Mumbai: India’s private airlines are increasingly turning to social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Orkut to inform passengers, particularly frequent flyers, about promotions and new offers, besides receiving feedback. But experts say their following on these websites is way too low and they lag behind international carriers in using the media imaginatively.
Social networking websites allow users to build global communities of people with whom they share interests or activities.
Click here to view a slideshow on the social media strategy of airlines such as Jet and Paramount
Jet Airways (India) Ltd, the country’s largest airline by passengers, says it has 5,000 Facebook and 1,300 Twitter fans. The airline set up a separate social media division to manage its presence on these platforms. Other airlines, too, have dedicated employees to monitor social media interactions.
“Feedback from our valued guests not only helps us enhance our service standards, but also helps us create new product features. We are excited with the huge response,” a Jet Airways spokeswoman said in an emailed statement to Mint. The airline is encouraging passengers to share their views as part of what it calls the first phase of its social media expansion strategy. Most followers are frequent fliers.
“Our approach to this medium is very proactive and we respond to every individual feedback or query in a personalized manner... We also did a lot of research through extensive reading of case studies, closely monitoring brands on Facebook and Twitter, and on how they manage these channels, observing followers and their reaction in this medium,” the spokeswoman said.
The country’s second largest carrier Kingfisher Airlines Ltd boasts 2,167 followers on Twitter, who are promised regular updates and new offers.
As expected, it’s an avenue for complaints and apologies as well. An 11 February Twitter message from the airline read: “Regret yr (your) disappt. (disappointment). This flt (flight) delayed due combination of ATC (air traffic controller)/operational reasons. Overall KFA OTP (Kingfisher Airlines’ on-time performance) among highest for domestic airlines.”
India second largest low-cost carrier SpiceJet Ltd claims more than 1,000 fans across all social networking platforms.
The airline is using social networking to promote offers and contests, run customer polls and awareness campaigns, and even disseminate corporate information. SpiceJet is also developing interactive content, such as online games, that it says will be both informative and entertaining.
“Our focus has been to leverage these (social media) outlets and engage consumers and get them to interact with the brand. This is strongly supported by our belief that customers don’t want to be mere consumers any more,” SpiceJet’s senior vice-president (marketing) Anish Srikrishna told Mint.
The carrier is also present on YouTube and Flickr, which allow the sharing of audio-visual content. “While we are not looking to simply add followers, we are focused on keeping our interaction levels up with the community. SpiceJet’s social media strategy employs a multi-pronged approach—create, interact and engage,” he said.
Chennai-based Paramount Airways Ltd uses Twitter and Facebook to inform passengers about new promotions and schemes under Paramount Royale, its frequent flyer programme. “We have a huge fan base on Facebook, Orkut and Twitter,” said M. Thiagarajan, managing director of Paramount Airways, without divulging the number of followers. “As new-age travellers are tech-savvy, we stopped talking through printed materials to our frequent flyers. We now interact with them through email and social media.”
Gaurav Mishra, chief executive of Delhi-based social media research and strategy company Twenty Twenty WebTech Pvt. Ltd, said Indian carriers were still restricted to the basic uses of social networking.
“When you compare the number of passengers flying domestic carriers, the fan base on social media is no comparison,” he said. Indian airlines carried 43.84 million passengers in 2009 compared with 40.77 million in 2008, an increase of 7.5%. “Moreover, there is no significant or structured effort from these carriers to use these platforms.”
For instance, Malaysian low fare international carrier AirAsia Berhad distributed almost 900,000 free promotional tickets through Facebook in November—without any advertising. “You grow up with technology. We did not spend a cent to sell 404,000 seats on 11 November 2009 and 489,000 seats on 12 November. All we had done was post the information on Facebook. We have now 178,000 followers on Facebook and 22,000 in Twitter. We are now in Flickr, too,” said Kathleen Tan, regional head (commercial) at AirAsia, which currently has flights to Malaysia and other South-East Asian destinations, and from cities such as Tiruchirappalli, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kolkata in India.
Mishra of Twenty Twenty WebTech said building a networking community through social media is particularly useful for Indian airlines, which do not differ substantially in terms of fares.
He said there are many ways in which the carriers could enhance the involvement of passengers on these sites. “For example, an airline could give some flying points if they (passengers) post a positive note on Facebook or Twitter,” Mishra added. “Imagine, if an airline discloses a passenger’s identity on a particular flight with his permission through these sites. This will result in a big networking opportunity.”