How airlines stack up on social



Summer is officially over. Kids are back in school, it’s raining and we’re settling in for a long, cold winter.  This also means that peak holiday season is behind us – and we Brits do love a holiday. In fact, research has shown that we take an average of 1.2 holidays aboard per person every year.  Due to the long school break and the ready availability of package deals, many of these will take place across July and August, the one of the busiest times of the year for brands in the UK travel industry – including airlines.

Over the years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people talking about and contacting brands directly through their social channels – and the airline industry is no different. So, we used Brandwatch to take a look at how key airlines had performed this summer according to their social customer base, examining online conversations over the summer around five major carriers – British Airways, Ryanair, Lufthansa, EasyJet and Virgin, as well as conversation around air travel in general.

Let’s start with the bad news. As you might expect, the complainers were out in force on social. Of the 32,000 UK conversations we examined over a 30-day period this summer, a significant 59% of overall air travel conversations were negative, addressed to poor customer service, delays or cancellations and lost baggage. And when looking at individual airlines, for the most part negative conversation outweighed positive, too.

It’s probably unsurprising that of the five airlines we looked at, Ryanair was on the receiving end of the highest level of negative tweets. The budget airline has never been afraid to court controversy and although it has become a little more customer friendly online in recent years (remember the #GrillMOL Twitter Q&A?), it’s still regarded as an airline that puts profits above customer comfort.

Ryanair’s conversation was 80% negative, with a high number of complaints talking about the lack of, or poor quality customer service: i.e. being unable to contact anyone or never receiving a response to a query. There were also questions about the functionality of the airline’s site and app, and around its baggage allowance. Ryanair did receive 12% positive conversation though, with the quality of its food emerging as an unexpected winner with tweeters.

Other carriers that didn’t fare well included British Airways, with 65% of conversations indicating negative sentiment, and Easyjet at 61%. While BA’s critics targeted lost baggage and high tickets prices, Easyjet’s focused on delays and customer service at the airport desks, as well as comments around news stories about overbooking.

It’s not all bad though. The stand-out performer on social media was Virgin, flying the flag for happy customers on social, with a significant 48% positive sentiment, 18% neutral and 34% negative. Many of the positive mentions around Virgin were generated from ITV’s Up in the Air show; people found it inspiring. Social media users were also enthusiastic about the bar and the wifi on board; 9% of conversations were sharing pictures taken during the flight.

Lufthansa followed Virgin, with 26% positive conversation, with some good feedback around the crew’s professional attitude and courtesy. There was also a positive reaction on Twitter to the decision by BA and Virgin to ban hunting trophies on their flights in the wake of the #CeciltheLion scandal.

So what does all this tell us? Well, it’s clear customers are talking about airlines and air travel on social media and, as is often the case, they are usually more inclined to use it to complain about, than to compliment a brand. And often, these complaints are centered around customer service, so nailing this on social should be a priority.  It’s crucial for companies with large, vocal customer bases to have a robust monitoring and responding system in place on social media. Tweeting a brand feels closer to texting than emailing, so people expect a quick, clear response.

Airlines are 24/7 organisations and as such need effective, round-the-clock social media support. If it’s not possible to solve a problem straightaway, social media teams need to manage expectations, giving customers a clear deadline when their issue will be solved by. If you’re not able to provide help at all times, it’s good practice to include working hours on your channels’ bios so that people know that you’re not ignoring their 3am complaint.

Monitoring social conversations around your brand and your competitors can also help develop your overall business strategy. Of course, not all customer gripes can be solved (unavoidable delays for example), but picking up on conversations like Ryanair’s food success, Lufthansa’s professional crew, or Virgin’s wifi provision, shows what’s making passengers satisfied they’re taking to social to express it.

Nailing your listening and responding on social can grow your business and strengthen the relationship with your audience – it provides true value to your customers, and a reason to build preference on future purchases. Airlines should already be thinking about what they can do to gear up for Summer 2016, to start shifting conversation sentiment in the right direction.