5 ways to make your social media strategy fit for purpose in the Airline industry

Managing the reputational risks posed by social media, whilst capitalising on the opportunities it presents is the social media manager’s 24/7 challenge.

For communications professionals in the UK airline industry, August is a particularly busy month, thanks to the great summer holiday getaway, the increased passenger numbers add to the year-round pressures of citizen journalists and the need for a robust crisis response system.

The latest challenge to hit the industry, in particular airside retailers, is the furore surrounding Duty Free, VAT and boarding cards. Widely reported across all UK media, the public have shown degrees of concern, anger and frustration at what many perceive to be a duty free rip off, landing big businesses windfalls at the expense of the consumer. The Telegraph conducted a survey which showed 88 per cent of people will refuse to show boarding cards in future. Whether or not retailers are benefitting (it’s a complex story) the potential reputational damage is vast.

If ever there was a time for those in the industry to need a reliable and fit-for-purpose social media strategy, August is it.

But what does that look like? What is a fit-for-purpose social media strategy? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach of course, and a complete strategy analysis would look at goals and objectives, content and practicalities of delivery as well as risk management and asset protection.

This post takes a look at five must-have features of a fit-for-purpose social media strategy in the airline industry.

5 ways to make your social media strategy fit for purpose in the airline industry

  1. Have a well-rehearsed, fully integrated crisis communications plan
  2. Be responsive and adaptable
  3. Protect your social media assets
  4. Listen to social media conversations
  5. Keep control with a social media management system

Have a well-rehearsed, fully integrated crisis communications plan

Ever since 2009/10 when Twitter broke the news of US Airlines Flight 1549 ditching into the Hudson River and Qantas Airways’ flight QF32 suffering engine failure just 4 minutes after take-off (all passengers and crew survived both incidents), the power of the citizen journalist armed with mobile phone and social media account has never been more apparent.

In July 2013, a crash landing at San Francisco International Airport was caught on mobile phone camera, uploaded to Twitter less than a minute after impact and within half an hour there were more than 44,000 tweets about the accident.

These incidents highlighted a need for the airline industry to reassess its approach to social media use and monitoring. The IATA Social Media Guidelines (best practice guide to communicating in an emergency) first published in 2012 and updated in 2014 is the reference point for communications professionals and crisis response handlers in the industry, including airports, airlines and manufacturers.

“Once the story breaks on social media, the opportunity to provide factual information and influence the developing narrative is reduced to minutes.”
IATA 2014

Having a fit-for-purpose social media crisis communications plan which is fully integrated into your social media strategy means being prepared, practiced and rehearsed in advance of any incident occurring. Created specifically for your airport, manufacturer or airline, the plan will set out roles and responsibilities, processes and organisation and personnel-specific requirements so nothing is overlooked or left to chance in the event of a crisis.

Importantly, all social channels should be optimised to efficiently manage the increased inbound and outbound social media traffic.

Be responsive and adaptable

“Delay or hesitation in response may seriously damage an organization’s reputation and business.”
IATA 2014

A fit for purpose social media strategy must be able to respond swiftly, adapting as necessary to the nature and volume of social media traffic.

Aside from the rare times of crisis, airline passengers and customers use social media for all manner of customer service oriented reasons. Little wonder, as internet and social usage statistics from Ofcom show that 83% of the UK adult population are online, whilst 66% of the online population have a social profile.

With social apps on mobile devices providing ‘back-pocket’ instant access to brand customer service teams, social media is now the go-to tool for customers seeking instant updates on travel delays or cancellations, as well as the forum for venting frustration on passport and security delays, lost baggage and check-in gripes. It’s where people go to show off — to post a boastful picture of a cheeky pre-flight beverage before a fortnight in the sun, or to check-in (virtually of course, via Facebook), and, occasionally, to post positive feedback for a job well done by staff across the airport, including its shops, restaurants and airlines.

Being responsive and adaptable means having quick, secure access to multiple social media accounts to allow you to keep up with (and respond to) the pace of posts and tweets, whether you are dealing with customer service enquiries, or managing accounts in times of crisis.

For KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, social media provided the necessary solution for effective customer communication in the wake of the travel disruption caused by the 2010 Icelandic volcano eruption. By its own admission, the airline was new to the social media game, but as customers turned to social for answers (call centres and travel desks were jammed), KLM stepped up and found its way — and then some.

What started as a way to meet a need to relay information and provide fast, mass customer communication in a time of crisis, paved the way for the brand to nurture an effective communication strategy for the longhaul. The Social Media Today interview with KLM’s social media manager Karlijn Vogel-Meijer is well worth a read.

Protect your social media accounts

Trusting your employees, agencies and partners to stay on message is all well and good, but rogue tweeters are far from unheard of. And when they strike it is big news, posing serious threats to your brand’s reputation and credibility. Take the example of HMV staff live tweeting their redundancies where staff had apparent free reign over the Twitter account.

Protecting your social media accounts is important for any organisation, but businesses operating in risk industries such as the airline industry would be well advised to take extra precautions such as tiered access and permission-based logins and passwords with restrictive access rights with keyword and key-phrase alerts.

Just ask American Airlines. Their infamous retweet of an inappropriate image in May 2014 may well have occurred through mistake (when trying to flag the offending incoming tweet as inappropriate) but the damage caused to the airline’s reputation has earnt it a place in the social media fail hall of shame, and it could have been avoided with appropriate validation software.

Increasingly, social media campaigns are being developed and delivered in partnership across airports, airlines and support agencies and ensuring that the appropriate policy, training and security protocols are in place will help guard against the ‘password-on-post-it-note’ blunder or inappropriate content being shared across public channels.

Listen to social media conversations

Fundamental to any sound marketing plan is a thorough understanding of your audience. Social media listening helps you identify where they are, what interests, motivates and engages them — and how better to serve and excite them — essentially helping you boost your brand value and relevance.

Listening in can help tour operators identify customers with travel aspirations on their route map. Airlines and operators with empty seats on a Costa Brava holiday, for example, can find and promote their products and services to people seeking a quick break in the sun.

Particularly for those operating in the airline industry, listening also helps you take control should your organisation be mentioned in a context which requires response. Managing enquiries and mentions, as well as positive and negative feedback appropriately helps build brand engagement and demonstrates the brand is a listening brand.

Using a social media monitoring and management system such as SoCrowd makes it easier to listen to audience ‘chatter’, better understand their demographics and manage your responses appropriately. Alerts triggered by pre-set keywords will give you peace of mind that accounts are monitored 24/7 and that appropriate people will be notified by automatic email should an alert be triggered.

Keep control with a social media management system

We don’t mean automating all your tweets and posts (though content can be scheduled to assist with campaign planning and to free up time for reactive interaction), but using a social media risk management and monitoring platform such as SoCrowd gives social media managers the power to take control of all of these ‘strategy essentials’ and more.

It means being able to monitor what is being said across multiple networks, it helps communicators cope with demand by providing a robust and efficient system to facilitate appropriate and timely responses, and it gives added peace of mind with tried and tested security features and clear audit trails.

Take the example of Birmingham Airport, the UK’s third largest airport outside of London, handling nearly 10 million passengers per year. That‚Äôs a lot of customers to keep happy and engaged. The Midlands-based airport has used SoCrowd since 2012, during which time the system has enabled the airport’s communications team deliver an effective 24-hour response in engaging directly with passengers, whilst managing brand reputation and maintaining a clear and easy-to-use audit trail for multiple users working across different shifts.

“In a nutshell, the technology helps protect our brand and produce powerful marketing campaigns that inspire confidence in our commercial partners, drive revenues and ultimately enhances the overall customer experience.” – David Lavender, Press and Social Media Officer, Birmingham Airport.

Related: 7 ways to ensure your social media customer service is first class