Airline Social Media Spend Up, Resource Challenges Remain


Do you remember when social media was considered a waste of time by senior executives? I do. When I started dabbling with social media for my previous employer, my CEO suggested I had too much time on my hands. I’m not the only one who encountered a challenge trying to integrate social media into a company’s overall communications plan, and allocating a budget to it was just unthinkable. 

Fast forward a few years and we’re all at it. At the time of writing, Aviation Week’s Twitter account has almost 40,000 followers (click here to follow us). Airframe and engine OEMs have many thousands more, and even my former employer has racked up over 22,000 followers, proving it wasn’t a complete waste of time. 

Having a social media presence is now the norm for the aviation industry, and there are budgets and resources dedicated to this precious communications tool compared to five years ago. But challenges remain on both counts for airlines, particularly as the use of social media grows among consumers. 

There are over 200 airlines on Twitter, but only 90-odd actively tweet. By the very nature of its business, an airline's customer service and/or PR team needs to have a presence on social media to respond to all manner of passenger comments, which are much more public than a sealed letter to the complaints department.

Jeremy Clarkson, who has almost one million followers, recently took to Twitter to vent his frustration after American Airlines lost his wife’s luggage.

So what are airlines doing? Consulting firm Simpliflying surveyed 29 global airlines active on social media last year and found that over 75% invest more than 90 hours per month on social media, with at least four hours a day dedicated to being online. But resources are the biggest challenge, with over half saying they don’t have sufficient personnel to allocate to social media.

Interestingly, almost half of the 29 airlines are unsure of the ROI on social media, but they’re still in the game. Their goals are brand engagement, customer service, and revenue. 

And they want a bigger slice of the pie. Over 70% of those airlines said they plan to increase their social media budgets in 2013. According to Simpliflying, that’s more than double the number of airlines wanting to grow their social media in just a year.

Spending varies for each airline, but 85% of those surveyed said they had allocated marketing funds – most said 10% of their budget - to social media. And while marketing/corporate communications departments pay for the bulk of the investment, customer services departments are also helping out.  That would make sense, given that customer service is the most cross-functional role compared to a year ago, when social media was mostly handled by corporate communicators.

This is good news for everyone involved. As customer service complaints shift from letters and phone calls, big brands with big online communities need sufficient resources to maintain an online presence and protect their reputations. 

By the way, Jeremy Clarkson never did tweet an update on that lost luggage.

All data and charts courtesy of Simpliflying.

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