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26/05/2009 – Airports That Twitter & Why It Is An Effective Tool
Airports have been seeking new ways to communicate with their passengers for decades. From the original implementation of flip-board arrivals/departures boards through websites with live flight status, airports seek to inform and interact with their passengers.
Until very recently the interaction between airports and their passengers has been one-way. The airport supplying the information and the passengers taking the information. Occasionally there have been post card surveys and website surveys, but opportunity to directly interact with passengers has been extremely limited…until the creation of social media.
Throughout the past year multiple airports have began exploring, instituting and exploiting the potential of social media, primarily the use of Twitter. As I continue to follow a growing list of airports using Twitter, some major airports have signed up then fallen to the wayside, while a number of ‘smaller’ airports have fully embraced the potential of services, such as Twitter.
Of the airports I follow on Twitter I have been most impressed by Akron-Canton, Ohio, Airport (CAK) and Richmond, Virginia, International Airport (RIC). These two airports do a fantastic job of not only informing their passengers, but also directly interacting with their passengers.
Both CAK and RIC started up their use of Twitter this past winter, between November and January, and eventually created a policy for a pre-determined use of Twitter. This policy also includes their Twitter account consistently be monitored and the concerns of travellers be addressed.
You’d expect ‘major airports’ to use Twitter, and while some, such as Boston Logan (BOS) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) use Twitter with some success, they don’t use the options to their full potential, as their content is not really intended to interact with their passengers. Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) does multiple updates daily with flight delays for not only BWI but also airports that service BWI, and while this is great, it again does not give BWI the ability to interact with, learn from, and converse with, passengers who are using the airport.
Troy Bell, Richmond International Airport’s Director of Marketing has explained that RIC’s initial use of Twitter was one-way, however it quickly evolved into a two-way conversation with passengers. Ryan Hollingsworth, from Akron-Canton Airport’s public affairs office says that CAK’s use of Twitter has been interactive from the start.
Despite the two airports initial usage being quite different, both airports have built up a following of Twitter followers through their consistent interaction have leveraged their following to promote businesses within the airport by partnering with the shops and restaurants within their respective airports. Through the consistent, and deliberate, use of social media to promote usage of the airports, rather than competing airports, they are able to attract a growing passenger base while many airports are missing this cost-effective marketing opportunity.
Airports, unlike airlines, must sustain themselves as well as their ‘tenants.’ While many travellers don’t see an airport as a business, they most certainly are businesses, and their business must support many support businesses…they must retain passengers for their airlines; bring in shoppers for their stores; feed hungry travellers at their restaurants; and through these business provide sustained revenue for fuel service companies; catering suppliers; ramp-handling providers, etc etc etc
Where many airports on Twitter fail is in their approach. Airports tend to view Twitter as an ‘alert network.’ Orlando International Airport (MCO) has more than 900 followers (compared to the 5.3mil passengers who have used MCO already this year), yet virtually all the content they placed on Twitter was always in all capital letters starting with “ALERT!” and ending with “CONTACT YR AIRLINE.”
None of the information on MCO’s Twitter informed users about specials at the hotel in the airport, new tour operators working from the airport and other information that drives traffic and brings business into the airport its self. MCO’s last post on Twitter was on the 6th of April.
A key part to the success of Twitter at RIC and CAK has been instant customer feedback. These two airports consistently search for customer comments regarding their airports and gather information to further the passenger experience within their airports. This proactive use of Twitter allows both airports to stay ahead of problems, control their public image and further strengthen their ‘brand name’ as popular airports in their region
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, International Airport (MDT)…yes they are International, Air Canada flies there… has begun to use Twitter very effectively as has Eugene, Oregon Airport (EUG). These two airports are beginning to fully embrace the potential of two-way communication with passengers. This direct interaction creates a local brand for MDT and EUG that can be leveraged into keeping passengers local, rather than passengers making the 2hr drive to Philadelphia (PHL) and Portland (PDX)
Atlanta, Georgia, Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL) has begun using Twitter again, after having a page set up, then disappearing, however since April 25th they only 10 updates…but 2,000 followers. Clearly they can be using Twitter more effectively to drive traffic and update the 12.6 million passengers who have passed through ATL already this year!
If you’re asking yourself why I am only writing about airports in the US, it is because airports outside of the US have not begun using Twitter. Sure there are a few airports in the UK using Twitter, but they rarely update. Manchester International Airport (MAN) has 288 followers but last updated on the 30th of April.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (AMS) has 304 followers (compared to the 5.6mil passengers that have used AMS already in 2009) but of their 17 updates, the last one was February 16th. Tokyo’s Narita Airport (NRT) has 84 followers (compared to the 9.4mil passengers who have used NRT already in 2009) with one single weather update on the 27th of March 2007!
I’d love to write about non-US airports using Twitter, or even larger major airports and hubs using Twitter, but I can’t, because they are either not on Twitter or they are not using Twitter to the maximum benefit offered by this service to interact with their passengers. Airports need feedback, they need customer insight, and Twitter and other social media outlets are the ideal options for gathering that information.
…case and point that RIC and CAK listen and are maximizing their customer interaction potential? They both completed a 9-question survey I sent them while seeking information to write today’s entry. A few others airports didn’t reply to my enquiry, one sent me a PDF of an airport media kit that didn’t address any of my questions…and another airport I contacted directly on Twitter asking for the contact info for the airports public affairs office sent back this reply “It is our policy to not disclose the contact information for the public relations unit.’ Interesting public relations unit that airport must have!
So…if any airports are reading my Twitter, Flying With Fish, or other links back to this article, keep this in mind. Airports are businesses, airports sustain other businesses, and airports are just as responsible as airlines are for creating a positive passenger experience on the ground! As airports become more competitive, as your marketing team this…”What is our airport doing to act, react and interact with our passengers for a positive experience?”
PS: You can follow a few active airports here:
Akron-Canton Airport (CAK) – www.twitter.com/cakairport
Richmond International Airport (RIC) – www.twitter.com/flack4ric
Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) – www.twitter.com/hiaairport
Eugene Airport (EUG) – www.twitter.com/flyeug
Baltimore-Washington Int’l Airport (BWI) – www.twitter.com/BWI_Airport
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – www.twitter.com/sfogal
Boston Logan Airport (BOS) – www.twitter.com/bostonlogan