Airlines in Social Media
Case studies featuring six airline brands conquering the space
Aviation :: Branding :: Technology
"An airline brand is not what you say it
is, it‟s what they say it is."
In a recent conversation with an airline CEO, not sure yet about how airlines can build a
he mentioned to me how he likened the rise strong brand through social media.
of social media and Web 2.0 to the growth
of the Internet in 1998. I couldn’t agree with Yes, it can be difficult to dive in, but the
him more. Back then, every business repercussions can be terrible if airlines choose
seemed to need a B2B or a B2C web not to use social media. In the words of Bill
strategy. Marriott, CEO of Marriott Hotels, "Social
Media is not going away, it’s not a passing fad.
It’s pretty similar now, where all businesses If you don’t start playing now then you are
are being advised to come up with a social going to be playing catch up and falling
media strategy, regardless of whether they further behind as it moves more mainstream"
make planes or fly people in them – B2B or
B2C, just like before. However, for airlines, Hence, this series of six case studies by
it’s a little different. SimpliFlying, which aim to share with airline
executives best practices from the ever-
If social media became popular in 2009, changing landscape of social media branding
then, in 2010, it will become mainstream. In for airlines. After all, we all want to learn from
fact, as I wrote on Mashable.com, “when it the best. From airBaltic, which is proud to
comes to airlines, social media is no longer have a larger presence online, than probably
the “new” thing. JetBlue has over one and a in the real-world, to AirAsia, which has
half million followers on Twitter. Lufthansa become a master in using social media for
allows passengers to update their Twitter or driving business objectives.
Facebook statuses informing others about
their whereabouts in the sky. AirAsia drives We’re sure you’ll learn at least a couple of
buzz about its new destinations through strategies from these airlines’ forays into
custom micro-sites.” social media that can be applied to your own
However, a number of social media
incidents have scared airlines to embrace Cheers to innovation.
the medium fully. Seen the YouTube video
“United Breaks Guitars” yet? Heard about Keep Flying, SimpliFlying.
Kevin Smith tweeting about Southwest Shashank Nigam,
Airlines? Many senior airline executives are email@example.com
Where do the fans of these airlines
Tweet Level Score:
Measurement of user’s importance on Twitter
AirBaltic Alaska Qantas Volaris JetBlue Southwest
AirBaltic in social media
“We‟re proud to have a larger presence in
social media than we probably have in the
real world.” -Karlis Smiltens
The business objective – building Challenges to overcome
relationships One of the main challenges airBaltic faces is
Like many other airlines, airBaltic chose to general inexperience with social media. This
participate in social media so they could build can be overcome only through trial and error
better relationships with their customers. and requires the help of dedicated
They noticed that several other airlines employees.
already had social media accounts and saw To become a brand differentiator and
that they were benefiting from it. Therefore, encourage a stronger following, airBaltic can
they decided they would join the fun. empower its social media team to inject more
Within airBaltic there was also an evolving personality into the brand by enhancing the
strategy, which favored the use of social “human touch” and responding more
media. Their business model went from being efficiently to criticism (e.g. offering rebates or
a point-to-point low-cost carrier to a service extending lounge invitations).
minded network carrier. Also, due to the The current procedure is to investigate until a
economic recession, travel dramatically status quo is reached. While maintaining a
declined in Latvia. Social media allowed stand that different platforms serve different
airBaltic to easily reach their other customers functions (Facebook for CRM, Twitter for
who lived outside of Latvia, and this ended up information, YouTube for Entertainment)
in a larger presence online than in the real airBaltic can look into integrating the
world. different platforms so that customers can
identify better with the airline.
Platform of choice - Facebook
airBaltic is using social media mainly for What the future holds
product marketing and customer relationship airBaltic realizes that social media will play an
management (e.g updating and responding to ever increasing role in their airline. In the
customers’ feedback). The airline has held future, they will continue to try and attract
several competitions to engage with their fans. new customers and develop relationships
“Help us set lowest fares for specific routes”, with their current customers. They hope to
was a recent contest they held. It resulted add more content to their social media
with in a 30% discount exclusively for their accounts and want their ‘fans’ to create
Facebook fans. This has also generated lots of additional content in order to foster a two-
buzz and increased brand awareness in key way relationship. Ultimately, it not only
markets like Finland. wants to drive engagement, but loyalty also
through social media.
Alaska Air in social media
“Airlines have turned to social media so that
they can establish fruitful relationships with their
customers…” -Elliott Pesut
Alaska Airlines’ social media efforts got a kick and engagement with its followers.
start in early 2009 after a volcanic eruption According to the TweetLevel report, Alaska
near Ancourage, Alaska, one of the airline’s Airlines scores higher in engagement level
hubs. The eruption caused unpredictable than its popularity. Even though there is only
delays to flights and the airline needed to a slight difference between these scores, it is
inform its customers about changes in real- clear that the airline has worked hard on
time, as well as sooth nerves. And they turned making Twitter an active engagement
to Twitter, calming nerves online while channel for its followers. This implies that
updating passengers of their flight status. What Alaska Airlines focuses not only on
started then has now transformed into a full- disseminating information but on conversing
fledged social-CRM initiative across social with its followers as well.
Challenges to overcome
The business objective – to listen and respond One of the challenges Alaska Airlines faces is
in real-time an inconsistent style of tweeting, because
As revealed in an interview with SimpliFlying, there are no existing standards yet. When
Elliott Pesut, the key person leading social asked how they balance organizationally
media execution at the airline shared that focused tweets with more casual
Alaska Airlines wants to use social media to conversations Elliott responded, “depends
listen to what their customers are saying and on the day.” In the long run, it is better to
respond in real-time. This is clearly an offer a more consistent image so people will
important skill that most airlines would want to know what to expect. This is especially true
adopt since even a slight inkling of dissent online, since many of the interactions
could prove costly for the company and needs happen with people who are not even
to be tackled head on. customers yet.
The platform of choice - Twitter What the future holds
Alaska Airlines’s strength is the fact that they In the future Alaska Airlines would like to
have focused on one platform. Almost 70% of become more conversational. This seems to
the airline’s “fans” are on this platform. They be a great idea because it leverages on the
have clearly identified the value that social main strength of Twitter, the airline’s
media provides and are prepared to respond to platform of chose. Moreover, it is easier to
customers with a respectful, prompt, and develop relationships with people when you
accurate answers. Twitter has aided them talk casually, as opposed to broadcasting
immensely in building a strong customer- marketing messages. It helps forge close
oriented image. bonds with the audience, some of whom
Alaska Airlines maintains a high popularity level may go on to become brand ambassadors.
on Twitter and retains a high level of influence
Qantas in social media
“Social media can help Qantas greatly in
creating a sense of community”
Compared to airlines such as JetBlue and premium image. The airline knows that it is
Southwest, Qantas exhibits a lower level of important to uphold its brand image because
influence and engagement on Twitter eventually, all companies benefit from the
(according to Edelman’s Tweet Level perception their customers have of them.
measurement). This is despite its high Qantas is also able to inspire travel by using
popularity, especially among Asian followers. well-known Australian personalities to
This means that in order to engage the promote their airline.
audience better, Qantas needs to make itself
more accessible to everyone. This can be done Challenges to overcome
by making information easier to find: hashtags A particular challenge Qantas faces is
can be used to get a greater bang for buck. A differentiating their separate Twitter
slightly worrying aspect Qantas might want to accounts from one another. To the
address is the unusually low trust score. This customer, something with the Qantas name
can be achieved by ensuring more transparency is the same as any other with the same
in its operations and consistency in operations name. But, in reality, each Qantas Twitter
and interactions with customers online. account serves a unique function. A certain
amount of clarity is required when operating
The business objective online. Due to the proliferation of
Essentially, Qantas uses social media for three information online, companies run the risk of
reasons: to drive traffic, facilitate engagement alienating customers by providing
with its customers, and to increase awareness information that is unclear or haphazard in
about the brand. With the rapid growth of its presentation. Customers have certain
social media, most airlines have now realized expectations when they follow a Qantas
that staying offline would be a huge Twitter account and when these expectations
competitive disadvantage. In an industry where are not met they are sure to unfollow that
there is a race to get more customers, account.
engagement online is seen as an important way
to create value for more customers. Qantas’s What the future holds
executives, who wish to create a sense of It’s quite apparent that Qantas is still getting
community between the company and its used to the social media landscape. The
customers, understand that social media can current focus is to keep learning and evolving
help the company greatly towards achieving strategies for the future. The airline plans to
this end. continue promoting Qantas on social media
through their newsletter. A Twitter stream
Platform of choice - Twitter on the Qantas Travel Insider Site is another
An area Qantas excels at in social media is addition to Qantas’s social media ambitions.
keeping their tweets consistent with their
Volaris in social media
“It is a unique opportunity to have a „voice‟ and
interact „live‟ with our customers.”
The business objective – greater interaction airline wants to tackle. First, it wants to
with customers manage a continuous online presence.
Mr Jose Calderoni, Director of Product & Essentially, its presence on the internet is now
Customer Experience at Volaris, in an based on its working hours. However, the
exclusive interview with SimpliFlying shared internet never sleeps; to maintain a
that social media has been crucial as a tool of continuous dialogue with customers it seeks to
engagement for one of the most successful remain open for a larger number of hours.
budget airlines in Central America. It allows Second, continuing from the first challenge, as
the airline to respond to many customer Volaris seeks to engage more customers and
requests and complaints speedily. Most of the provide more insight into the company, it
time, customers simply want someone to wishes to cultivate more brand ambassadors
listen to them. Social media provides the through social media. The final challenge,
perfect platform towards that end since it not which again focuses on the customers, is to
only reduces the cost of operating other develop more videos and interactive content
communication platforms, but it also allows which customers find useful and interesting.
customers to take advantage of special
promotions offered only on these channels. What the future holds
As the social media sphere further evolves,
Platform of choice - Facebook there are two aspects the airline wants to
At the moment, Volaris is focusing its efforts target. First, it wishes to develop Twitter and
on Facebook, even though it has a respectable Facebook accounts for its English-speaking
following on Twitter. However, Facebook is customers. This would help it reach out to a
clearly a larger engagement channel for the much larger audience than its current pages
company as it has almost 30,000 followers which are in Spanish. Second, it will further
there compared to around 15,000 on Twitter. focus its social media efforts around its
The company understands that Facebook customers. This implies more sensitivity to
provides a number of advantages over Twitter customers’ concerns, opinions or even
such as the ability to visually attract people by misgivings about the airline. Based on this,
posting rich content such as pictures and information provided on social media channels
videos. However, they agree that in terms of will be further refined; at the same time,
response time, Twitter is faster since richer content will be developed to grab the
retweeted content can spread extremely attention of more users. Moving ahead, the
quickly though the platform. airline seeks to create more awareness about
its brand and eventually build its own
Challenges to overcome applications around these platforms.
There are primarily three challenges the
JetBlue in social media
“Social media gives you the ability to observe what
people are saying about your airline in real time.”
- Morgan Johnston
The business objective – customer enables the airline to observe what people are
engagement saying about it and clear any misconception or
The 2007 ice storms really put a damper on false rumours.
JetBlue’s operations and it was this incident
that prompted, and encouraged, the use of Challenges to overcome
social media. JetBlue uses social media One of the challenges JetBlue faces is learning
because it allows a close conversation how to respond effectively to criticism.
between the airline and its passengers who JetBlue feels that the best way to deal with
can conveniently receive information about criticism is to adopt a case-by-case approach.
events on time. Sometimes passengers just need to vent a
JetBlue is a leader among airlines using social little and JetBlue believes that if they insert
media and has the most number of followers themselves into this discussion it could be
compared to its peers. According to Edelman’s counterproductive. Another challenge JetBlue
Tweet level score, in addition to popularity, has run into is customers believing they should
JetBlue also has displays very high level of be given preferential treatment just because
engagement with its followers. This probably they have a lot of followers. A final challenge
explains JetBlue’s ability to build high level of is managing the expectation that engagement
trust with its people. in social media is a permanent fall-back when,
customers aren’t happy with the response
Platform of choice - Twitter they might receive through traditional
For its social media strategy, JetBlue interacts channels.
with more fans on Twitter than on Facebook.
The airline’s chief strengths are the loyalty of What the future holds
its followers and its high engagement with The future looks bright for JetBlue. Their
them. Its ability to adapt to changes in the innovative company culture combined with
social media environment is another key over one million (and growing) followers on
strength. Since social media is here to stay, Twitter will lead to even more success on
this ability to go with the flow and adapt to social media. As far as future social media
any changes is very important. strategy is concerned, JetBlue will go where
JetBlue’s presence on Twitter is consistent the people go. If a new Twitter or Facebook
with its image as an innovator: Since social becomes popular you can be sure that JetBlue
media is a relatively new and innovative will be a part of it. Also, JetBlue will continue
medium to connect with passengers, it makes using their crew members to help humanize
sense that JetBlue uses it. Social media also their airline.
Southwest in social media
“You need to be where your customers are if you want
to create relationships with them.”
- Christi Day
The business objective – transparency in to “control” the online conversations except to
operations provide facts.
Southwest uses social media primarily
because it allows them to be transparent. Challenges to overcome
For instance, the show ‘Airline’, which was A challenge that Southwest faces is keeping up
Southwest’s first adventure with social with the rapid changes in the social media
media gave viewers backstage access to see landscape. Keeping things simple is also a
how the airline was operated. Southwest challenge: Just because someone has a
knows that many of its customers use social Facebook profile or tweets doesn’t mean they
media, and have hence decided to be where have technical knowledge. Some people believe
the customers are. that gimmicks on Facebook pages attract people
Southwest is able to manage their social and will lead to either increased revenue or
media strategy well because it reflects their more ‘fans’. It is hard to say whether this is true.
business strategy: the social media team is Many oppose gimmicks and say it just creates
not excluded from the other teams and is additional clutter and is a waste of time and
well aware holistically of the operations. The effort. Southwest must be careful in managing
fact that JetBlue is active on all mediums their online presence.
shows that they value and respect
customers’ feedback. It tries to always think What the future holds
from the customers’ point of view to assist Southwest has a solid social media strategy in
them in optimizing the use of social media. place, so their goal for the future is to keep
doing everything they are currently doing, but
Platform of choice - Twitter look to improve in the long run. As Southwest
On Twitter, Southwest Airlines is ranked attracts more ‘fans’ and ‘followers’ they will
second in terms of airlines with the highest begin to devote more time and resources to
number of followers. Not only is it a popular social media. Southwest believes that social
airline, it has a high level of influence and media will become more important in the
engagement with its followers as well. Since future, and are planning accordingly.
Southwest believes in using social media not
just a marketing tool but also as a public The lessons learnt from these six airlines can be
relations and brand expression tool, they applied to almost any airline. These case studies
authorise the social media team to explore were based on interviews which can viewed in
ways to better reach their goals e.g. full (along with more interviews like these),
personalizing their responses with warmth at http://bit.ly/airlineinterviews.
and compassion. This authenticity has You are welcome to email
differentiated Southwest’s brand from that firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to
of other airlines. Plus, the airline chooses not share your airline’s story.
SimpliFlying is a leading airline branding
consultancy, which works with airlines, airports
and hotels worldwide to build a brand strategy
that drives engagement, loyalty and revenues
through social media.
To find out more, please visit