How Airlines Use Social Media: Lessons for Everyone

In an effort to build customer engagement, an increasing number of airlines are creating an active social media presence — Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and check-in locations for location-based apps. SimpliFlying, “a unique blog offering insights, hindsights, and foresights into the world of airline and airport branding”, has created an infographic that shows how the airline industry has allocated resources to social media. We all know that it’s easy to set up social media profiles, but many brands fail to follow through and dedicate the huge amount of time and energy it takes to gain followers and create meaningful dialog. And who could forget the string of recent airline-industry PR debacles that had the companies scrambling to redeem themselves? These days, a social-media presence is vital for public relations, branding, marketing — everything, really.

SimpliFlying contacted more than 25 big players in the airline industry around the world in an attempt to answer questions such as:

  • How are airlines managing their social media presence?
  • What plans do they have for managing their teams in the future?
  • What size are these teams?
  • Do greater follower numbers imply greater effort?

Integrated is better than dedicated

The survey found that an integrated approach is more effective than a dedicated one. Integrated marketing communications is a cross-functional process for managing customer relationships that drive brand value primarily through communication efforts. A data-driven approach, it focuses on identifying consumer insights and developing a strategy — with the right combination of online and offline media channels — to create a stronger consumer-brand relationship. A dedicated approach means there is a corporate social media department that is solely responsible for leveraging the social Web for engagement; they are effectively in their own corporate silo.

Integrated marketing emphasizes the 4 “C”s (consumer, cost, convenience, and communication) over the 4 “P”s (the four traditional components of the marketing mix — product, price, place, and promotion). Here’s what that looks like, courtesy of Integrated Marketing Communications: Putting it Together and Making It Work by Schultz, Tannenbaum, and Lauterborn:

4 Cs vs. 4 Ps


You have to understand the consumer’s wants and needs. Times have changed and you can no longer sell whatever you can make. The product characteristics have to match the specifics of what someone wants to buy, and part of what the consumer is buying is the personal “buying experience”.


Understand the consumer’s cost to satisfy the want or need. The product price may be only one part of the consumer’s cost structure. Often it is the cost of time to drive somewhere, the cost of conscience of what you buy, the cost of guilt for not treating the kids, the investment a consumer is willing to make to avoid risk, etc.


As above, turn the standard logic around. Think convenience of the buying experience and then relate that to a delivery mechanism. Consider all possible definitions of “convenience” as it relates to satisfying the consumer’s wants and needs. Convenience may include aspects of the physical or virtual location, access ease, transaction service time, and hours of availability.


A good communication strategy entails many mediums working together to present a unified message with a feedback mechanism to engage consumers. And be sure to include an understanding of non-traditional mediums, such as word of mouth and how it can influence your position in the consumer’s mind. How many ways can a customer hear (or see) the same message through the course of the day, each message reinforcing the earlier images?

Airline social-media marketing survey results

The infographic below shows that airlines with an integrated model are more likely to perform better than those with a dedicated social media marketing staff. Social media dexterity was calculated by using an algorithm that accounted for Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and Klout scores. These results are airline-industry-specific, but all marketers should take them into account regardless of what product or service they’re trying to publicize — what works for one industry can be viable for others, too.

Some interesting facts

  • There has been a 60% increase in the number of tweets received by airlines between February 2011 and March 2011.
  • 40% percent of airlines are expanding their social-media teams, bringing in employees  from marketing, customer service, e-commerce, corporate communications, and other departments.
  • KLM has 125,000 Twitter followers and 200,000 Facebook fans with 23 dedicated staff focusing on social media. Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, has only four employees trained in social media in an integrated model, has 1,100,000 Twitter followers and 1,390,000  Facebook fans.


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  • branded items

    If only they would listen now to their customer’s feedback on their airline’s performance. Some do, some do not. Wish they would give importance to that.

  • James Austin

    Using social network Airlines can be in touch with their customers and use customer’s friends list to increase their market.  But again negative feedback by any customer can harness their image.