The Key to Social Success for Airlines: Be More Human

Opinion: The highest success with interactions came with posts that featured airline employees

The past several months have been rough for the airline industry. A recent series of conflicts captured on video between airline crew members and passengers has created bad publicity and a general sense that unlike in other industries, airline customers come last.

While negative incidents often go viral on social media and dominate the conversation, it’s easy to forget the many examples of positive engagement that airline brands receive from customers every day on social media.

Social media has long been an important way for airline brands to communicate with customers. While there is no shortage of content topics for airlines to post about, some enjoy greater success than others.

In order to understand which topics resonate best with customers, we examined nine recurring themes in the Facebook posts of 14 airline brands: Aeromexico, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Air Canada, Allegiant Air, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Airlines, Volaris and WestJet.

Here’s what we found.

What airline brands spoke about in Q1 2017

Take a look at the share of the common themes and topics that these brands posted about:

A large majority of posts were blatantly sales-oriented and advertised promotions. Typically, these kind of posts—especially featuring contests and giveaways—garner massive engagement, as people have a clear incentive to like, share or comment. However, our analysis showed a clear outlier amongst all of the topic interactions.

Of the airline brands we analyzed, the highest success with interactions came with posts that featured airline employees—in short, content where the brand attempted to be more human.

Delta: a closer look

For a bottom-up perspective, we took a closer look at Delta, which had the highest average interactions of all the airline brands we analyzed during the first quarter of 2017.

If you take a look at the graph below, you’ll see that it closely resembles the industry trend. Social media managers and content creators at airline brands can bank on content that features their employees to be a sure hit.

However, it’s important to see how they have framed this topic and the strategies that have paid off in this regard. Here are the posts around Delta employees that won the most engagement on Facebook:

Can you spot the similarity here? The brand featured employees around larger events or topics trending on social media. While a lot of brands limit content around Women’s History Month or Black History Month to a mere greeting, Delta’s approach highlights how it is invested in these events and causes.

This personal touch makes its content resonate more with its audiences. United, American Airlines and Southwest are among others that took similar approaches.

In Delta’s posts, the brand defines its core ideals through employee stories. Along with this, these employees exemplify the values that Delta projects in their messaging. Putting a human face to the brand and sharing human stories is a powerful way to bring content to life and encourage customers to engage.

Brands succeed the most when they provide audiences with a human-focused narrative. This is one of the reasons why video content receives so much engagement. People enjoy reading stories or watching movies most when they can identify with someone in it. Southwest, for example, has a dedicated “storyteller” to create content that’s rooted in the Humans of New York style of narrative. Check out a post in this series:

All brands need a healthy mix of content themes to realize the full potential of their social media presence. Airline brands use social media to respond to crises, relay messages about flight status and interact with customers that had both positive or negative experiences, whether in person or online.

Yes, airlines do need to let people know when they slash prices or start operations to a new destination. But even these salesy or staple forms of communication can be made more engaging with better human-based storytelling. One of the most shared pieces of content from this group of airline brands was a humorous video by WestJet that announced a sale:

Using fiction, as opposed to a standard announcement, the brand can make fun of itself, join in on the April Fools’ pranks and, yes, get their audience to take note.

There’s no limit to what airline brands can achieve when they infuse the craft of storytelling and simply become more human in their content and messaging. This is really a timeless lesson for airline brands (and, in fact, all brands).

Darsana Vijay is a social media journalist at social analytics firm Unmetric.

Image courtesy of scyther5/iStock.