Like many organisations today scrambling to stay ahead of the information revolution, the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), which runs Boston Logan International Airport, launched its own social media effort in 2009.
That’s when Massport created a Logan Facebook page, opened a Logan Twitter account, and began integrating these popular social networking tools into its conventional marketing, media and public relations efforts.
Those long distance telephone commercials from 25 years ago urging subscribers to “reach out and touch someone,” seem so antiquated when you consider that one in eight couples who got married last year first met via social media, or that 96% of those in Generation Y are active in social networks.
Aware of the major shift in how people communicate, members of the Strategic Communications and Marketing Department at Massport figured that we could either join the conversation or allow it to happen without us.
Logan chose to be proactive and talk with our customers rather than at them, as transportation agencies have always done in the past, while at the same time building a reputation as an industry leader unafraid of interacting with our customers directly and without the traditional media filter.
Airport passengers are, of course, a captive audience during the ‘dwell time’ they spend waiting for their flights. We know passengers spend this time shopping, eating and relaxing. But with smartphones, laptops, iPads and all things 3G (and soon 4G), airports are also buzzing with conversations, many of them about our airport and the travel experience – especially if that dwell time increases because their flight was delayed!
From well before passengers get to the terminal to the time they reach their destination, social networks provide a running commentary on the airport experience. What does this mean to airports? It’s an opportunity to listen, gauge public reaction, inform and hopefully create brand ambassadors who can change public perception about the airport by morphing from a faceless bureaucracy to an airport with a human touch, albeit a virtual one.
Since joining the conversation, Boston Logan has seen thousands of comments about the airport experience and its ‘brand’, both positive and negative.
Airports have found themselves using social media to fill a gap in customer service that could not be met with traditional media with its lack of immediacy and intimacy.
Changes affecting air travel – from deregulation, to the economy to the security changes after 9/11 – have left many customers feeling harried. Social media allows us to talk to our customers with a consistent voice unique to the airport.
Let’s face it, among our customers, Logan’s ‘brand’ can elicit feelings of excitement, confusion, anxiety, even panic and loathing. And that’s before you’ve left for the airport!
Social media makes that familiar brand far less imposing by giving the airport its own personality – one that our customers can connect with at a human level. This generates positive feelings about Boston Logan and that goodwill, while hard to quantify, is critically important in a viral world.
With more than 500 million users, Facebook is far and away the world’s most popular social networking site. The Boston Logan Facebook page says it is for “those who use, work at, like, dislike, marvel at, are hopelessly confused by or simply adore Boston Logan International Airport.”
Fans of our Facebook page post comments and questions on the site’s ‘wall’, while we use the ‘status update’ feature to provide information on the airport, links to our main web site as well as photos and videos that can easily be shared among users.
Logan has used Facebook to control messaging, get ahead of potentially negative stories and change opinions of those who visit the page.
When there was a runway incursion, we posted it on Facebook in the spirit of transparency and it enabled us to dispel myths and promote our safety record, garnering good feedback from fans. This turned a negative into a positive and the conversation would not have been possible with traditional media acting as the go-between.
Social media allows us to listen to our customer’s specific concerns so that we can address them immediately. In short, it is customer service at its best. Not only are we giving our brand a voice, but we are listening to customers and hearing firsthand what they care about – occasionally getting a detailed play-by-play of their entire travel experience.
Now we know we need to install more power outlets at particular gates. Now we know someone is enjoying our rocking chairs. And now we know which Logan restaurant provides superior service because our customers are telling us, and using Facebook and Twitter to do it.
But just as communication is a two-way street, it is also a double-edged sword. At the very same time travellers were singing our praises, we also learned that at least one customer thought we’d gone a little ‘nuts!’ when they told us via Twitter that “squirrels with crayons” could do a better job with signage than we apparently did.
We listened, chuckled and responded: “Interesting analogy. Please DM us or email explaining what happened so we can follow up. Thx!”
When we’ve opened ourselves up for either catcalls or applause by asking why customers follow us on Twitter, we’ve often been pleasantly surprised:
• “Because even Yankee fans prefer Logan over other New England airports.”
• ”Like you need a reason! Logan is like the Narnia Wardrobe to the city.”
• “Free WiFi at Logan, yeah! Couldn’t have said it better – maybe throw in a woohoo for good mearsure!”
Brand management for an airport is inherently complex given that our own brand is affected by the customer experiences of many other companies – airlines, airport restaurants and shops and others – that operate under our umbrella.
We’ve tried to capitalise on this by offering our partners marketing opportunities to increase customer awareness of new routes, destinations, sales, parking options, food and retail promotions.
In December 2009, for example, Boston Logan teamed up with San Francisco International Airport on a ‘Coast2Coast Trivia’ contest with Virgin America and the Four Seasons Hotels, using Twitter to promote Virgin’s new BOS to SFO service. It was the fi rst time two US airports had ever used social media to link up on a joint promotion.
Since then, other promotions have included American Airlines giving away a trip to Paris, SATA Airlines opening the door to Lisbon, JetBlue on an All-You-Can-Jet pass contest, an Icelandair trip to Reykjavik, and a new Delta promotion giving away a trip to London.
The popular travel blogger ‘Flying with Fish’ said social media has changed the historically one-sided flow of communication between airports and customers, from one where airports did all the talking to one in which two-way communication has created new relationships that smart airports have learned to leverage in to promote airport business.
At Boston Logan, we engage honestly with our customers and provide them with basic information about the airport, while also injecting personality.
We also maintain a consistent message, which we put out through other channels – through our traditional public relations channels, and through our advertising campaigns.
We are not afraid to tackle criticism and make transparency a priority. Passengers appreciate the authenticity and it is obvious there are real people behind this brand.
At Boston Logan we care about our customers and social media lets us show it every day.
About the author: Lisa Brown is Boston Logan’s manager of emerging media and Richard Walsh its media relations manager.
Airport World 2011 - Issue 2