The epidemic of fake airline social media metrics

In our work on marketing strategy, airline social media metrics often come up in discussions. Though, we realize that once agencies take over the implementation of the strategy, most of the airline social media metrics used today border on irrelevance. What is the value of Views, Likes or Shares to the business? Especially when they can easily be faked. While these may be easy to track, they seldom help beat competition in a sustained manner. I realized the significance of using the right airline marketing metrics during a lakeside conversation over a year ago.

Airline social media metrics can be faked

At one of our quarterly SimpliFlying retreats last summer, we were at a serene lake cottage on the outskirts of Seattle. Dirk Singer had flown in from London as he’d recently joined the team. As we dipped our toes and watched the sun go down, the topic of conversation was airline social media metrics being faked – “social media fakery”.

While I had not heard of the term, Dirk was familiar with marketing agencies “buying” Likes, Views or Shares for their aviation clients. Sometimes, they’d work with influencers to boost these numbers and at other times, pay “bots” outright to hit a target.

In an era where the numbers of Facebook Likes or Twitter followers are becoming a major driving force in airline social media strategy, this is cheating.

I was intrigued enough to investigate and we decided to go a step further. In February this year, at our Airline Marketing Innovation Lab in Singapore, we ran a live experiment. We filmed a video at the beginning of the Lab featuring the participants evacuating a simulated airline fire. That video was uploaded on YouTube and Instagram without anyone’s knowledge.

Towards the end of the day, we revealed to the airline attendees that the video they were featured in had garnered over 25,000 views on each of the platforms! These were not organic views. We had spent less than €50 on “buying” these views. The audience, which included mostly senior airline marketing professionals, grimaced.

That day in Singapore, we proved two points – that social media metrics can be faked and that driving higher numbers may not mean anything for the business.

Airline social media metrics are not relevant

Most social media metrics measured by airlines and their agencies today are not relevant to the business. An airline based in Asia recently launched a new route to North America. They ran a Facebook campaign to drive views for a video of the first flight ceremonies. While the video was viewed over 100,000 times, it is anyone’s guess how many of these views converted into sales for the airline, especially because there was no call-to-action in the video!

On Twitter, many airlines have “average reply time” as their go-to metric for delivering customer service. Indeed, social media is full of impatient trolls who would be very upset if they do not get a reply from the airline in an instant. However, it is wrong to focus on reply time isolated from other metrics such as resolution rate, which shed light on the quality of those replies. A rush to reply fast often reduces the quality of the responses.

Airline social media metrics are complex

While social media metrics being used today are convenient to measure, they are complex to understand. We recently reviewed metrics for the daily Live show I host on Facebook and Twitter. One of the videos had over 55,000 “clicks to play the video”. There were 5,000 total video views. Yet, only 87 people had watched the video with sound on for more than 10 seconds. It’s confusing, isn’t it?

If this was a marketing campaign you ran for your airline, what would you report to your CFO – that 87 people viewed the video or 55,000 clicked on it? Will that be the most accurate representation of what you achieved? In fact, what did you achieve beyond Views? Most of the social media metrics pulled from Facebook, Twitter and other platforms are either confusing or inflated.

To make matters worse, it is in the interest of the marketing agencies, the social media managers and tools like Facebook to showcase the most inflated numbers. This often puts things dramatically out of context. Social media creates a pleasant bubble where likes, shares, views, comments and followers can give a false sense of security. They can actually take the focus away from knowing and caring about what customers want.

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Which airline social media metrics should be measured?

Every Chief Marketing Officer needs to ask what the airline is truly trying to achieve through marketing, be it traditional or social media powered. The two key goals of marketing are to support sales and to build a lasting brand that helps differentiate the airline from the competition.

Look at the funnel

It is high time that traditional marketing metrics like look-to-book ratio take precedence over Views and Re-Tweets. The Fairmont Hotels marketing team tracks the funnel, using a pixel on their website. It knows exactly how many leads coming from social media campaign convert. Volaris, a Mexican ultra low-cost airline, attributes up to 70% of its website sales to ads on Facebook and Twitter. These should be coupled with brand-centric metrics like Net Promoter Score to determine how well the airline is connecting with the customer across touch-points.

Social media is a much better two-way channel

It is also important to note that social media is not good at messaging because messages often get lost in too much noise. It is a much better medium for reaching and connecting with people — which means that currently, social media is the best customer service platform available to airlines.

If airlines can leverage this opportunity, they can think harder about how to learn much more about their customers and know as much about them as we know about our friends. This data, combined with an attitude to serve, is going to be the future. It’s not going to be in superfluous metrics.

If every airline is measuring the same easy-to-get and easy-to-fake metrics, then it’s a race to the bottom. In the words of Seth Godin, “when you measure the same metrics, you create the same outcomes.” So, if your airline is trying to stand out from competition, then measure something different. Measure what’s relevant. Measure what drives business. Not egos.

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In conclusion, I’d like to share my Live show episode I did on my topic. If this is something you’ve struggled with, I’d love to hear how you’ve tackled it.

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and the author of SOAR, the quintessential book on airline marketing. Join the next SimpliFlying Lab in London or get a copy of SOAR. This article will be published in the next edition of Airline Business magazine.

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