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Socially Acceptable

Social media is so prevalent today that it has fundamentally changed the way we search, choose, and purchase. As a result, today’s consumers routinely ignore more traditional marketing channels. More empowered than ever—skeptical, vocal, and savvy—they have everyone competing for their attention, and, whether they realize it or not, their demands and expectations are pushing companies to evolve every aspect of the customer journey. Digital is a big part of that evolution, and airlines are beginning to see its potential.

Around the world, airlines are using apps and social media networks to advertise, engage, build customer databases, sell travel deals, and promote special fares. From mobile marketing campaigns to enhanced customer service and crisis management, the more savvy airlines are using social media to drive real results for their business. They’re also experimenting with new social media platforms and strategies to attract first-time customers and reach wider audiences.

Make it personal. Solve real problems.

Air New Zealand and Virgin America, for example, have both reached mass audiences by creatively reimagining safety videos, to the extent that they have gone viral. KLM Royal Dutch Airline has successfully tapped into the power of social media in a different way, scoring a big hit with its “Happy to Help” campaign. Aiming to prove the quality of its customer service by delivering great customer service, KLM’s global social campaign is about helping as many people as possible—from tracking down passports to solving transportation problems. KLM staff monitor Twitter, identify travel problem-related postings, and work to resolve issues (either through on-the-spot advice or a physical intervention). The scale of the effort is impressive and it has certainly surprised and delighted customers—as well as the viewers on YouTube who have tuned in to watch footage of challenging or unusual problems being solved by KLM.

What these examples illustrate is the increasing capacity of brands to deepen existing relationships, and develop new ones, by leveraging technology in ways that are helpful and personally meaningful.

A tool you’ll need when times get tough

The personal nature and immediacy of social media provides an equally (and perhaps far more) important role as a key communications platform for airlines in service recovery and managing crises. Basically, when things go wrong.

For that reason, if left to their own devices, social media platforms can turn into outlets for consumers to merely express their grievances. But with careful management, they can also turn unhappy customers into loyal ones. Delta Airways, for instance, engages in more intimate conversation with its customers through @DeltaAssist, and has no qualms about booking passengers on another airline if it can’t resolve issues arising from flight delays or cancellations.

Brands are, in many ways, an expression of leadership—especially during times of crisis. Airline brands now have an even greater opportunity, and even responsibility, to use social media to communicate with their audiences in a more authentic, sensitive manner. In the face of its recent air tragedy, AirAsia’s response was carried out with efficiency, candor, and a genuine empathy for families who were affected by the tragedy. And its sincere words and actions were well received.

Social is here to stay—so get integrated

There is simply no return to the one-way, broadcast nature of communications that ruled past eras. And airline brands are increasingly recognizing this, acknowledging the role that social media plays (for both their brand and operations), and investing accordingly. Southwest’s Listening Center, which brings traditional media, social media, and operational data together in one place, is an example of one brand’s investment to maximize the value of its social media channels. The real-time sharing of data with Southwest’s Network Operational Control center takes social media beyond marketing and communications, and puts it at the heart of operations. With this level of integration, the brand is able to turn insight into action quickly, and respond to audiences far more effectively.

Going forward, the integration of social media into the operations of airlines will only increase. That, of course, presents potential challenges, but also the promise of huge benefits. Given the reality of the world we live in today—with more empowered consumers and brands placed under new scrutiny—airlines that want to maintain (or grow) strong brands (and strong businesses) must stay transparent, actively engaged, and true to their promises. They must listen to what customers are saying and work to solve problems and improve experiences.

Airline brands that do this will ultimately, earn all important trust and highly valued loyalty from consumers.

If you would like to contact the author of this piece, Sophia Huang, or Interbrand’s airlines sector leader, Stuart Green, about any of the opinions or insights expressed in this article, please send an email to


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