Travel is big business. According to Air Transport Action Group, it is responsible for a GDP of $606 billion a year. With hundreds of different airlines operating across every continent, there is a lot of competition out there. The range of cost and luxury is vast, as is the customer type.
How does this tie in to social media? The contemporary traveller is far more likely than ever before to check out an airline on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram before the buy or fly. Facebook boasts 1.32 billion Monthly Active Users (MAU), and 1.07 billion Mobile MAU. Twitter claims to have 271 million MAU, while Instagram have 200 million.
Skipedia state that 80% of people don’t leave home without their device (smartphone, laptop, tablet), while 38% of people research travel on their device. The fact that travel sites saw a 75% increase in mobile visits from 2012 to 2013 demonstrates how important it is to be in the hands of your target audience.
It’s never been more valuable to have a well maintained social media presence. So what does it take to be at the front of the pack on the social? Let’s take a look at airlines that are pulling their weight across the three largest social platforms.
At A Glance
Many airlines have large communities on Facebook: Qatar Airways has 5.5 million Likes, Southwest Airlines has 4.4 million and Turkish Airlines has 4.9 million. You get the picture?
Airlines can utilise Facebook to engage fans on an almost trivial level. Fan votes and caption contests are just two examples of the light-hearted nature of most Airlines’ Facebook Tone Of Voice. Being able to host larger conversations that Twitter is the obvious advantage, but its huge quantity of users, its embedded ad service and the personal information that can be targeted all offer your brand huge wins.
While Facebook has the advantage of sheer numbers, it is losing traction; organic posts are down 50% from September 2013 to September 2014, as pay-to-play rises 5% year-on-year. In the middle six months of 2014, one in three teenagers stopped actively using the platform. That said, it is still growing, as it penetrates the global market.
Over 250 airlines are on Twitter. Shashank Nigam (chief executive of SimpliFlying) remarks that this is more than the number of airlines with a loyalty program, “When it comes to direct airline-to-customer communication, Twitter is the best medium today.”
However, according to Flightglobal, it is roughly a tenth of those airlines with Twitter handles producing 80% of the content for their industry.
The most popular airlines utilise the platform to run competitions, to proactively engage their customers and to post content that is relevant. Delta do a fantastic job of leveraging commercial partnerships on Twitter; Chelsea FC and Breast Cancer Awareness are both renowned brands that interact with the airline.
There is the obvious temptation to bombard an airline with a rant after a bad experience. Many accounts make the effort to point out that they are not the avenue for official complaints. American Airlines, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic all share links for formal complaints in their bio, allowing their community managers to focus on engaging with followers.
Instagram’s value is that it helps users form emotional attachments to posts, and thus the brand posting, through quick and easy-to-digest imagery that catches the eye and inspires. Research shows users remember a ratio of 80:20 imagery versus text.
A study by Forrester indicated that “top brands’ Instagram posts generated a per-follower engagement rate of 4.21%.” This equates to 58 times more engagement than Facebook, 120 times more than Twitter.
Popular airlines’ content is a blend of on-brand imagery, relevant, aspirational pictures that highlight the destinations, and the human side of their operations. Camera angles, picture composition and accompanying copy all go a long way to engage the target users, aligning your brand with their mentality.
With the recent announcement that they will soon be rolling out advertisements, Instagram is giving brands the chance to reach users that aren’t already following them. The intention is that the platform will perform the upper-funnel function of attracting users to the brand on a top level.
YouTube is in on the action, too. Turkish Airlines has a huge engagement, with hundreds of millions of video views. Their recent “Selfie Shootout” campaign leveraged high-profile commercial personalities Lionel Messi and Kobe Bryant, aligning the brand with a lively, sporting persona. In nine days, they saw 105 million views, with over a million social shares. WestJet utilise the platform to highlight the appeal of destinations they serve, as well as featuring sponsored team the Toronto Blue Jays to endorse their brand. Air New Zealand host the broadcast adverts on their channel, giving them a digital springboard to integrate their Airpoints campaign.
Many airlines are present on YouTube, finding it to be an effective way to increase their reach by sharing video content across their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Above The Rest
While there are many airlines holding their own across the social, there can only be one king. Social media powerhouse KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines do an amazing job of presenting their brand in the best light across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, a YouTube channel and a blog on their own microsite. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were on Tinder, too. KLM have a staggeringly impressive approach to their social media commitments; the brand operate in 10 languages, on a 24/7 basis.
Their social media department exemplifies the importance of backing up good intentions with strong resources. Boasting a staff of over 100 well-trained and engaged employees, KLM have taken the step to diversify this team in the most effective way – bringing in cabin crew members. Having a great understanding of the audience’s needs will always work in your favour; KLM understand this better than most.
With 7.2 million Likes on Facebook, they are the most popular airline on both platforms. Their Twitter has 1.3 milion followers, while their Instagram has 50,000. But it’s more than just sheer numbers…
Socially devoted to you…
Social Bakers’ Socially Devoted index measures the response rate and speed of major brands across several social platforms. Their analysis of airlines on Facebook reveals that the top five airlines all maintain a response rate above 90%, in an average response time ranging from just under an hour to just over three. All five are well below the industry benchmark of 17 hours 39 minutes. Similarly, on Twitter the top five far exceed the industry average for response rate and speed.
Once again, though, it is no surprise that KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines are leading by example. Despite having a larger fan and follower count than their rivals, they are the most socially devoted – an astounding 12,271 “Answered minus Ignored Questions” almost six times better than AirFrance.
What Does This Mean For You?
It’s no secret travel peaks in the post-Christmas period, but study shows that the cheapest time for UK customers to book flights is 54 days before take-off. Assuming autumn is the time of year that people start to search for “Winter Sun” and “Cheap Flights”, then you need to be planting the seed now(excuse the mixed metaphor).
Simpliflying’s 2012/13 report suggested that 85% of airlines allocate specific budget to social media marketing; the vast majority only assign 10% of their budget, but roughly 20% of airlines allocate 10-25% or 26-50% of their budget to social media marketing. When these figures are updated for 2013/14, it is likely that more brands will be investing more of their money into their social media services.
Cision’s analysis of the report suggests that some of the more socially committed airlines are beginning to budget more than a million dollars for social media. The report suggests that over 70% of airlines planned to increase their annual social media budget in the 2013/14 period, compared with only 40% the previous year.
eMarketer report that Digital Ad spend in 2013 for the US Travel industry reached $3.42 billion, and predict that this figure will reach $4.15 billion in 2014. They also state that advertisers are “ramping up investment in newer formats such as digital video, real-time and native advertising.” Their study shows that 8% of all Digital Ad spend in the US comes from the Travel industry. Of that, 27% is for branding purposes, while 73% is for Direct Response.
Airlines are an industry demonstrating the power of social media. The sector’s rising stars are the ones with the capacity to enfranchise loyal and engaged fans with a switched-on strategy. The winners are taking social seriously, and putting spend behind it. Just ask KLM.