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Social Observation: Airlines fail to build bonds between customers

By July 6, 2009No Comments3 min read


I tend to observe lots of companies and more specifically how they are making their forays into the social sphere (social media + social networks + open conversation), and one industry that fascinates me is the travel industry. Travel is an inherently social activity, you rarely go by yourself (recreational travel), and if you do, you are going to see someone (business travel), so it’s social. So we have this entire industry built around something social, but not really leveraging it at all. How can we remedy this?

Ok, so there are a few players out there trying to make forays into social media, those that come to mind are jetblue and southwest airlines, but beyond that, nada, zilch, zip. These companies are getting into one part of the mix, the open conversation aspect, but they aren’t really dipping their toes into the rest of the mix. Yeah its great Jetblue has 830k followers on twitter and dedicates a team to managing that account, or Southwest has 240k, and answers support questions, but this is the tip of the iceberg. Why aren’t these companies enabling their customers to engage with each other, to connect to one another?

Think about your last flying experience, you were trapped in a metal can sitting next to someone for an extended period of time. You did one of two things: you either engaged your neighbor in a lively conversation, or you put your headphones on and kept to yourself. I’ll admit, I often go with the headphones (mostly because I like to fall asleep on planes). So assume you did talk to them, built a bond, unless you exchange business cards, you are never going to see them again. The airlines need to foster post flight communication, this could be as easy to accomplish as encouraging use of a hashtag, or much more complex (but easier for consumers to digest) methods (facebook connect, custom apps, etc.).

So why do airlines need to encourage the C2C communication in addition to their existing B2C communication channels? Well quite simply it would make their product a social object. Something that their customers can form bonds around, discuss, and share. Furthermore once their customers have formed these bonds and associations, they would be more inclined to return to their preferred airline. Frankly with the ever diminishing value of frequent flyer miles it makes sense to try something new to bond your customers to you, maybe its as simple and cheap as leveraging your other customers.

Building a positive, comforting, and engaging community whereby you make it easy for customers to connect and share (maybe even share airfares + deals) seems like an easy move for any airline. Especially those who realize that customer service IS the new marketing.