, but how many are using these tools effectively?

Recently, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines sat down together at the annual Media Relations Summit in New York City to co-host the “New Tools for Communicating Directly with Customers” session. The two airlines, which are competitors, but not direct competitors on many routes, have a similar philosophy and approach to engaging customers in the use of interactive communications tools.

Throughout JetBlue & Southwest’s session I had the opportunity to directly interact with and communicate with marketing professionals from around the world to specifically discuss the effective use of Twitter in marketing. Specifically, as you might have guessed it, my focus was on airlines and their direct customer interaction.

So where does this lead us? To the discussion of how airlines are using Twitter correctly and more importantly incorrectly.

Almost exactly a month ago I began discussing the topic of airlines embracing Twitter on Flying With Fish in this entry, 21/04/2009 – Airlines That Embrace Twitter & Why It Can Be A Valuable Tool For Them .

The day after I wrote this entry I was surprised to find a major global airline had read what I was writing and joined Twitter, two days later two more followed in step, along with a few other airlines changing how they were using Twitter (and one airline contacting me wanting to know why they had been left out…it was an oversight, sorry!)

Now as I follow dozens of airlines I have been keeping detailed track of who is effectively using Twitter and who is not.

I am not going to single out those who are not effectively using this form of interactive direct customer contact, but I will point out how it is not being used effectively by many airlines:

– Airlines using Twitter only as a sales source with no content

– Airlines logging on once every 10 days, firing off a dozen messages regarding sales and their web address, then disappearing for 10 days

– Airlines gaining a large following and never making any posts to capitalize on that following

– Airlines not actively promoting their presence on Twitter

– Airlines leaving Twitter in the hands of interns rather than staff

– Airlines not maintaining a consistent brand image 140 characters at a time

– Airlines using Twitter to only ‘reTweet’ boastful comments regarding their product

– Airlines not directly interacting with their Twitter followers

– Airlines using Twitter as a ‘one-way’ marketing source.

Last night (night for me, morning for them) while conversing with the folks who handle Qantas‘ Twitter feed I was presented with the ideal quote for any airline using Twitter. This quote really demonstrates the progressive nature in which Qantas chooses to use Twitter “…we feel that twitter is a channel for conversation. if you want to do one way just make an rss feed

For those of you who glanced over the Qantas’ quote, here it is again “…we feel that twitter is a channel for conversation. if you want to do one way just make an rss feed

Those in charge of maintaining and operating the Twitter feeds for Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, Air New Zealand and KLM echo Qantas’ sentiment. American Airlines and United Airlines are slowly starting to get the hang of Twitter, as is Transavia, as well as some others, but many are still struggling.

A central problem to airlines embracing Twitter, and other outlets such as FaceBook (which through research I find ineffective for airlines) is that this form of direct customer interaction does not fit into any known marketing strategies. While marketing and communications must be fluid and adaptable, Twitter has popped up so quickly that there is no game plan. No one knows how long the Twitter phenomenon will last, but at the current moment it is a force to be reckoned with and one that offers a very attractive return on investment (Twitter is FREE, not including the time & staff costs to maintain the Twitter content).

Twitter, unlike any other form of marketing, allows for completely instant communication, interaction and feedback. Airlines can use Twitter searches to find instant information on customer satisfaction (or dissatisfaction). Services like Twitter are completely uncontrollable, however effective use of Twitter allows an airline to find a problem, potentially a common problem, directly from their customers as it happens, address the problem, adjust what is happening and improve not only their customer experience but potentially their operations as well.

What can airlines do to improve their use of Twitter to build their brand, attract business and retain loyal passengers? Below are my 10 suggestions:

– Airlines can use Twitter to maintain direct contact with their customers

– Airlines can use Twitter to create viral marketing campaigns furthered by their followers

– Airlines can get ahead of problems, alert customers and assist customers both as a whole and individually

– Airlines can interject sales, fare specials and other airline & partner products in a cost effective direct marketing manner

– Airlines can generate interest in new routes and destinations through networking and content creation

– Airlines can generate their own Twitter feed content that is interesting, informative on multiple platforms, effective and builds a significant follower base

– Airlines can maintain a consistent presence with regular updates to build customer loyalty and satisfaction

– Airlines can display a ‘human side’ to the corporate image and create a brand personality

– Airlines can create, manage and deploy a consistent message and corporate image

– Airlines can directly engage those who have the ability to further passenger attraction and loyalty

In addition to the 10 suggestions above there are a variety of other cost effective and viable options for airlines to explore in this new and growing interactive media.

Will the airlines currently on Twitter, but not using it to its maximum benefit adjust their tactics or will they let their brand image fall to the wayside? Airlines that fail to capitalize on all the options available to them, especially cost effective options, will lag behind those who adapt and embrace their customers.

Is it any surprise that the two most progressive US airlines in regard to customer interaction, Southwest & JetBlue, are also two airlines currently operating profitable carriers in the United States?

Happy Flying!

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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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Showing 7 comments
  • Oussama Salah
    Reply

    For me Twitter started as a curiosity and became almost an addiction. Twitter has increased the number of web pages I visit, scan through or read 4 or 5 folds, made friends locally whereas we tweet about local affairs (aka gossip), joke around and exchange information, followed some very cool people that were a great source of information on the professional and aviation scene and the greatest source of breaking news. I am sure there are millions who had similar experiences.
    Having said all that airlines have a great opportunity to provide us with great content on their various routes, destinations or whatever enhances their brand.I enjoyed JetBlue”s tweets especially those that were related to disruptions caused by weather, I thought they were cool.
    You also state a valid point, there are no rules….yet and probably will never be. So do what makes you happy and comfortable and works with your customers.

  • David Parker Brown
    Reply

    So right on! Even with my own blog I thought it would be silly to have a Twitter account, but I have been so wrong.

    To me Twitter provides more of a personal interaction with customers or other people in the business. I feel I know Southwest Airlines more on a personal level and I hope my readers feel the same about me.

    I don’t get adding new airlines to follow and they have made less than 5 posts, but have thousands of followers. It is like have a huge fan club of money carrying people and they can’t even show up to the party.

    David
    The Airline Blog

  • Jason Carswell
    Reply

    I agree Twitter for airlines is a great channel for conversation with their customers but I see you feel that Facebook does not work for airlines.
    Southwest Airlines have nearly 70,000 fans, and interact with them well on FB.
    Every news item they post seems to get sizable feed back plus there is heaps of fan praises and chatter with out prompting. Where as JetBlue has no posts at all and not surprisingly a small fan base.
    Myself and others are interested to know about your research into why FB is not a good channel for airlines especially as there are more people are on FB and spend more time on it.
    Is it not important to have a monitored presence in as many channels as possible?
    Jason

    • Jens-Volker
      Reply

      Sorry to see that there was no reply on the mysterious remark on Facebook not working for airlines. There seems to be evidence: While Facebook is continously growing with a rapid pace, the heralded Southwest presence is stagnating at around 70,000 people. Should this already be the limit for Southwest and airlines in general? Personally, I would make a difference between branded Facebook pages and branded apps. If you look at the travel app usage numbers, you know what I am talking about.

  • Jens-Volker
    Reply

    Sorry to see that there was no reply on the mysterious remark on Facebook not working for airlines. There seems to be evidence: While Facebook is continously growing with a rapid pace, the heralded Southwest presence is stagnating at around 70,000 people. Should this already be the limit for Southwest and airlines in general? Personally, I would make a difference between branded Facebook pages and branded apps. If you look at the travel app usage numbers, you know what I am talking about.

  • Noise Isolating Earbuds
    Reply

    Airlines, as every business, need to embrace social networking as part of their marketing strategy. If they don't, their competitor's will.

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