THE SKY IS THE LIMITCOVER STORYFLYING DIGITALaviation industry isa notoriously toughbusiness. Capitaloutlay, repairs, tax-...
MARCH 2013 | QATAR TODAY 57Air New Zealand’s quirky in-flightsafety video, #richroll, has had nearly2.8 million views on Yo...
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SimpliFlying Featured: Flying Digital

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Qatar Today, March 2013 Issue - In a highly competitive market, airlines are increasingly embracing technology as a means to develop their brand and keep up with evolving customer expectations.

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SimpliFlying Featured: Flying Digital

  1. 1. THE SKY IS THE LIMITCOVER STORYFLYING DIGITALaviation industry isa notoriously toughbusiness. Capitaloutlay, repairs, tax-es, high fuel costs,regulations and competition – all contrib-ute to creating an expensive and challeng-ing environment in which to operate. As aresult, history is filled with high-profile ex-amples, from Pan Am to Laker Airways, ofcarriers who ultimately vanished from ourdeparture boards.Over the years, strategies to redress thechallenging economics of our skies have in-cluded code-sharing, alliances and full-onmergers, such as the 2011 union betweenSpanish national carrier Iberia and BritishAirways. Other solutions have been morecreative. American Airlines famously oncerealised it could save QR218,400 a year byremoving the olive from the salads theyserved in First Class. As Southwest Airlines’Herb Kelleher once quipped: “If the WrightBrothers were alive today, Wilbur wouldhave to fire Orville to reduce costs.”In the digital age these pre-existing fi-nancial challenges are heightened by in-creased consumer literacy. Many of us takefor granted online tools like price com-parison websites or forums where we candiscuss and compare seat pitches, inflightentertainment systems and food options.Yet a decade ago, these (now mainstream)information outlets either didn’t exist orwere still in their infancy. The explosionof social networks and smartphones in thelast four to five years has added a furtherinformation layer. The net effect is that theaverage airline customer is now better in-formed, and better able to share their viewsand experiences, than at any time since Kit-ty Hawk took to the air in 1903.Responding to this new age of connectiv-ity is a challenge, not just for airlines but forany customer-facing service organisation.In 2010 RightNow, a cloud-based customerservice provider, commissioned a studyto investigate how social networks werechanging consumer expectations. Its reportshowed that consumers increasingly expectinteraction via social channels and that thesocial web is often their first port of call inthe event of a problem.However, the study also found that theseconsumer expectations frequently out-stripped businesses’ willingness, or ability,to engage with these emerging channels. Asa result, companies increasingly risked los-ing control of the conversation.Clearly, this remains a risk. But writingin Airline Passenger Experience in late 2011,Shashank Nigam noted that whilst “the so-cial era may be frightening for an industrythat has traditionally held firm control overmarketing and operations, but it has alsogiven airlines the unique opportunity tounderstand what drives customer actionsbetter than ever before”.Subsequently, after spending much of thepast decade on the digital back foot, manyairlines are “going social” – harnessing net-works like Facebook and Twitter, as well asputting out e-mail newsletters to drive cus-tomer loyalty, engage with new consumers,and garner feedback from service users.The most obvious example of this sortof digital activity has been the provision ofhighly reactive customer support and time-sensitive social-media-only deals.But airlines are increasingly beingcreative too.IN A HIGHLY COMPETITIVE MARKET, AIRLINES ARE INCREASINGLY EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY AS A MEANS TODEVELOP THEIR BRAND AND KEEP UP WITH EVOLVING CONSUMER EXPECTATIONS.THEBY DAMIAN RADCLIFFEEXAMPLES OF LOCAL ENGAGEMENT VIA THE TWO BIGGEST SOCIAL NETWORKS,as of February 19, 2013TWITTER FOLLOWERS FACEBOOK LIKESQatar Airways63,288. Updates: 8,466@qatarairways706,454Emirates51, 142. Updates: 402@Flying_Emirates1,293,872Etihad15,305. Updates 4,215@EtihadAirways341,905Gulf Air14,976. Updates: 3,095@GulfAir51,012Fly Dubai1,351. Updates: 0 (Site “notactive”) @flydubai6,270MAINSTREAM PRE-FLIGHTCONSUMER TOOLS WE NOW TAKEFOR GRANTEDBooking online both direct withthe airline or through third partieslike ExpediaPrice comparison tools like Kayakor SkyscannerChoosing the best seat, oravoiding the worst ones, viaSeatGuruForums like FlyerTalk dedicatedto deals, frequent flyer schemesand other tips
  2. 2. MARCH 2013 | QATAR TODAY 57Air New Zealand’s quirky in-flightsafety video, #richroll, has had nearly2.8 million views on YouTube [http://youtube/3iaTEgoezNQ],surelyasomewhatsecondary audience, but one which projectsthe image of the carrier as fun and creative.Watch it, and I defy you not to smile!Onasimplerbutpromotionallynolessef-fective level, the Uruguayan carrier PlunaAirlines offers bonus frequent flyer points ifyou share your booking details with friendsacross a number of social networks. Andwhen Virgin America opened its new termi-nal at San Francisco International Airportit ran a virtual scavenger hunt, encouragingparticipants to “check in” on Foursquare sothey could win online badges that could beturned into real-world prizes.In each of these instances the financialcost to the airline is pretty small. But by en-couraging users to share their experiencewith their own social networks they areable to enjoy a far greater and potentiallymore effective reach than through tradi-tional digital marketing. After all, such so-cial sharing is the new word of mouth. Andthat’s the most trusted advertising mediumthere has ever been.If some of these ideas seem like gim-micks, it’s worth considering the size ofsome of these audiences. They may bebigger and more influential than you think.Last October, when Emirates celebratedits 27th birthday by launching an officialGoogle Plus account, it attracted nearly100,000 followers in a week. At the sametime, a post on Emirates’ Facebook page an-nouncing this new social channel received10,000 likes in one day.Although Middle East based carriers likeEmirates are starting to really engage inthis space, they’re arguably still behind interms of the digital audiences enjoyed bysome of their US-based counterparts. Jet-Blue, for example, currently has 1.7 millionTwitter followers, considerably more thanall the MENA carriers combined.And for those who say that size isn’t ev-erything, it’s worth looking at AmericanAirlines. It has a smaller Twitter audiencethan JetBlue and a number of other air-lines, but it is very digitally engaged, havingsent 145,000 tweets to date. These figuresdwarf the level of activity (see chart below)for carriers in our own region.EXAMPLES OF DIGITAL EXPERIENCESWE NOW OFTEN TAKE FOR GRANTEDOnline check-inQR codes and electronicboarding passesIn-flight Wi-Fi and mobilereceptionPersonalised at-seatentertainment servicesEngagement via social channelsSOCIAL NETWORK KEYYouTube Twitter Facebook Google Plus VK RenRen Tencent Weibo Seina WeiboRANK BRAND AGGREGATED NET INCREASE THIS WEEEKENGAGEMENTINDEX1 3 EMIRATES73,557 views 680 followers62,950 fans 90,410 fans51%2 1 BRITISH AIRWAYS97,164 views 3,058 followers16,912 fans 36,518 fans4%3 35 ALITALIA356 followers38,901 fans100%4 2 AZUL947 views 2,218 followers39.009 fans 8,537 fans28%5 2 KLM80,822 views 6,551 followers 628 fans25,255 fans 1,953 fans 1,521 fans26%6 1 AIR FRANCE21,160 views 808 followers23,609 fans 2,213 fans24%7 ....0 TURKISH AIRLINES14,467 views 3,058 followers 36,518 fans16,912 fans 36,518 fans27%8 ....0 LAN AIRLINES835 views 35 followers22,627 fans30%9 ....0 DELTA AIRLINES24,328 views 2,539 followers22,979 fans7%10 4 GOL3,524 views 954 followers4,631 fans 8,733 fans6%

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