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British Airways Landing Strong on the Social Network Scene

by on August 12, 2010

According to a press release by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) (2010), passenger traffic dropped by 3.5% from 2008 to 2009. “In terms of demand, 2009 goes into the history books as the worst year the industry has ever seen.” In the face of such realities, airlines must start listening to the online conversation in order to understand the public’s perception of the brand and adapt their messaging to address the publics needs and interest.

British Airways, aka BA, is the leading airline in the United Kingdom, and naturally one of the biggest in the world. Based at Heathrow and Gatwick, London, it manages almost 300 planes and 216 destinations in 94 countries. In order to stay connected with its multi-cultural clients the airline has profiles on Twitter (51,310 followers), Facebook (8,596 fans) and on YouTube (403,532 total views). Although BA has been going through turbulent times with employee strikes and a down economy, the airline has been using online tools to promote its brand and maintain customer loyalty and stakeholder support.

BA has become a case study on crisis management and online engagement. Here is my take on what has made them successful and what other brands can learn from them.

The Good

Engage Online Influencers

The public is now looking to their peers as influencers for their decision-making process. According to a recent study by EyeforTravel research, 55.9% of UK consumers polled said that a user review had influenced their decision to purchase a travel product or service. As travel forums, blogs and user reviews fill the Internet it’s clear that travel companies need to be a part of the conversation.

In May 2010, BA took a handful of UK bloggers, for two nights, to a trendy hotel in Manhattan, all expenses paid. Inviting a group of bloggers along on a trip on an airplane with air web connection, seems logical, especially as many of them will be blogging and tweeting on the flight.

Mark Hodson of 101Holidays was one of the bloggers on the trip. He said:

“A number of tourist boards and hotels have run group facility trips for bloggers – or included a blogger on a press trip – but this is significant because British Airways is a big player with – up to now – a traditional approach to PR.” Customer Focused Innovation

According to NASDAQ:SCOR, a leader in measuring digital results, social networking has become the second most popular online activity in the U.K. based on average time spent per user (4.6 hours), trailing only instant messaging (8.6 hours).

In 2008, British Airways launched a social media platform called Metrotwin, which links Londoners and New Yorkers. The platform provides expert recommendations on the best restaurants bars, shops, neighborhoods and other places in both cities. In addition, it enables members to review, rate, save, create profiles, follow other members’ recommendations, and make their own maps and lists. Although I wasn’t able to find the amount of subscribers that they currently have, Metrotwin’s Twitter profile has 2,594 followers.

Chris Davies, the digital marketing manager at British Airways, said in an article:

“We fly more people between London and New York than anyone else. Creating a community website about the best of what’s on offer in the two cities we know best is a credible and useful tool.”

Promote Social Media Platforms

BA is using boarding passes to promote their presence on twitter and drive conversation. What is interesting about this and what other bloggers are talking about, is that the people that are being targeted are a specific nitch, their customers, which probably means that BA sees Twitter as a loyalty tool, a way of furthering conversation with those who are already engaged with the brand.

Crisis Management through Social Media

When BA was hit by a Union strike earlier this year, it made full use of its social media presence to assist passengers, as well as provide a boost to its brand.

The company’s Youtube page played an important role in getting the message out to customers and the media. CEO Willie Walsh provided updates in over 10 videos about the impact of the strike while apologizing for the inconvenience. These received more than 205,000 hits on YouTube and BA.com. In addition the videos helped the Airline get earned media since they were shown on BBC news, Sky News, CNN among others. And were embedded on news sites as well as many online blog forums.

BA updated the public on flight changes cancellations, reinstatements and other developments through its website, and through its twitter pages. The airline used two twitter streams, one for UK and the other for North America, tweets where posted on a daily basis in order to maintain constant communications with affected customers. Here are some of BA’s tweets during the time of the strike:

According to Marketing Magazine, a survey of 1000 consumers carried out by market research company Toluna, found that the majority of those who had seen BA’s campaign had either retained or improved perception of the brand. Here are some of the comments on their YouTube videos:

Getting the message out to customers and the public quickly was key, more importantly BA.com became the hub where all the information could be found. By providing useful messages BA owned the story.

The Disappointing

According to Hitwise, Facebook now accounts for 55% of all UK social networking visits, almost three times as many as the next most popular social network. Twitter, on the other hand, is now the third most popular social network in the UK.

So you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned BA’s Facebook page, well the reality is that although the company has more than 8,000 fans they do not use the site! I know, crazy right?

At first, I was surprised that there was no reference to their Facebook page on their corporate website. It was not until I went on Google that I was actually able to find the airline’s Facebook profile. Once I opened the page there was NOTHING not even one post.  If I was disappointed I can’t imagine how all the 8,000 fans feel about not getting any information from the company through this platform. This can result in missed opportunities to engage key publics that actually want to receive information about the airline.

Many airlines are trapped in what I call the “vicious cycle.” The battle of fares among airlines leads to lower fares, which subsequently leads to lower wages, which leads to employee dissatisfaction, which in most cases leads to poor customer service and negative word of mouth. That’s where social media comes in, company reputations are being made or harmed by the minute and it is crucial for companies to be online, informing the public in order to maintain loyalty and customer support. BA’s social media response and initiatives offer an interesting model for other brands to follow, however it was disappointing to see a perfectly effective Facebook page gone to waste.


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From → United Kingdom

11 Comments
  1. What a great, thorough post. I’m working on mine, which includes social media used by Virgin Atlantic…I think the UK is rocking social media.

  2. Carolina B permalink

    Thanks Leigh I really enjoyed writing this post!

  3. I like the “beat” that you have established for yourself on this team blog and actually appreciate the way that you have been building out his topic that you are clearly interested in with a different perspective each week. The examples you shared were great and the way you looked at BA and what they are doing in social media was very comprehensive and clearly well thought on on behalf of the brand. The one thing that I felt was a somewhat missing link in your post was WHY you thought that BA was not actively using Facebook. From your description, it seems that they have chosen for some reason not to actively use Facebook. Why might they choose to not use it? What could get them past this barrier? That is the one thing that could improve this post, but again a good enough subject and focus to get top scores this week. (5)

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