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MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Last modified on January 19, 2014


SimpliFlying’s David McMullen and Shubhodeep Pal discuss the rise of airport investment in social media.

The shift in airport attitudes towards marketing and in dealing with the new-age traveller is quite apparent – especially in Europe.

While airports have struggled with the dilemma of the ‘unknown passenger’ for a fair while, they have finally realised that the increasing use of public social networks offers enough valuable information about passengers that can help them drive key business goals.

Many airports today offer real-time customer service via Twitter and have immensely engaging Facebook pages. In fact, airports are launching some of the most innovative social and mobile campaigns today – all in an effort to tap into the ‘digisocial’ revolution and enhance the travel experience of today’s connected traveller.

Social media outlook 2013/2014

While a rising number of initiatives is good empirical evidence of airports’ keenness to invest in social media, SimpliFlying wanted to delve more deeply into the functioning of airport social teams themselves by asking questions such as: What are the kind of budgets allocated to social media? How many staff are being dedicated? What is holding airports back from becoming better in using social media?

In addition, we especially wanted to understand the internal priorities, business goals, and, not least of all, budgeting for 2014.

To study these parameters and gain a deeper understanding of airport investments in social media, SimpliFlying surveyed nearly 50 of the best airports on social media, for its annual Airport Social Media Outlook 2013/ 2014.

Compared to last year’s numbers, we definitely see a significant upward trend in terms of investment in airport social media. In fact, many airports are bullish about the prospects of a more aggressive social media strategy for 2014.

Budget, staffing and training

Compared to a year ago, more airports have put in more money to social media in 2013, and the allocation of a bigger budget is a testament of the increasing importance of social media on the business agenda of airport organisations.

Advertising on social networks appears to be the top spending in the social media budget, with training as the second top spending.

This year, more airports have also dedicated more man-hours to social media, compared to 2012 when many of them were still exploring the usage of social media. A good half of the airport respondents this year have
dedicated man-hours equivalent to one full-time staff to social media, while more than a fifth overall has allocated man-hours equivalent to two full-time staff to social media.

Internally, there is an interesting shift sighted among airports this year with most marketing departments contributing more budget but less manpower to social media, and corporate communications departments contributing
less budget but more manpower.

The majority of the airports invested in at least one day of social media training for their staff. Compared with gateways in North America, airports in Europe are leading this front. In fact, 40% of respondents from European airports had invested in three days of social media training or more for its staff.

Airport social media: Business goals, campaign tactics and KPIs

Qualitatively speaking, there is no denying the fact that many airports are engaging their passengers on social media to raise awareness of their brands. In Europe especially, with the season of snow looming large, it seems most airports are putting social media customer service and crisis communications teams (which happen to be among the top three business goals driven by social media) high on their social media agenda. Even news channels today source the latest news from social media channels – the recent shooting at LAX and the Asiana Airlines crash at SFO are evidence of the fact.

However, currently there seems to be a gap between what airports are measuring on social media and the business goals they seek to drive with social media. A large majority of the airports are using ‘likes’, comments, shares, and size of fan base as key social media metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). They need to delve deeper and explore using average rates of response times and issues resolutions as KPIs. At the same time, they need to mine the data from various social media metrics to refine their campaigns – most of which involve online contests and user-generated content as the top components, among six other components polled.

What’s in store for 2014?

While most airports face similar challenges from last year – with ‘insufficient resource allocation’ as the biggest challenge of seven – there is a higher level of optimism to increase social media for 2014.

Only a very small minority (4%) are due to reduce their budget. What is noteworthy is that 51% of airports have indicated that they will be increasing their social media budget for 2014. And interestingly enough, it seems that the European airports are leading this front.

A significant change underway

The numbers from SimpliFlying Airport Social Media Outlook 2013/2014 are emphatic evidence of a change under way – airports are increasing their investments in social media.

The tectonic plates of airport marketing have shifted radically in the last few years due to widespread adoption of smart devices, social networks and near-constant Internet connectivity. This has extraordinary implications
for every airport as the new connected traveller expects airports to be accessible in their ‘pockets’, whilst receiving excellent customer service and a tailored airport experience on the go.

While our Airport Social Media Outlook survey research provides some answers and guidance to marketing in this age of the connected traveller, airports need to continue experimenting with different social media campaign formats and tactics to refine their marketing strategy and work towards achieving results that map back to their business goals – such as customer service, loyalty and revenue – in innovative ways that travellers cannot afford to ignore.

The full infographic for SimpliFlying Airport Social Media Outlook 2013/2014 can be found at j.mp/AirportSMOutlook14 ahead of the January 2014 release of the full report, which will form part of the quarterly SimpliFlying Airport Marketing Benchmarking Report.

About the authors
SimpliFlying has worked with over 40 airlines and airports globally to help them think differently about aviation marketing.
David McMullen is VP for airports.
Shubhodeep Pal is VP for products & operations.

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