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Falling out of love with social media, already?

Published on  07 May by Thomas Knierim , Senior Manager, Market Insight, SITA
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Airlines & social media: In a relationship? It's complicated

A great love affair started only recently: airlines and social media. Is it a fling or something more serious?

Well, in our own Airline Survey it seems quite serious: nine out of 10 airlines responding to the survey in 2012 are planning to invest in social media in the next three years. To date, over half of those investing are investing in R&D projects. So it seems that for most airlines, flirting is all it is right now. They are still researching and developing their strategy to leverage value from such platforms. However, some got serious quite quickly.

In the last two years, many travel companies have slowly nurtured their relationship by developing their social media strategy. If the current round of social media initiatives is anything to go by, we can expect that engagement to be both entertaining and practical.

For example, in summer 2012, London's Gatwick Airport took some of the stress out of flying by offering young children access to the audio social network Soundcloud to keep young flyers amused. And KLM, another pioneers in social media, has expanded its social media portfolio by offering a "Meet and Seat" social seating service to make booking a trip with friends fun and simple. And there are many more of those examples, most of them support brand engagement or customer service, but what about selling tickets?

Just in it for the money?

In 2012, our survey found that 57% see the most value from social media in "Brand engagement / Marketing" and 39% in "Customer Service"; the top two priorities for airlines when it comes to social media. 19% of airlines also consider selling directly via embedded social media apps as the way forward. In 2011, MAS claimed the spot as social media innovator by being one of first to offer ticket booking on Facebook.

In fact, many airlines expressed a strong desire to step up their relationship with social media to make it a booking channel. In our survey nearly two-thirds of airlines plan to sell tickets directly through their social media channel by 2015. Only 16% of airlines offer this today so this will be an impressive four-fold ramp up in just three years if it comes to pass.

Shall we breakup or go all the way?

And that's just it. IF.... Some suggest that travel brands have already fallen out of love with social media as a sales channel. The 2012 report from L2 Think Tank about 57 global hotel brands found, that 76% of the brands offered some form of booking on Facebook, that percentage dropped to just 52% of brands in the 2013 study. In the same time period, traffic from Facebook to the brands had decreased to 2%, down from 5% in the previous year.

Delta is one of the travel companies that recently abandoned Facebook booking. The airline had announced the launch of its Ticket Counter Facebook app in August 2010. Delta's Away We Go app on Facebook now transfers travelers to for bookings.

Don't call the divorce lawyers just yet

It is not a sign of an early break-up. I think we are just seeing a maturing of strategy. As long as consumers remain engaged with social media, airlines will want to leverage its potential. We will see more marketing, brand engagement and more customer services options. Maybe it is too early to call it a future sales channel, and maybe it will never be that.

For now, airlines and social media are still working it all out.

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