Harnessing the Web

SAN's eMedia initiatives inform travelers; connect with the community

When the San Diego Airport Authority launched its online employee blogging service last year, a door opened to a world of Web-related public relations opportunities, says airport duputy director of public and community relations Steven Shultz. From social media to video networking, the San Diego International Airport (SAN) maintains a strong Internet presence as a way to establish a dialogue between the airport and its users, and to cultivate a personal relationship with the public, relates Shultz.

Shultz has been in charge of San Diego International Airport’s social media initiative since the employee blog launch in early 2008. It took a little convincing with senior management, says Shultz, because a public agency employee blog was something not often heard of just a couple years ago.

“We are now finishing up our second year with the blog; we were one of the first major airports in the country to have an employee blog,” says Shultz. “It’s an internal and external blog, so it’s designed both for our employees as well as our external audience, as a way to keep informed about the airport from the perspective of our employees.”

The airport launched the blog as its first foray into social media “to turn some of our front-line employees into sort of ambassadors for the airport,” comments Shultz. Thus the aptly-named service has been branded as San Diego Int’l Airport’s Goodwill Ambassablog.

There are five employee bloggers; two of which were selected via competition, and three were selected based on their enthusiasm and interest in the Airport Authority. The employees have regular job responsibilities, but dedicate an amount of time to draft posts for the blog, presenting interesting and sometimes little known information about the airport, along with photos and video to bring those aspects to life for the audience, relates Shultz.

“We look at the blog as an actual dialogue with the public because interested people are able to submit comments, ask questions, and communicate with the airport in a personal way; we can respond to them directly through the blog,” says Shultz. “It has been received very well by the public.”

The blog costs the airport a little more than staff time, relates Shultz, due to the fact that the Ambassablog was created and is hosted using free software, and is managed entirely in-house.

A personal interface
The blog website gets a healthy number of visitors; approaching 18,000 since it went live. It has already won an excellence in marketing & communications award from the Airports Council International - North America (ACI-NA).

“We found that the blog took a little bit of time to catch on,” says Shultz. “Now even among senior management it is referred to in a very positive way; and we give updates on the blog at our monthly employee meetings.

“One of the most powerful aspects of the blog is that it gives a human face to what otherwise could be considered a bureaucratic organization.”

As opposed to a website where the language can be ‘organizational,’ the blog allows the employees to express themselves in a much more personal way, says Shultz. The site also features photos of the bloggers so viewers feel they are interfacing with real people rather than an organization, he relates.

In terms of public participation, Shultz says the airport had one [blog] viewer who suggested that the Airport Authority have an audience photo contest. “We did decide to do that and received some great photos by members of the community,” says Shultz. “That is something that we will bring back on an occasional basis.

“We have also made some partnerships with various organizations including TSA, as well as various partner airlines. For example, when Virgin Airlines performed its inaugural flight from San Francisco to San Diego last year, one of our bloggers boarded the flight and posted live blogs as the flight landed in SAN, complete with photos.

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