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MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Last modified on September 19, 2011

Power to the people

What are the commercial benefits of social media for airports? Anne Kavanagh investigates.

Social media has fundamentally changed forever the way people receive and share information about brands and services. For Travel Retail, it’s a new kind of two-way, consumer-centric conversation shared with, rather than led by, brand owners, retailers and airports.

This is good news for airport owners and operators looking to maximise commercial revenues – the corporate prize for engaging in meaningful social media conversations is highly commercial. 

As the bullets opposite show, true brand advocacy results in increased sales. This is a new sales opportunity – with the bonus that it’s also a new cost-effective approach to customer service.

Major fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands and domestic retailers dominate social engagement. Other than in a handful of cases – with Changi arguably leading the way – airports and airport retailers have yet to catch up.

Certainly, more are running some kind of social communication but most are stuck in one dimension, using it as an online evolution of print advertising. That just doesn’t cut it in the new world of social consumer-centricity. Look at the tweets from most airport retailers announcing new deals on fragrance and there’s very little engagement beyond the initial post; no-one is retweeting to friends.

Presumably, nobody is that interested and the messaging isn’t connecting effectively. Look also at the tweets from consumers complaining about an airport experience and there’s also sadly little response in return. But, therein lies the opportunity. Many companies are now adding customer relations into their social media teams, with the added advantage of cost and performance efficiencies.

Brands such as Selfridges, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Coca Cola, share ‘healthy’ multi-layered, multi-directional conversations with up to 34 million followers.

No surprise it’s Coca Cola leading the way, but a fascinating fact is that their Facebook started life as an unofficial fan site that was far more successful than the official site. Coca Cola embraced the site creators as the best brand ambassadors they could find and have worked with them ever since to make it the success it is today – but it’s the founders – not Coca Cola – who still have content control.

Just like Coca Cola, airports and airport retailers need to know what conversations are happening and where and what is being said – and they need to join those conversations regularly and quickly. The point is, you need to join a conversation to have any real chance of controlling it.

The great opportunity in social media for the airport world is that it’s suddenly easy to have conversations with consumers all over the world before, during and after their journey.

It’s remarkably cost-effective and consumers are already deeply engaged in this way of communicating in other channels. Airports must now accelerate these platforms to connect with customers.

Travellers have countless extra options to fill their time during their airport experience. Does the shopping experience beat Facebook or Twitter in the battle for dwell time? Not to mention they may be posting comments about their actual experience right there, right then.

Are the offers and sales people more engaging than an online discussion that says ‘don’t shop here’? And if they do get into the store – is their first action to scan a product barcode on their smart phone for an instant price comparison on the best place to buy?

We need to respond to this revolution, as it has become a key element in the competition for how consumers spend their time and their money.

Perhaps the best way to engage travellers on the move is with geo-networked systems, where users share their location with friends by ‘checking-in’ via smartphone app or text.

With foursquare (7 million+ global users) for example, points are awarded for checking in at various venues, collecting virtual reward ‘badges’. The commercial relevance? Look at this as a cheap way of nurturing an army of brand ambassadors, the power of their word of mouth alongside the chance for real-time customer feedback from the people who matter most.

Used well, social media messaging focuses regularly – daily, even hourly – on current deals, upcoming promotions, digital coupons/vouchers, or special messages for the most loyal shoppers.

Using geo-networks and direct messaging like twitter, airport retailers can target consumers with specific messages at key touchpoints as they approach stores to remind them about the offer, to drive footfall and conversion.

Many domestic retailers and global brands use social media platforms to take their connection with shoppers beyond the brand itself into how it fits someone’s life and what that brand says about them.

One example is a brand that sells incredibly well in airport retail. Louis Vuitton’s total immersion in social media uses this lifestyle connection to attract a huge social media fan base. With three million Facebook followers, the brand ‘owns’ luxury travel by association with elite fashion, art and travel.

Virtual front row seats at top fashion shows enable consumers to see the latest collections and that feeling of exclusivity is enhanced with ‘behind the scenes’ images from photoshoots and insider advice on luxury travel. This activity stimulates high volumes of cultural discussion and shared travel tips amongst fans, alongside aspirational comments, in line with the brand’s premium positioning.

Online shopping is included through the Mon Monogram Facebook app, enabling fans to personalise and buy their own bag.

In conclusion, let’s look at Changi for two great examples of airport social media. In February 2011, retailer Lagardere Services used social media to launch a new luxury fashion store. To drive pre-awareness and create in-store theatre, a fashion parade created content for passengers to video and share with friends via their mobiles, and an in-store ‘magic mirror’ enabled shoppers to post an image of their purchases – real or aspirational – direct to Facebook.

Within the first few weeks of trading, 12,000 interactions on Facebook included conversations from people planning on travelling through Changi and checking stock availability.

Another example, the multi-layered ‘Be a Changi Millionaire’ is now in its second year. In 2010 all shoppers spending more than S$60 were eligible to enter a monthly prize draw. For the final – timed for the key travel period around Chinese Lunar New Year – all finalists competed at the airport in the grand draw.

The competition was supported online with Facebook and Twitter and off-line with TV and press ads. At the airport itself a flashmob created fantastic news and online content. The results? Overall sales at Changi were up 13% year-on-year and sales of high-ticket items in excess of $500 were up 20%.

The opportunity for airports is massive. By definition, social media is for the people – it’s for everyone and it’s global. It has a powerful and growing role and it doesn’t replace all other media, it blends with it.

It’s a vital part of how many consumers live. Airports are relevant to millions of these consumers, who are often the more opinionated, trendsetting leaders of their communities.

Airports are often criticised for being impersonal, so why not take this opportunity to create real consumer engagement? Create ways to harness the power of joining forces with airlines, retailers and other customer service providers.

The longer you wait to make your voice heard the harder it is to join the conversation and to maximise the commercial opportunities that come from being really connected with your consumers.

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