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Everyone knows deep down it’s true. An airport’s brand image rests on one thing–its customers’ experience. One bad experience, that’s all it takes for it to be all over Twitter and Facebook–in living colour.

That same social media, though, used right, can help an airport improve its image with the right strategy. Here’s how:

Provide Real-Time Support Through Social Media
With Twitter and Facebook, airport staff can interact with travellers in real time. Catch a challenge before it turns into a huge problem, and the staff will not only make the affected customer happy, they’ll have the airport’s stellar customer service on display for the world to see, thanks to the realtime world of social media. Twitter, with its reputation for instantaneous response, is especially helpful for solving time-sensitive challenges.

Unfortunately, according to researcher Nigel Halpern, only a handful of countries have at least five airports who use Twitter: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, Ireland, Australia, and Turkey. With the world becoming more connected by the second, it’s imperative for more airports to use social media to provide real-time support—even more so for those in countries whose tourist industry depends on visitors who don’t speak the country’s official language. Getting to the core of a challenge quickly takes even more time when one has to bring a translator into the picture.

Use Social Media to Monitor Customer Complaints
To leverage the power of social media, airports must monitor their accounts for customer complaints—and respond to them in real time. To fail to do so can cause angry customers to rant on their own account. With Twitter, that kind of rant can devastate a brand image quickly. For instance, a customer who had a seven and one-half hour layover in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport whose initial delight at having a “Turkish dessert and olive cart” in the airport’s lounge soon turned to a Twitter storm outlining the airport’s failure to notify her that her long wait entitled her to both a hotel and a half-day city tour—all underscored with the hashtag and Twitter handle “@istanbulairport…#fail.” And to make matters worse, the offended customer was a well-known travel writer with thousands of followers. Oops.

With effective monitoring and translation support, this all-too-familiar snafu could have turned out way better. Hopefully, this airport—at the crossroads of Asia and Europe—will use these complaints as valuable feedback on how they can improve. Airports everywhere should take a lesson from Ataturk Airport’s growing pains. Never fail to monitor and respond to social media in real time. It may come back to bite—hard.

Create a Free Mobile App to Keep Travellers Up-to-Date
Australia’s Sydney Airport is one travel hub that has gotten mobile right—at least regarding what travellers need at their fingertips. When travellers in a rush need to get to their next flight, seconds count. Not only does Sydney Airport’s app provide live flight information for all its incoming and outgoing flights, as well as a list of shops, services, eateries, and contact information for key personnel, it provides terminal maps that tell travellers where they need to go to catch their next flight—a huge bonus for people in a hurry.

 

Customise Social Channels to Recognise Problems and Respond
Who wouldn’t remember an airport whose staff responds in mere minutes to your tweets? Mumbai International Airport has created a system to do just that. Their secret? They created an online tool that can recognise commonly used keywords like “toilets, bags, and delays” in tweets that mention its name. The airport also monitors those tweets often enough to respond in record time to customer questions and complaints.

Happy customers, in turn, respond with gratitude with tweets that mention the airport, such as this one, “Cannot thank enough the information desk…for the effort to get my wallet back to me.” Those kinds of mentions are pure brand image gold for airports savvy enough to implement a responsive, real-time social media strategy.

Use Social Media to Encourage Sharing Information
The more travellers engage through social media, the more visibility an airport will get—provided its range of services matches its promises. London’s Gatwick Airport gets that—and helps push information-sharing along with its live Twitter screens throughout the airport. Not only does the airport’s personnel share information in real time through these omnipresent feeds, so do its customers and guests, who also respond to each other’s tweets. A brilliant strategy—one that builds brand awareness even as it builds brand loyalty through its timely responses to its customers’ tweets.

Finally, Build Your Airport’s Brand Image Through Proactive Social Media
One tiny regional airport in the midwestern United States—the Akron-Canton airport—has people driving nearly an hour just to fly out of it. It’s not because there aren’t major urban centres nearer to home. Both Cleveland and Pittsburgh are not much more than an hour away. Yet its “instant customer feedback” and “proactive use of Twitter,” in the words of one industry expert, keep the airport one step ahead of potential problems, giving them a brand image that airports five times their size envy.

The lesson to take away from all these stories? Fail to create a proactive presence on social media channels, and the airport just might end up at the receiving end of a tweet that concludes with the hashtag “#Fail.”

Create a proactive presence on the airport’s social media channels—and it will win customers who’ll serve as its goodwill ambassadors all over the world.

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