Harnessing the Web

Jan. 4, 2010
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.

“It allows people who follow the blog to feel like they were a part of the experience.”

The airport has done some initial exploration into using Google AdSense as a way to monetize the site. The Google program would allow the team to place ads connected to the blog content on the site.

Expanding beyond the blog
“The blog opened the door to several other social media tools that we have since adopted,” remarks Shultz.That includes a presence on YouTube; the airport has its own YouTube channel where it features several airport-related videos; a Facebook fan page, which just launched a couple months ago; and a Twitter service, which Shultz says is more popular than the airport’s Facebook page and has grown to some 750 ‘followers’.

The airport has found Twitter to be of great value in terms of getting information out quickly. Comments Shultz, “We have found Twitter extremely useful for fast-moving events … for example, there was recently a traffic accident on Harbor Drive, which is one of the main access roads to the airport. We were able to get that accident information out right away using Twitter, whereas if it had been a press release or something of that sort, we have to filter the information through the media, which can take time.

“With Twitter, we simply put up a quick post suggesting drivers to take an alternate route to the airport; it’s a very effective customer service tool.”

What the airport is doing with social media can be referred to as ‘cross-marketing’, says Shultz, or, “Cross-linking our social media tools with our more conventional marketing tools.” For example, the airport’s website, which actually gets more traffic than any of its social media pages, provides links to all of the social media tools that the airport authority uses, explains Shultz. The airport also incorporates its social media links in its news releases as well.

“In turn, we refer our e-media audience to our conventional tools in our social media posts,” says Shultz. “It is very much a cross-utilization of marketing resources; some people refer to it as integrated marketing.

“For example, we will feature our advertising efforts, or any article that our CEO may have written, as a post on our Facebook page or on the blog site — so it’s a matter of all the tools supporting each other.”

When asked if efforts by airports to market themselves in the social media e-world will persist, Shultz replies, “I think so, and I think if you look at our industry as a whole, there are numerous airlines that have a very effective presence in social media.

“You are seeing a lot more airports, almost on a monthly basis, jumping aboard with social media.”

Following is a list of San Diego International Airport social media weblinks:

The Goodwill Ambassablog; http://ambassablog.com/
Twitter page; http://twitter.com/SanDiegoAirport
Facebook page; http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Diego-International-Airport
YouTube page; http://www.youtube.com/ambassablog

San.org’s New Look

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has launched a new version of its san.org website. The site has been redesigned to make it easier for its two million annual visitors to find travel-related information, arrival and departure updates, parking, car rental, and ground transportation information.

The new site features rotating articles, videos, and background photography from the airport and the San Diego region. The news-oriented home page now features many of the Airport Authority initiatives — the Green Build, the Regional Aviation Strategic Plan, and Land Use Compatibility.

e - Media: A look at Web-based customer service and marketing solutions for airports

YouTube: A video-sharing website with which users can upload and share videos; www.youtube.com.

  • Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) — One of the world’s busiest airports in terms of passenger numbers, Atlanta has some 35 uploaded videos available for viewing via the airport’s dedicated YouTube channel. The channel, which was created in December 2008 and currently has some 240 subscribers, is maintained by the City of Atlanta Department of Aviation’s Office of Public Affairs.

    The airport’s latest submission to the YouTube channel, headlined Rental Car Center Opens Tuesday, Dec. 8!, gives viewers an in-depth look at the airport’s most recent construction project.

    On December 8, the airport celebrated the grand opening of its new rental car center and the ATL SkyTrain. Once the new facility opened, all rental car companies operating in the passenger terminal were to move to the rental car center; the facility houses all customer transaction counters and all vehicles for rental agencies that operate at Hartsfield-Jackson.

    The video features important facts about the new rental car center and gives viewers step-by-step instructions for accessing the new facility via ATL’s new SkyTrain elevated people mover.

  • Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) — has developed a series of online videos highlighting key features of the six area airports that comprise its reliever airport system: Airlake Airport (Lakevile), Anoka County – Blaine (Blaine), Crystal Airport (Crystal), Flying Cloud Airport (Eden Prairie), and St. Paul Downtown Airport/Holman Field (St. Paul).

    MAC’s reliever system is one of the largest in the nation with more than 400,000 takeoffs and landings annually and a local economic impact of $255 million, according to the MAC.

    The series of short videos was created to showcase the variety of airports in the MAC reliever system. In a public statement, the airport system says it recognizes the enormous popularity and easy public access that YouTube’s online video format provides.

  • Akron-Canton Airport (CAK) — CAK’s YouTube channel was created in January 2009, yet it already houses some 30 videos featuring everything from on-the-spot passenger interviews to the arrival of the airport’s newest fire truck. Recent video submissions highlight the airport’s CAK 2018 -- the most ambitious capital improvement plan in Akron-Canton Airport’s history. The ten-year, $110 million plan calls for ten extensive construction projects during the next ten years.

  • Denver International Airport (DIA) — Denver Int’l created its YouTube page in September 2008 utilizing the platform to inform airport users of the many initiatives underway there, including the airport’s “Art of the Dunes” exhibition, as well as its many ‘green’ sustainability efforts.

    In a video submitted in March of this year and titled DIA is Green, airport director of environmental programs Janell Barrilleaux outlines steps the airport has taken to be environmentally sustainable. DIA is Green is an educational experience for viewers that relates the benefits of sustainable airport construction by exhibiting DIA’s ‘green’ airport projects including dedicated deicing pads and associated infrastructure for collecting and recycling glycol, an underground fuel delivery system to reduce emissions during fueling, and the airport’s terminal roof and concourses which maximize daylight energy.

  • Harrisburg International Airport (HIA) — has submitted a variety of videos to its YouTube channel, mostly emphasizing the airport’s overarching philosophy: setting the standard for simple, convenient air travel.

    New to the channel are videos straight from HIA’s observation deck. YouTube viewers can now watch airplanes as they take off and land at the airport.