KLM has a 400% return on investment from social media. When Viktor van der Wijk, vice-president e-acquisition at KLM, shared this statistic at the SimpliFlying Awards last October, everyone was blown away. The airline achieved this startling figure despite having a 132-strong social media team – the largest in the industry.
Other airlines, however, have delivered impressive results without necessarily needing such a huge social media team, as we discovered in the last SimpliFlying Airline Social Media Outlook survey report.
For instance, Canada’s WestJet drove 6,000 new bookings from an April Fool’s day YouTube video. Saudi Arabia’s Nas Air, the country’s most followed brand on Twitter, uses the social networking site to exclusively release offers, driving further traffic to its website, while Mexico’s Volaris drives revenues in excess of Ps2 million ($150,750) a month from Facebook sales alone. Interestingly, the total number of social media employees at these three airlines amounts to only one-tenth of KLM’s.
The case for social media as a marketing tool for airlines has always been strong. Now, it has not only proven itself as a revenue driver but also a way of achieving other key business goals.
Air New Zealand has been applauded for its out-of-the-box safety videos, which have featured everyone from US actress Betty White to cabin crew dressed only in body paint. The airline made a point of releasing the videos online before using them during flights and the videos have been viewed over 100 million times on YouTube and the Chinese equivalent, YouKu. Air New Zealand has probably done more for safety than any other airline the world.
Another social media rock star is Turkish Airlines – its two advertisements featuring sports stars Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi have garnered over 240 million YouTube views in over 200 countries. Turkish Airlines uses the videos to drive home the message that it flies to more countries than any other airline.
In addition to brand building, Turkish has also taken in-flight customer service to another level. Last year, Peter Cohen was on a flight from Los Angeles to Istanbul on a wi-fi equipped Boeing 777. Feeling too warm, he had wanted to adjust the temperature but other passengers felt it would be too cold. Frustrated, he posted on Turkish Airlines’ Facebook page that he would not use the airline again.
Turkish Airlines became aware of the post and communicated with the pilot, who then had the flight attendants approach Cohen to resolve the issue. Impressed by the prompt service, Cohen went on to declare on Facebook that he would stick with the airline. Within 8min of responding, Turkish Airlines managed to convert a disgruntled passenger into a lifelong customer.
Providing real-time customer service to the connected travellers of today is becoming a priority for a number of airlines and airports. A third of Turkish Airlines passengers connect to in-flight wi-fi, and 77% of all passengers connect to wi-fi at the airport when it is available free of charge. If an airline can resolve a situation in real time for one tweeting passenger publicly, it will likely be able to help a further 100 who may be facing similar problems.
For social customer service, KLM has two full-time staff dedicated to monitoring social media messages emanating from an airport or an aircraft on the tarmac, and it makes it a priority for them to send quick responses. About 2,000 out of 30,000 social engagements a week concern actual travel cases.
However, before focusing on brand building and customer service, there are a few basics that an airline has to get right first.
During the Asiana Airlines incident at San Francisco Airport last July, Krista Seiden posted a photo on Twitter within 30s of impact. Within 24h, she was quoted in over 4,450 mainstream news articles. The official press release from Asiana came out 8h after Krista’s photo made the news.
In essence, the airline had lost control of the brand to an accidental spokesperson who was not even a passenger. In comparison, San Francisco Airport was on the ball and constantly churned out updates on Facebook and Twitter for stranded passengers.
Today, every airline must realise that passengers and employees are more likely to first hear of an incident on social media before the official channels. Airline executives must prioritise how to disseminate information quickly to their customers through social media and mobiles. Sending an email alert today would be like sending a fax.
Social media is no longer a marketing afterthought, but should be integral to an airline's business. While not all carriers can match KLM, strategic use of social media that keeps a razor-sharp focus on business goals will help them stay ahead of the competition in this age of connected travellers.