By utilizing public Internet sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, Akron-Canton Airport senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer Kristie VanAuken and team are taking advantage of the services provided by today’s most popular social media platforms to keep customers informed while also monitoring public interest in the airport. According to VanAuken, experimenting with electronic media communication has introduced new opportunities to connect with customers in a unique way, building the airport-customer relationship into one that is both lasting and mutually beneficial.
Low-cost carrier hub Akron-Canton Airport hosts just under 1.5 million origin and destination passengers each year. With a record number of passengers in 2008, and currently up 2 percent year over year, the airport has seen an astonishing growth rate of 275 percent during the past decade.
In an effort to strategically manage that growth, the airport’s communications team has built a strong presence in various social web platforms. That presence has allowed the airport to open up new opportunities to solidify and expand its customer base.
VanAuken recently discussed Akron-Canton’s social media ventures with AIRPORT BUSINESS. Following are edited excerpts...
AIRPORT BUSINESS: When did the airport get proactive in utilizing social media?
VanAuken: First thing we did was identify our key demographic market target, and then we broke them down into subcategories of target markets, so that we had very identifiable audiences to go after. Then we determined what messages were most resonant, most relative, and most attractive to each demographic.
After ten years of deliberate brand building, during which we spent some $10 million in marketing efforts, we felt like we were ready to take our message into the social universe.
Social media is a relatively recent phenomenon, but we entered the social sphere in 2005. We were the first airport in the U.S. that had a blog on our website. So we started with the blogport, which turned out to be a great success. We were updating the website and redesigning it so that it was more brand affirming; we wanted to add that blog content because it helps us optimize against google searches.
AB: How else have you been able to use social media to your advantage?
VanAuken: From the blogging platform, we built a presence on Flickr and YouTube. That’s where we post photos and videos related to the airport; it gives people an inside view of the airport. We are very [much] into putting our content out there. That’s what generates interest in the airport.
We started Facebooking maybe a year ago. It was really my young staff that introduced me to the concept. They started a Facebook group for the airport and began by inviting their Facebook friends to join our group. From there, we gave people incentives to join our group, and once the group got legs, we started running bigger contests. Currently, we have a fan base of some 1,300 members on our Facebook page.
We use the page to educate members about the airport, and to find out where people are flying to, and where they want to fly to. The page is very visible, and we are trying to make it completely interactive. That’s what is really the critical element of a Facebook presence. Facebook allows people to get more information in a short period of time; and it’s an easy way to stay connected to customers in a noninvasive manner.
AB: What types of incentives do you offer members?
VanAuken: We have often sent T-shirts to passengers flying through, and if they send us a photo of themselves at the airport wearing the shirt, then we give them some type of special gift; a day of free parking, for example. It’s a way for us to have fun with our customers, and in a platform they are comfortable and familiar with. We have also extended special courtesies to our online members by giving them little gifts like bag tags, just thanking them for flying through here.
AB: One of the newest forms of social media is Twitter. How does Akron-Canton communicate using this platform?
VanAuken: We are posting a ‘Tweet’ usually four times per day. We use it to promote our airline partners by sending Tweets out when there are fare sales, and we also post that content to our Facebook page in an effort to keep our online customer base better informed.
What we really use it for is monitoring. A lot of people are posting content to their Twitter accounts from the airport. Whether any airport likes it or not, their customers are Twittering about them. So we want to monitor that; we want to know what people are saying about the airport and we want to know if our customers had a good experience here. It is a great feedback tool for us. We can also monitor what’s going on at our competing airports, and like-sized airports.
AB: How does the airport plan to move forward with its social media efforts?
VanAuken: The one group that we are specifically speaking to with our social media efforts are the “young upscale actives.” That’s a specific demographic target for us. They are 25-45, typically having no children, are college-educated, have a high household income, and they index very well for travel.