Harness the Power of Social Media

Airports can drive deeper brand relationships by fulling embracing social media platforms

Did you know that more than 1 million travelers have “checked-in” on Foursquare at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport? As they announced their location, they also shared their preferences, seeking services and openly voicing their opinions across a swath of social networks.

What are airports doing to respond to today’s connected traveler? When we ask airport CEOs this question, we usually receive more questions. That’s because most are still attempting to understand the ever-changing technology landscape and the consumer trends that are emerging from the connected traveler.

Helsinki Airport Director Ville Haapasaari recently stated that the number of wireless network users increased by 168 percent between January 2012 and January 2013. In fact, user volume is now almost 30 times greater than that back in January 2009. Recent research by eConsultancy.com also found that 75 percent of frequent travelers use smartphones while traveling, and more than 70 percent of them log-on to free airport WiFi.

With the Internet and smartphones becoming ever-present, social media is becoming an effective tool for gathering information, sharing reviews, planning trips, gaining advice and most importantly, making the decision to travel through a particular airport. It is apparent that the age of the connected traveler has arrived. Airports globally have recognized this trend and have responded in kind by building up their social media presence, though mostly limited to marketing. What was unclear till now is how large a role social media plays in airports’ business agendas and how that role will pan out in the future.

Airports Online

A few months ago, SimpliFlying released its annual Social Media Outlook 2012/2013 report that elaborated on the results of an extensive survey with more than 50 airports from different regions across the globe. Participating airports were selected on the basis that they were both socially savvy and actively engaging today’s connected travelers, with an eye on driving business goals such as customer service, crisis management and revenue. The study found:

  • Approximately 55 percent of today’s airports invest more than 50 manhours per month on social media, with the majority of airports reporting that they have one to three staff members working on it.
  • 98 percent of the airports have social media staff working across departments, with marketing as the most common cross-functional role.
  • Airport budgets for social media span from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000. About 63 percent of the airports surveyed currently allocate less than $10,000 annually to social media, but some airports reported plans to increase that allocation.
  • Most airports have mapped the value of their social media performance to business goals such as brand engagement, customer service and revenue.
  • The biggest challenge faced by airports is the insufficient allocation of resources to social media. The second largest challenge is the lack of budget.
  • Only approximately 40 percent of the airports surveyed plan to increase to their social media budget in the next year. In contrast, more than 70 percent of airlines in a recent study plan to increase overall social media spend in 2013.

How many industries have their customers passing through their facilities—some for up to several hours—multiple times a year? Airports more than most businesses, hold a unique opportunity to engage their passengers with the online social media experience.


Gatwick Gets Connected

According to Mandie Armstrong, digital communications manager at London Gatwick Airport (LGW), social media “is a unique opportunity to connect people to your brand for two-way conversation.”

Recently, LGW challenged itself to become a more family friendly airport. As a way to keep the stress levels of parents (and nearby travelers) low, the airport found a creative way to store audio stories and keep children busy while they wait. Working in conjunction with the online distribution platform, SoundCloud, Gatwick invited unpublished children’s authors to submit their stories.

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