Social Media at SAS Scandinavian – from ashcloud to integrated part of communications – insights from Christian Kamhaug

Editor’s note: One of the airlines that’s been nominated in each one of the annual SimpliFlying Awards has been SAS Scandinavian. In 2010 for their efforts during the ashcloud, and then in 2011 for their crises management as well. Their efforts also landed them among our Top 11 innovations for 2011.

At the helm of the airline’s social media efforts has been Christian Kamhaug, a passionate aviation geek who is their Head of Social Media. This is a guest article by him, along with a presentation he delivered in Oslo last week, on his journey and the importance of social media to the airline.


From early adopter to market leader

SAS was – in Scandinavian terms – an early adopter of social media, establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter back in March 2009 – ages ago! Originally, the initiative to enter the realm of social media was taken by eCommerce, who saw social media as an interesting channel to drive traffic  to SAS websites and put more “bums in seats”. Following some internal soul-searching, Corporate Communications took ownership of all social media channels in February 2010.

The turning-point for the use of social media in general, and especially Facebook, came in April 2010 when the Icelandic volcano Eyafjallajökul covered European airspace with an ashcloud that grounded air traffic for a week. Within the space of a couple of days, our customers decided that Facebook was a channel they wanted to use to get in touch with us. We went from 500 daily page-views on our Facebook-page to more than 50,000! With 20 page-admins, sourced from all over the company, the team did nearly 24-hour customer service on Facebook, responding to more than 5000 questions in a week – 99% of which were responded to within five minutes! What a dream-team!

Following the resumption of flights, Facebook was firmly established as a customer contact channel, and is now manned by customer service agents 8am-8pm seven days a week. In addition to customer service, SAS now also use social media for news & campaigns, sales, competitions, surveys, recruitment and not least to tell our story, showcase our products and lift the SAS brand.

Today, SAS is the largest travel-brand in the Nordic region on Facebook, and we’ve entered a new phase.

Shared responsibility

While Corporate Communications still has the lead in social media, with over-all responsibility for strategy and content, more and more of the content delivered in social media now comes from the responsible departments themselves. Marketing, PR, Online Sales, Product and others now see the value of utilizing social media in their over-all marketing- and communications mix.

When marketing wants to push their Norwegian sales campaigns on, they themselves publish the campaign, tag the links using WebTrends tracking-codes and targets the campaign to Norwegian users only in Norwegian language, using Facebook targeting. For an airline like SAS, with three strong home-markets, Facebook’s feature that allows us to target status updates to one country only is essential to the success of Facebook as a marketing-channel. Norwegian fans get offers in Norwegian, Swedes in Swedish, Danes in Danish etc. We noticed a significant higher engagement from our more than 2000 fans in Poland, when we started talking to them in Polish and linked the status-update to

While KLM has a social media staff of more than 30, we have chosen a distributed model to deal with social media. Social Media is “owned” by the Head of Social Media, but customer service and content creation is done using excising resources at the Customer Contact Center, Marketing, Sales etc. While we – and an increasing number of companies – have a Head of Social Media, there is no “Head of Print Media”, and in time we really shouldn’t have a Head of Social Media either. Social Media has a number of special characteristics and does require a somewhat different approach than traditional media, but it should be seen as a part of the overall marketing- and communications mix, and utilized whenever and wherever it makes sense.

Measuring results

As any other channel, social media must also be able to show measurable results. If you are making an investment, there must be a return. In our business we cannot afford to spend time and money without getting value back. The time of big hairy social media campaigns, where the goals were to build a fan-base and attain Likes should be over now. Social media can’t be seen as separate from the rest of the business. Our job as communicators and marketers is to “put bums in seats”. You can’t buy fuel with Likes or buzz!

At the end of the day it’s about selling tickets, and to a large extent that’s also why people follow us in social media. In a survey we did among our Facebook-fans in May, 55% said they follow SAS on Facebook to receive campaigns and offers, and almost 90% are positive to our use of Facebook to distribute offers and campaigns.

Social Media is here to stay, and for an increasing number of our customers it has become an important communications channel – but not the only one. Social media cannot put “bums in seats” alone, but it must be part of the mix.

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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