Airlines have become well renowned for their ability to use successful social media campaigns. But what about the airports themselves? Have they too, managed to keep up?
Akron-Canton Airport certainly have.They was the first airport to have a corporate blog, the first in the US on Facebook, and one of the first to join Twitter. They have become a leader in how they use social media, and for the minority that might still need proof of its power, then this airport is a glowing example.
For a small airport, they have grown rapidly since opening in 2005. And last year they won yet another award for their use of social media. We spoke with their Senior Vice President, Kristie Van Auken about how this area has evolved, and why it is so important.
In the early days the Internet was used to create “brochure ware” websites, in the sense of airports, this meant that they were able to provide their customers with very basic information such as flight times. However, purchasing tickets, and giving your online opinion was still unheard off. As Kristie reflects, ‘In the late 90s, our marketing focused on influencing the distribution of airline tickets; namely via travel agents. It is hard to believe but back then, most tickets were booked this way.’ But as the internet evolved, so did the airport industry.
It was the emergence of social media, which had one of the most powerful effects in transforming the sector. Kristie, who also writes her own airport blog – ‘It’s a trip’ – says ‘we can listen and monitor closely (especially using Twitter) to customer concerns and address them on the spot. Using Facebook, we showcase our “hug zone” where families and loved ones can instantly reunited. Our photos from this areas are some of my favourites. We also inform our customers about special air fare deals offered by our airlines. Our CEO also hosts a monthly Prez Says chat to give any customer the opportunity to ask questions and get answers from the top.’
CAK uses their social media channels to not only communicate, but also to demonstrate that as an airport it has its own character, and personality which sets it apart from the others. In a bid to demonstrate that their visitors are important to them, they captured moments which are special to them, and launched #CAKhugzone.
The importance of social media to this airport is that it allows them to listen to their customers, and essentially this allows them to deepen their relationship and establish loyalty. So why are more airports not doing this; ‘Basically, I think it is a question of resources and priorities,’ suggests Kristie, ‘many airports simply don’t/ won’t have the staff and cash to manage an effective social media program. I’d certainly suggest they get started however. Because we’ve been so social for so long (since 2007), we have exceptional scale and reach for an airport our size.’
Has social media therefore become the most important factor in improving the passenger experience within airports? ‘That’s tough.’ says Kristie, ‘social media and engagement have certainly helped CAK deepen our relationship with customers. But we are also committed to other customer experience initiatives that are important – such as a friendly service, shorter lines and good facilities.’ In that sense, social media can only operate as a successful marketing vehicle for airports if there service is actually any good. As Kristie Van Auken says; ‘It all adds up to an experience that we hope will bring customers back to CAK time and again.’
Another airport which has proven, that they too, are able to keep in engaged with their customers, is London City Airport. It currently has the highest ration of social media fans and followers to total passenger numbers of any UK airport. Giving their customers up to date information, concerning their flights, and the airport itself. As well as asking for their opinion about what they actually need, and then trying to implement it.
So what else should airports be doing when it comes to social media?