How airlines used social media innovatively to battle the ashcloud crisis [from Mashable]

Note: This article and slideshow, created by me, was first published on Mashable.com.

Hundreds of thousands of travelers scrambled to find alternative modes of transportation, last minute hotel bookings and even home-stays when the Icelandic volcano disrupted air travel around Europe over the last seven days. The official figure for airlines’ losses stands at $1.7 billion in just six days, with U.K.-based airlines British Airways and Virgin Atlantic likely to suffer the most.

Though it sounds like all doom and gloom, the silver lining of this crisis is that a lot of travelers looked to social media for help, and airlines and other authorities actually rose to the challenge. Here are some examples of winning information and customer service strategies that were implemented via social media.

Deep dive into social media for airlines

As I highlighted in-depth in my previous article, EuroControl was very impressive as they rushed to update passengers about the latest information about flights through a variety of online and offline mediums.

In just seven days, there were over 55,000 mentions of #ashtag, and the usage was so widespread that only 5.8% of the tweets came from the Top 10 users –- which is generally not the case.

As you can see in the SlideShare below, airlines not only updated flight statuses, but provided customer service as well, bringing down volume on their call centers. Air Baltic [Disclosure: SimpliFlying client] even confirmed with some passengers that their hotel expenses would be covered –- all this as a public conversation.

Since my first article, I learnt of many personal stories from airline staff handling the crisis. Here’s one.

To quote one person from this stealth team at SAS, “Now we have people (volunteers!) online from about 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. Most of the time there are 3-5 people working, and using the Microsoft Communicator to chat with the other members of the team, discuss issues, and make sure only one person answers a customer’s question. In total, I think about 15-20 people in both Oslo and Stockholm have been involved directly updating social media since Thursday. In terms of fans, we went from 15,000 Thursday morning, to having passed 21,000 today.”

A Blessing in Disguise?


When it comes to social media strategy, most European airlines tend to lag behind their American counterparts like JetBlue and Southwest. But in this situation, they got the basics of crisis management right by jumping straight in.

Both airlines and EuroControl took charge of the situation not just by sending out messages, but by leading and participating in conversations. Airlines like SAS quickly learned how to scale up the efforts when needed, with the help of volunteers from across the company.

And the next time a crisis occurs, they will be much better prepared to use social media as a valuable information and customer service tool. The most important thing right now is to take the lessons learned and develop a coherent strategy for handling future crises.

You can read the full article, over on Mashable.com. And I’d love to hear your comments, here and over on Twitter (@simpliflying)

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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 9 comments
  • avaltat
    Reply

    Hi Shashank,

    Thanks for your insights and the amazing graphs! Just wanted to clear some facts about slide 12, actually the crisis started already on 14 April for us at EUROCONTROL and on that day we had around 350 followers, so our follower base didn't double it moved from 350 to more than 7,000 today. Quite a difference I agree! This only goes to show how efficient social media and Twitter were in dealing with passengers requests.

    Keep up the great work, love to read your articles!

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      Aurrelie,

      That's even better! Speaks volumes for the fantastic job you guys have
      done at Eurocontrol

  • oussama
    Reply

    Should social media be a part of an airline's Emergency Response Plan, hell yes. Airline's need to look at the last week's events and rewrite their plans. Events has shown that other types of communication channels like TV, print media or call centers can not cope with mega disruptions. The repercussion of last week's closure of European airspace reverberated across the globe. Almost every airline had to cancel services to Europe.
    This does not only apply to airlines but to airports, hotels and other transportation providers.

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