5 years ago

Social media is dead – airline marketing in 2013 all about connected travellers and the real world

NB: This is a guest article by Shashank Nigam, CEO and founder of SimpliFlying.

Let’s face it – social media is dead. There are over 200 airlines on Twitter today, for example, and the space is cluttered.

Mere contests and free tickets are no longer enough to drive engagement. Too many airlines are trying to woo travelers in the same old ways. In 2013, social media will be dead, as we know it.

Airline marketers will need to stay ahead of the competition by identifying key business goals, like loyalty. They need to engage the traveler in a specific manner, often via mobile phones, rather than only on social media.

The bridge between social and real-world relationships will need to be built, as the travelers will be more connected than ever.

So, welcome to 2013, the year of a world in airline marketing beyond likes, tweets, RTs and fans.

1. The Connected Traveler

According to in-flight wifi provider Gogo, over 200 million travelers boarded a wi-fi equipped flight in the US alone in 2011.

This number is set to grow massively in 2013, as heavyweights like Emirates, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines breath life into their in-flight wifi offerings.

In fact, Turkish Airlines is already experiencing over 30% take up rate for its free wifi service on the Boeing 777-300ER.

This means that travelers will be connected throughout their journey – from leaving home in wifi equipped taxis and buses, to the airport that likely provide free wifi and finally in-flight too.

This would dramatically change the way airlines market to travelers – from customizing their in-flight entertainment experience based on their browsing history on Youtube, to allowing them to order duty-free in-flight and even to purchase destination tours and SIM cards in-flight via the internet.

The opportunities to drive ancillary revenues are immense, if airline managers think creatively.

There is another side of the coin too. If a passenger doesn’t like how his meal tastes, he’s likely to rant about it on Facebook, along with a photo, just minutes after the meal is served.

Customer service would have to be delivered in a manner close to real-time, in order to maintain brand affinity. Airlines like Virgin America, Delta, KLM and Turkish Airlines are already leading the way in this regard.

According to our recent Airline Social Media Outlook 2012 report, the current top three business goals that social media efforts are used to drive are brand engagement, customer service and revenue.

These efforts would have to be increased further in 2013, as the connected traveler will become a reality. It cannot be emphasized enough that airline marketing will have to evolve from mere social media contests to supporting key business functions.

2. Building real-world relationships, not just social engagement

On December 1, 2012, Carrie Bickmore was hanging out in the cockpit of a Qantas A380, despite previously making sarcastic comments about the airline. No, she wasn’t in-flight when she entered the cockpit, but at a Qantas hangar in Sydney.

Carrie was among the 30 social media influencers invited by Qantas for a “tweet and greet”.

They had opportunities to mingle with one another including Qantas marketing staff, and build real-world relationships, rather than just social. Qantas is now looking to repeat this next year throughout Australia.

This is part of a bigger trend, where airlines will need to transcend social relationships, and build bonds in the real world.

Not too long ago, Jet Airways had hosted a similar event in Mumbai too, where they flew in social advocates from all over India to a hangar.

Such efforts allow airlines to build face-to-face relationships with online users that they have been interacting with. Real-world relationships can go a long way in building online advocates.

This will also give senior airline executives a chance to witness first-hand, the power of social media, thus creating a better buy-in for future initiatives by the marketing team.

3. Gadgets galore and the age of instant gratification

Did you know that tablet-toting Emirates flight attendants have the ability to upgrade you from an Economy class seat to Business class or First class, if you have enough Skywards miles?

Across the Atlantic, American Airlines allows travelers to view movies from an in-flight content server, on their own devices, which they can carry on watching over the next 24 hours, even when they’re at their hotel!

As it is, 74% of business travelers and frequent fliers own smart phones, and many of the leisure travelers today carry their laptops or tablets on their holiday.

This means in-flight entertainment needs to evolve to take into account these realities, especially on short-haul or low cost airlines. Passengers would rather be glued to their own devices, rather than fiddle with the screen in front of them.

In a study SimpliFlying conducted with Cranfield university in 2011, 72% of participants said they’d join a social loyalty program – where they’d get real-world rewards for online actions.

Today, you can earn miles on United Airlines, Virgin America and JetBlue just by “checking-in” to their Foursquare or Facebook locations.

Last year, we helped Estonian Air and BalticMiles pioneer the world’s first social loyalty program and the world’s first crowd sourced membership level respectively (it also did this interesting Facebook integration, too).

This trend is set to grow, when combined with the fact that most travelers are carrying lots of gadgets and can perform online advocacy actions in return for incentives.

In fact, our study shows that 75% of airlines plan to increase social media budgets in 2013.

To stand out from the crowd, a lot of that will have to be focused on servicing the connected traveler, building real-world relationships, and tapping on the gadgets travelers are carrying.

In short, social media, as we know, is dead. The age of the connected traveler and instant gratification is here. And airline marketers need to adapt to this new world to remain relevant.

NB: This is a guest article by Shashank Nigam, CEO and founder of SimpliFlying.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

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 the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Chris

    Social media isn’t competitions and flight giveaways on Twitter. Anyone who makes such an assertion doesn’t know what social media is.

    However, social media is dead. It’s dead because it is omnipresent in every form of media old and new. Social media is dead because it now can simply be called: media.

  2. Nate

    Not one mention of the word “profit”.

    With the immense amount of money being thrown at social media, will 2013 will mark the year where corporations seriously look at ROI, and decide whether all this expenditure is actually worth it?

  3. Ann Cederhall

    Great article Shashank as always, good read . Thanks and Happy New Year!

  4. Smith

    Our experience and the overpowering evidence from the web searches we receive, is that travellers wish to pre-order their duty-free goods and inflight purchases in advance of their flight and not on board via wifi or enterntainment screens.

    By the time the passenger has boarded, he has been bombarded with travel offers and has been “walked through” a duty free store in an airport. This “inflight captive audience mentality” has yielded only a 7% share of the global duty free market in the last 30 years for airlines. It is a flawed philosophy.

    Airlines need to start talking to their customers in advance of the journey, so to compete with the other offers out there. Likewise, inflight wifi can and will divert passengers away from the inflight offer creating more competition, not less.

  5. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Let me be a counter voice – somewhat. Despite the title of the article – it was in fact much to do about Social interaction.

    Airlines and consumers have a somewhat fraught relationship. As airlines reduce the number of staff per passenger (QV airline staff vs passengers from the US DoT stats), they need to have relevant offerings to the consumer. The types of “real” interaction described here are neither valuable nor are they scalable. I can image every user on Gogo tweeting to the Captain of their flight – my cabin is too hot/cold, Flight Attendant is rude, I am never flying XYZ airline again unless they provide me caviar etc etc. As a 300K Miles this year (how sad is that!) person, I can attest that “airline customer service” remains largely an oxymoron statement.

    The real world is far more complex. There are a lot of moving parts. But it seems that few airlines have any strategy to do this in any way – let alone smartly.

    Boeing’s Connected Plane initiative was an attempt to build the entire infrastructure that can surround and be pervasive for the airline – its operational services and its interaction with the passenger. And this is important. WE need a ubiquity of service. If we look at Gogo’s numbers it means that only about 30% of US passengers (200 million out of 750 million total US pax) actually were able to fly on a plane with Wifi. Obviously take up is far less.

    I moved my personal flying domestic USA to almost exclusively DL/AS/VX. I can (ALMOST) guarantee that there is Wifi on the flight no matter what the flight number. (For the record AS 737-400 combis and some of DL’s international aircraft dont have wifi as I have found to my cost). UA, AA, are not there and have a long way to go. US is largely MIA. Counting on a recent flight via 4 airports the number of Southwest aircraft with the lump on top – it was a 15/50 number. Not scientific I know but a rough guide. The take up of tablets is pushing use. However the issue of streaming video, Rich media use is causing some consternation for the user community.

    The real world connection described in this article is just not there. In my opinion this is not going to change for a while. Few airlines are making the real effort to make that connection directly with the consumer.

    So let me be proactive and lay out what I think they should be doing. This is not fluffy trivial but really meaningful change that can significantly improve the customer experience. I will pick a single example.

    Opening up the walled garden to direct interaction.

    For example something REALLY simple. Tie my Gogo user ID to a profile that links the various airline programs to which I belong and then acknowledging me as THE person who is sitting in seat 9A. A simple database link would resolve this in a heartbeat. Has any airline done this yet? Not to my knowledge. And definitely not to my personal experience. What is somewhat scary is that no one has actually done this yet.

    So come on people – get with the program. Enough with the fluffy hand waving and lipservice to customer enrichment. Do something useful.

    In the mean time my alter ego will probably confine social enrichment to a tweet about the heat and the hair style of the flight attendants and why I can’t open the window of the aircraft 😉


  6. peter picataggio

    Social provides a basic engagement platform. But in the example given above on Turkish airlines where the flyer posted “they would not fly them again” is nothing more then the narcissistic side of social.

    What if some one else on the plane thought it was to cold and posted? Should the airline stop what they are doing to hold a vote on the plane?

    I know why not post what cruddy food u are being served and then threaten not to fly unless u get the meal in first class.

    It just really gets to me when I see users posting on social sites how they will never do something again unless they are catered too or they happen to think the entire planet gives a flying hoot that they will not go to that store or doctor or airline or hotel ever again.

    Social sites to some extent have created many who think they are experts in everything.

    Maybe I am old fashion but when I do not like the show I change the channel. I do not call the network and give them my opinion on how to improve. Just seems like a waist of time.

    Tweet and Greet? This model has been tried over and over. Ask Ford about the results, the bloggers like it but it does sell more cars.

    I guess if you care about what Aston K. IS doing then tweeting is great, or getting a news data real time for a real event is great.

    But watching people standing next to me in an airport waiting for luggage tweeting, texting and get their Facebook updates scares the poo out of me.

    What the airline can do for me is text me or tweet me a luggage tracking update so I know where my bag is and how long I have to wait…now that is information worth reading.

  7. Joe Bühler

    Makes for a catchy headline but then the content proves that social media is far from dead. What, thankfully is dead is the narrow, tool focused thinking in social media foisted on too many businesses by so called experts over the past few years. The business objectives based integration of social tools as part of an overall customer engagement effort is the way to go and finally this starts to sink in. People will continue to use social tools in their lives and this will affect how they deal with companies. The smart ones in any industry will remain actively engaged in the conversation and become social businesses in the process.

  8. Dimitrios Buhalis

    nice and controversial – social media is not dead … – they provide the platform for real engagement and relationship management and service excellence – One things is certain – we will all be busy in the years to come to design the new services

    • jmgonzales

      the author must be mixing up his terms. Social media cannot be dead; he just mentioned airlines are increasing their social media budgets. Harhar! !! What he must’ve meant was that are merely refocusing andrationalizing efforts to enhance their real world reach. :D. How did this article get through!? 😀


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