Airlines on Pinterest: in-depth look reveals a bit of a graveyard

NB: This is a viewpoint by Marco Serusi, a Spain-based engagement executive at airline and airport strategy firm SimpliFlying.

Pinterest was one of the star social networks of 2012. Countless articles and reviews and paeans were written about it and, notably, unlike Google Plus, it never received much criticism.

Perhaps this was due to its user-base seemingly expanding at a decent rate of knots? Who knows.

So, we were excited when recently we were asked by an airline client to help prepare a travel inspiration strategy for them, with Pinterest as its backbone.

When we started analyzing how airlines are using this social network, we quickly realized that things were not as rosy as it might have been expected.

A sad déjà vu

The most striking aspect of our journey through 74 airline Pinterest accounts was finding a number of abandoned pages and several others that were simply recycling content from other networks such as Facebook.

This is similar to the trend we had recently observed on Google Plus.

The similarities increased further when we detected very low level of interaction on pins, with just a handful of comments, likes or re-pins even on the most successful posts.

In terms of followers, we were only able to find two airlines with more than 10,000 followers – Qatar Airways and Southwest Airlines – five with more than 2,000 and just over 10 with more than 1,000.

That left over 55 airlines with followers in the hundreds, which partly explains the virtual absence of any interaction. Even more surprising was the realization that we could not find any airline that had between 3,000 and 10,000 followers, leaving an unusual gap in follower numbers.

Posting frequency also appeared to be very low, with many airlines having gaps of several weeks in between posts and just a few adding content on a weekly basis.

Furthermore, it seemed that most airlines pinned images in bulk, forgetting that, just like on Twitter, the key to staying visible on Pinterest lies in having a constant flow of posts, well-spaced in time to ensure they will appear on the followers’ feeds.

Destinations. That’s all.

Luckily on Pinterest, we did see something that Google Plus lacked: a number of well designed and innovative campaigns, which ranged from showcasing destinations, to the more complex crowdsourcing initiatives launched by Finnair and Helsinki Airport.

Several airlines also showed that they had started to grasp the potential of this social network to link the travel inspiration stage of the Connected Traveler lifecycle and the sharing stage by providing a place where images shared by people who had travelled with the airline could be found by other potential customers.

Some airlines, like South African Airways’ Virtual Safari, also clearly understand that it is not just selling a flight from A to B but an experience, an escape from everyday life, and therefore uses Pinterest to showcase, through powerful images, what the destinations have to offer.

But yet, it struggles with less than 500 followers.

Though, with regards to branding, we spotted some airlines which have made good efforts in building their brands with boards dedicated to vintage images of the airline and tip boards where travelers can find useful links, like KLM’s Retro posters.

Revisiting the role of Pinterest

When analyzing these efforts, it became clear that some airlines understood that Pinterest had a great potential as a place where people collect things they like or would like in the future (essentially, pinning their dreams).

However, the intermittent nature of their efforts and their few connections with other social networks also highlighted a lack of confidence in the platform and an unwillingness to commit to it.

This lack of confidence in Pinterest is perhaps generated, in part, by a lack of understanding of how this platform works and an attempt of measure direct ROI from the initiatives made on this network.

This is further aggravated by attempts to use it in isolation from other networks, using it as a sort of “new Flickr”.

Moreover, almost all airline Pinterest pages look very similar – pretty destination images, and nothing much else. You can literally take one airline’s logo and put it on another’s Pinterest page and hardly anyone would notice.

It clearly shows a lack of a specific business strategy for the medium.

Where are we now?

If we apply the hype cycle model to the relationship between airlines and Pinterest, we can clearly see how most airlines have gone past the peak of its hype and are currently in the so called “trough of disillusionment”.

However, we are already starting to see positive signs that suggest a move towards the “plateau of productivity” where brands finally start to understand how to benefit from this innovative social network.

A recent announcement that Pinterest will start offering deeper analytics should offer much-needed encouragement to airline brands to start using this platform more earnestly (and confidently) as well.

Where to start (again)

Because it mainly acts on the inspiration stage of the lifecycle, Pinterest must be integrated with other social networks, so that it can be where visual content shared by the airline and its passengers comes together and becomes accessible to everyone.

Once a solid base is established, it will be possible to launch more advanced initiatives.

At SimpliFlying, we always recommend that our clients start with a business goal in mind, before blindly diving into the latest social network.

Moreover, each social network should not be seen as engaging only specific target markets. Instead, each network engages with travelers at different stages of the Connected Traveler Life Cycle and it is the combined effect of these interactions that leads to monetization.

Trying to measure the ROI of Pinterest alone is a false step – instead, consolidation and integration of efforts across platforms will lead to a better, more meaningful global ROI measurement.

Then work hard on determining the business goals they want to achieve through this medium – whether is revenue, loyalty, customer service or just brand awareness.

And finally, set up the metrics for measuring results. After all, what gets measured, gets done.

There is a way forward for airlines looking to go beyond sporadically uploading pretty destination images on Pinterest.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Marco Serusi, a Spain-based engagement executive at airline and airport strategy firm SimpliFlying.

NB2: Graveyard image via Shutterstock.

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A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. Tim @FlyCFG

    Thanks for the Pinterest inspiration. Yes, it will take some creativity to come up with innovative business uses and persevere until they work, but I agree with Basia – “it can be done”. No one ever thought Facebook would evolve beyond college dorms, but look at it today.

  2. basia

    Marco Serusi – pinterest is a mecca of ‘travel inspirations’! – which exact airline one chooses to fly is very rarely made through a facebook ad or otherwise – certainly not business travelers – i do not ‘pin’ just recipes and cats – and those that don’t pin because they have ‘little patience’ are just trying to attack the site because they just like facebook and all the silly pics that come with their extremely boring format – the airline industry or any industry to advertise on facebook has to get really really creative! – and it can be done –

  3. Sceptical corporate traveller

    When is it finally going to dawn on people that so far there are very very few serious examples of airlines reaching significant numbers of VALUABLE travellers via social media and that maybe, just maybe, the reason for this is that it does nothing of much value for either airline or customer?

    Please make measurements not in terms of users but in terms of users as a % of seats sold or something meaningful to an airline!


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