Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Airlines and Social Media

Airlines and Social Media
Just about everyone with an internet connection uses some sort of social media to their advantage these days. From businesses looking to boost their image or give customers another way to keep up with what's going on to individuals looking to make new friends with similar interests or keep up with old ones who no longer live close by, social media has become a part of our daily lives. Even my 84-year-old grandfather has a Facebook page. But what about the airline industry? Why haven't they grasped on to social media to use it to their advantage, yet? Some say airlines just don't know how to do it. But a new report by Steven Frischling and Addison Schonland of Innovation Analysis Group attempts to tackle the problem.

The 62-page report titled "The Airline Industry & Social Media - A must-have strategic guide for airline marketing and sales," attempts to tell airline execs what social media like Twitter and Facebook can do for them and shows them how they can go about establishing a presence. While Schonland takes up for the airlines, saying that social media was never designed for business purposes and insists that social media is still relatively new, they do believe the airlines are falling behind when it comes to new trends.

Some airlines have already taken the first steps. Southwest Airlines has a Twitter team that is actively acting on customer complaints each day. It is believed the Twitter account has led directly to a reduction in the number of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation because of the quick way Southwest is able to intervene.

But the report believes more can be done and it outlines the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as providing tips and a general plan for airlines. For example, the report says an airline must not look at social media as a quick source of revenue, but instead as a way to build relationships with its customers. "Airlines are jumping in and out of Twitter because they can't figure out, 'How do we jump in and make money?' But they can't just "jump in to say, 'We're here!' They need to interact fully," Frischling said in an interview with ATW Online.

Another problem is that the airline executives are not sure whose hands to place the Twitter account in - does it belong in marketing? Customer Service? Communications? Some airlines even leave the work for summer interns. The report says it should span across all of those departments and then some. And on top of that, whomever is in charge of the account should be well-versed in language that is commonly used with that form of social media. With Twitter, for example, knowing how to @, RT and use a hashtag is a must if the airline expects to be fully engaged with its customers.

The report notes that one U.S. Airline joined Twitter in August and sent out one tweet five days later. It ignore 231 complaints made about the airline on Twitter and 186 direct questions. All lost opportunities that could potentially escalate into bigger problems, or even eventually provide the airline with more business from satisfied customers.

Some airlines have caught on to the "interaction" part of using Twitter. JetBlue, Virgin America, and again, Southwest all interact with their followers.

And using Twitter vs. email helps the airlines get right to the point. Customers often delete or ignore graphic/text-heavy emails and miss out on certain opportunities.

The report also notes that social media is ever-changing and what was hot two years ago isn't necessarily hot today. Could Twitter be right behind? Possibly, but it's hot right now and the airlines, just like other businesses, need to take advantage of it and be prepared for the next new thing.

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