Airline Industry Reputation Report - May 09

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Airline Industry Reputation Report conducted by RepRelations.com. Based on our study, the airline industry as a whole appears not to have embraced online reputation management, including proper use of YouTube and social media. Most airlines we researched appear to have an incomplete strategy at best. There is a significant opportunity for airlines to contract with an online reputation management firm to begin to take control of how the company is presented by Google, Yahoo, and MSN. The cost of ignoring online reputation management, while difficult to measure in dollars, is significantly greater than putting a strategy in place.

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Airline Industry Reputation Report - May 09

  1. 1. Reputation Management Brief: Airline Industry RepRelations ORM Research Division May 20, 2009 The Airline Industry This week we reviewed the online reputation of 10 popular airlines, half of them US-based and half based outside the United States. Our goal was to determine the overall state of online reputation for airline brands. We thought that the travel industry would be particularly interesting because of the unique challenges that airlines face. A single negative report or event, oftentimes outside the control of the company can cause a great deal of damage. These are companies whose brand equity is critical, especially in a down economy. Our Method For each airline we examined Google results for simple keyword searches on the name of the airline. In this study, for each airline we noted: 1. The number of negative results in the Google Top 10 2. The strength of the positive results vs. the negative ones 3. The number of websites in the Top 10 owned by the airline 4. The presence and placement of YouTube or other videos in the search results 5. Whether or not airline-owned web properties have optimal titles 6. Does the airline have a presence of social networking in the Top 10 7. Does the airline have an official corporate blog in the Top 10 8. Additional reputation-related indicators Our Findings We found a significant differential between the airlines – with some, such as Southwest Airlines (and JetBlue - not included in this survey due to its smaller size) embracing Twitter and capturing multiple places in the Top 10 with various company-owned websites. Other airlines such as Ryanair, United and Delta seem to have no effective plan for online reputation management. RepRatings Based on the criteria described above we tabulated each airline’s online reputation score – their “RepRating” on an A-F standard (90%=A-, 75%=C, 65%=D, etc.). In the chart below each airline’s score is color-coded: the poorest scores are marked in red, companies where significant improvement is required, are marked in yellow. The airlines whose online reputation is strongest are marked in green below.
  2. 2. Patterns in Weakness Our research showed a strong correlation between the existance of negative results in the Google Top 10 and weaknesses in other reputation management measures. This suggests that airlines whose reputation management is most effective are utilizing a multi-faceted strategy including online. YouTube Results Positive YouTube videos that appear near the top of the Google results have a significant impact on perception of brand reputation. None of the US-based airlines included in this report have positive YouTube results in their Google Top 10, while Singapore Airlines, Qantas and British Airways do. Page 2
  3. 3. RepRelations recommends that all airlines consider setting up their own YouTube Channel such as Qantas has (http://www.youtube.com/user/qantas). Video - Use it or Lose It Creating a YouTube Channel that leverages video assets can be a very cost effective way to put excellent content in front of searchers. Remember that YouTube is the #2 Search Engine after Google and by creating a channel, companies control a large percentage of the searches for their brand. Airlines should consider YouTube videos featuring high-budget commercials already produced for TV. These will often rank within Google’s top Five, once their pages have been properly optimized. Ownership of the Google Top Ten In terms of owning the Top 10 Google search results, Continental, British Airways, and American Airlines get top rankings – each owning 7 of the Top 10 results. However, Continental and American can both use some improvements to their page titles. Informative and attention-grabbing page titles create a stronger positive impression for searchers. Note: Many searchers will believe that the titles have been either written or approved by Google – so if the brand believes itself to be the #1 most comfortable airline on the planet – they should consider putting that in their page title. The following chart shows the number of URLs in the Google Top 10 for each airline that are owned/controlled by the airline. Delta, with its blog as the #3 result, was the only airline we found with a high-ranking corporate blog. Southwest Airlines has their blog at #12 – a small amount of optimization could bring this to the front page as well. Other airlines may have blogs as well – but the harder they are to find in a Google search, the less relevant they are. Page 3
  4. 4. Missing the boat For an industry where companies spends incredible amounts of money on brand promotion, most airlines in our survey are missing an opportunity to capitalize on relatively inexpensive image building real estate available with Google Search Results. This reflects a lack in understanding today's marketplace and underestimating the significance of social marketing. For the cost of one billboard in a major metropolitan city for one month, an airline could pay for several months of online reputation management services that could address all of these 'gaps.' International Results The present research addresses US Google searches in English only. It is important to note that Google results differ based on the location and language of the searcher. For this reason, websites whose customers, investors, and media will be searching in languages other than English need to create a strategy for international online reputation management. Other Reasons Why Online Reputation is Important Aside from the obvious need to present a positive image to potential customers, airlines should know that Google results play a crucial role in both investor relations and media research. It is fair to say that no in-depth story written about Ryanair can afford to omit references to negative results that feature prominently in Google. Likewise, a fund considering an investment in Singapore Airlines will have an easier time explaining their choice when the board sees an article about Singapore’s 5-star rating in the Top 10. Another critical reason to engage in online reputation management is to minimize the impact of any future crisis. Airlines that control the Google Top 10 for their brand will likely see a minimal impact on their Google results when a negative news story appears. The cost of damage control after a crisis is much higher – and the prognosis not nearly as good. In addition to their own in-house Web and PR teams, every airline should consider contracting with an online reputation management company with the goal of taking control of the company’s Google profile – the Top 10 results shown in Google. Suggested Improvements for Each Airline in our Study: RyanAir: Create and promote additional web properties, create and promote a YouTube channel with corporate videos, hire a reputation management firm to help with the negative results. United Airlines: Promote additional web properties like unitedvacations.com currently below the first page. Work on video to displace the parody currently at #10. Make your sites more relevant than the site www.untied.com currently showing at #4 in Google. Consider optimizing your Twitter account so that it shows up higher in the rankings. Delta Airlines: Optimize more sites into the Top 10 to remove the “Fired for Blogging” story. Consider the use of video (existing Delta commercials) to add a sense of passion to your web presence. Lufthansa: Embrace positive videos – things that will knock out the current “Airbus Wingstrike at Hamburg”. Also add additional English language web properties to take control of your Top 10. Page 4
  5. 5. Continental: We like the fact that you have a PDA portal showing up in the Top 10, it’s an excellent way to grab a search result and it shows you care about people with PDAs. However, the brand's titles are not optimized and we recommend adding twitter or another social media component to the Google Top 10. Singapore Airlines: Add additional owned properties in your top ten and improve your website titles. Qantas: The brand has excellent YouTube results, but because they are not controlled by the company, viewers are shown additional videos that are not as good for their reputation. They should optimize their Qantas YouTube channel so that its videos show up in the Google search results. American Airlines: Their situation in basically good – Fix the title for #2. If the page is for Spanish speakers, give it a Spanish title -something better than “AA.com”. British Airways: Looking Good. Optimize the excellent videos from page 2 and get them onto page 1. Southwest Airlines: Their situation is quite good, video will give their reputation more pizzazz - something that Southwest Airlines flight attendants know how to do well on their flights. Conclusions: Based on our study, the airline industry as a whole appears not to have embraced online reputation management, including proper use of YouTube and social media. Most airlines we researched appear to have an incomplete strategy at best. There is a significant opportunity for airlines to contract with an online reputation management firm to begin to take control of how the company is presented by Google, Yahoo, and MSN. The cost of ignoring online reputation management, while difficult to measure in dollars, is significantly greater than putting a strategy in place. About the Author: Steve Shochet is director of web analysis for RepRelations. Steve analyzes industries by digging deep into the reputations of major players in the industry. Steve’s passion for reputation management was born out of deep involvement in monitoring of print and other media pertaining to subversive groups in the 80’s, a position that put him in close contact with public officials and government organizations. Steve holds a BA in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. Questions or comments? Feel free to contact us via www.RepRelations.com or by email at info@reprelations.com Note: This report is for educational purposes only. Any statement that may appear to be negative is intended to be a critique of Google’s presentation of search results rather than a value judgment related to any particular company. RepRelations urges readers to investigate for themselves before judging any company mentioned in this report. Page 5

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