Why time is running out for the Singapore Airlines brand to get into Web 2.0

Singapore Airlines has created probably the most well recognized airline brand in the world. The Singapore Girl has done great wonders for the airline and the nation over the years. Even ardent competitors like the CEO of AirAsia, Tony Fernandes, openly claim to be learning from the airline.

But the recent tough times have hit the airline hard, just like other premium carriers like Cathay Pacific. Singapore Airlines has decided to cut over 200 flights and is experiencing low load-factors in its premium classes – where it makes most of its money. So the big looming question is what should the airline do now? Change strategy? Probably not. How about using social media to soften the impact, by engaging the customers and employees real-time? Why not?

You can run, but you can’t hide

In my conversations with folks over at Singapore Airlines (quite a few of them!), I’ve sensed educated-nonchalance when it comes to adopting social media to pursue its business goals in this downturn. Not only are they hardly present on social media outlets, the airline seems unconvinced about the importance of a two-way conversation. SIA doesn’t have a blog, Twitter account, Facebook page or even social-media-friendly press releases (I had to download a 4mb image to try to put in this article, and I didn’t). From a brand that has done an excellent job of top-down positioning, where it tells its customers what it’s about, it’s fair to expect careful treading of new waters. But getting into social media for an airline brand is not about why, but about how. And it has to be now.

Why time is running out for Singapore Airlines?

Cranky Flier blog’s Brent Snyder published an intriguing article on the importance of social media for airlines yesterday, and here’s what he had to say,

“For all those airlines who still don’t think embracing new media is a good thing, well, there’s not much I can say to you except you should pull your heads out of your a***s”

I couldn’t agree more.

One of the arguments I often hear from executives at premium airlines is “I’m not targeting the teens on Facebook” or “my customers are not on Twitter”. What’s wrong with those comments? They concentrate on the tool, not the strategic goal. Getting into social media doesn’t have to start with a Twitter account or a Facebook page. It needs to start with determining what’s the opportunity to achieve strategic goals – like engaging the customer or enhancing existing touchpoints with social media. Then figuring out what tool to use.

What if we start with the goal of providing value adding service to SIA’s premium customers?

It is indeed not very realistic to expect SIA’s high-paying customers to be on Twitter or Facebook. But a mojority of them carry iPhones and Blackberries. How about creating simple apps for these devices that allow them to perform common tasks like check-in, date change, seat-change or booking of a flight using miles? And this idea is not very far-fetched, since SIA’s competition like Cathay Pacific has done a great job with CX Mobile (their iPhone app). Others like British Airways, Qantas, LuxAir and Lufthansa also have similar initiatives.

If SIA waits too long, there’s a chance its competitiors might start taking away market share, due to superior engagement outside the aircraft. And that can be damaging.

I believe that if SIA decides to go ahead with a social media strategy, it has the potential to surpass all of its competition, because it has a genie – the Singapore Girl! How? Go figure =)

What do you think? Is there a place (or need) for a premium brand like SIA to be on social media? If so, what’s the best way? Let’s discuss.

By the way, Tweepitition is still running and are still 3 more autographed copies of the book to on SIA be given away, and a 4GB Apple iPod. You too can be a winner, just by re-tweeting a comment from SimpliFlying or leaving a comment on this site. Learn more here.

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Showing 12 comments
  • Jerrick

    Very good article and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment expressed here. Singapore Airlines has lead the industry for so long, I can only hope that this will continue.

  • Cranky Flier

    Good point about Singapore being behind the curve here. I think the key for each airline is to figure out which piece is right for them. For example, I don’t know if I see Singapore as a blogging kind of airline. But the use of Twitter should be a no-brainer for an airline that prides itself on service. If someone is having any trouble, Singapore should be willing to help them in any way possible since that’s really the brand that they present, right?

  • Ben

    Singapore airlines has every advantage right now. If they do not follow suit behind other airlines who embrace the social media culture, they will be left behind. I hope they continue to lead the market by performing an evolutionary task right now by offering free flights to their twitter followers to their many destinations. This would allow them to make a comeback in the social media world!

  • Tim Vanheers

    Hi! Interesting post! Actually Singapore Airlines could leverage on their already very good brand image. Branded apps could surely be a way to go. Or maybe inflight entertainment sent to the iPhones or Blackberries in the airplane itself… or imagine that you can choose the menu in the flight on your iPhone… SO many possibilities!

    A Twitter account or a Facebook page would work very well, as lots of people are fans of SIA and will show brand love. But the content also has to be relevant. I personally would be very interested in SIA personnel twittering or blogging about their training and how they learn the corporate values of the company.

  • shashank Nigam

    @Tim: Brilliant suggestions. Given SIA’s high proportion of premium passengers, I think the iPhone apps and Blackberry apps can work very well as a strategy to connect with the passengers. Couple this with a Twitter account to provide customer service and you have an airline brand that rocks online too!

  • Miguel Relva

    If I were you, I would be more concerned about what content would I provide in order to be relevant to the social network you’ll host your communication platform, don’t think that display will do the trick. You should think in engaging the people with relevancy. Ex. if you use MySpace in must use music to engage.

  • Bharath Rao


    Your question has to do with many brands, not just SIA. One of the common but mistaken assumptions that consumer brands make about social media is that consumers are dying to evangelize for the brand. That’s simply wishful thinking for the following reasons.

    1) Not all customers are happy.
    2) Happy customers need not talk either. Unhappy customers often do.
    3) The concrete benefit of being part of the social media initiative of the brand is often not clear. Often, it’s not fun enough either.
    4) Customers will lose credibility among friends and business contacts if they evangelize too many brands.

    SIA can do some of the following stuff in its social media strategy depending on how it wants to position the brand.

    1) Pick up a brand positioning statement for SIA and create a game around it. For instance, the statement could be “preferred airline of successful businessmen”. In that case, the game could be around business/startegy.

    2) Since SIA is a luxury airline, it has the potential of being a networking platform for businesspeople. So creating a business networking kind of site would help. But signing up on 100s of sites that come up this way is a pain. So, having presence on Facebook/LinkedIn also helps.

    3) Incentivize customers to participate and make it Viral.

    4) Nothing is as viral as humor on the web, whether it’s 1.0 or 2.0. Have a humorous element.


  • Bruce Sweigert

    SIA tends to very cautious and conservative and they will take time to study the success and mistakes of early adopters and then move from there.

  • Robert Philips

    They don’t, and they will have a difficult time thriving, because they are good at following a high quality service regimen – but not at a free flow of feedback and information (in many ways, they are the opposite of Virgin and Southwest). Keep in mind – the Singapore Girl was created by an Australian, Ian Batey. SIA is going to need an entire team (either in-house or outsourced) that can think creatively and adapt to the different social media environments. SIA does deserve credit for being one of the airlines with the most strategic online advertising….with effective keyword-driven banner ads on LinkedIn, YouTube, CNN.com, MSNBC.com, etc.

  • Ophir Ben-Yitschak

    I heard a very interesting discussion on the radio a year ago. The announcer told a story about how he and his wife went to a very fancy restaurant for their anniversary. They dressed up in their best clothes and went to one of the city’s high-end restaurants, one of those that cater to the wealthiest percentile.
    He then went on to complain that while they were at the restaurant, they noticed there were many younger people there who came dressed in their jeans, T-shirts and sandals. This of course bothered him and his wife considerably, since they thought they were going to an exclusive restaurant.

    The announcer then opened the show for calls to hear opinions and one of the first calls was a restaurant owner who told him straight-out: “The days of the old money being only with the suits and ties are over. We restaurant owners have to change our policies to fit the new world, where the NEW money is with people wearing jeans, T-shirts and sandals.”

    I think this story tells it all – whether it is a restaurant or SIA.

  • Dual Sim Phones

    nice post

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