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Social Media In Aviation Marketing

The chances are that either you — or certainly your kids — have a Facebook profile. Perhaps you’re one of millions of Twitter users, following or being followed by others on this fast-growing micro-blogging site.

David Heitman   |   15th September 2009
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David Heitman David Heitman

As brand strategist, David Heitman oversees The Creative Alliance’s public relations and social...
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Social Media in Aviation Marketing

The chances are that either you — or certainly your kids — have a Facebook profile. Perhaps you’re one of millions of Twitter users, following or being followed by others on this fast-growing micro-blogging site.

Once the provenance of college students and young adults, these social media outlets have gone mainstream, and they are now being adopted for marketing purposes by businesses large and small.

So is there a role for social media in your company’s marketing mix? To answer that question, it takes a thorough understanding of this new communication medium—including its powerful potential and its inherent risks.

“Friend” is a Verb

Social media involves the unfettered distribution of personal connections facilitated through websites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. There are hundreds of such sites out there, and virtually every major media or portal website includes social media-like community-building tools.

In this environment of user-generated content, the power of the individual is paramount. Facebook, for example, exists in a high-trust environment where people first “friend” each other and then are connected to each other’s friends, experiences and recommendations. According to some experts, this could eventually threaten Google’s dominance in how people obtain information on the Internet. Who do you trust more for advice: a Google search algorithm or your friend’s recommendation?

Social Media Marketing Defined

Social media marketing can be defined as the intentional leveraging of social networking websites to increase brand awareness, drive traffic to your website and open up new channels of communication with prospects and customers.

Social networking, of course, is as old as when Og told Trog where to find the best mastodon hunting grounds. What’s new is the digital, instantaneous nature of social networking made possible by social media tools and websites. The shift in influence to participants within these sites has led to a new power structure in which user-generated content is on par with official company messages.

In some cases, user-generated content is given even more credence. The concern for aviation industry marketers is that this empowerment via social media—and the speed at which postings spread—can quickly undermine the credibility of a brand. Any uninformed opinion or rumor can gain traction just as rapidly as a favorable press release.

The Most Expensive Free Media in the World

The great thing about social media is that it is free and unfettered. The bad thing about social media is that it is free and unfettered.

It’s easy—almost too easy—to get started. Numerous companies have jumped into social media too quickly, only to realize how complex it really is. Perhaps a well-meaning employee has opened a Facebook or Twitter account for his company and begins to make a few posts to the site. It is often months before the people in marketing or the CEO have any idea this is going on.

The other big danger of social media marketing is that as people become fans and friends, their personal data and photos can become connected to your company page. It seems obvious to point this out, but social media postings are both public and traceable. That should give rise to caution before launching a social media marketing effort, and careful monitoring after launch.

The Main Players

While you will probably want to develop forums, blogs and other social networking tools within your company’s website (these things also help with search engine optimization), you will probably want to use some of the popular social media sites available to you. Here’s a quick overview of some of the bigger players:

Facebook

With 250 million users, Facebook is the ultimate paradigm-shaper in social media. The site offers the ability to build corporate fan pages, distinct from personal profile pages. (Note: many companies have stepped out too quickly and built the wrong kind of page).

Starbucks has 3.7 million Facebook fans. AOPA has 2,600. It’s possible to upload press releases, presentations, videos, photos and more to your company fan page, so this can become a second home for your online marketing content.

Twitter

This is the world’s fastest growing social media site (1,380% annual growth) but it also has a huge abandonment ratio. Nevertheless, if you have a following—people who want to know what your company is up to—or if you have a specific aviation-related expertise to offer, this can be a good way to connect with prospects, customers and the media.

At press time, NBAA had 600+ followers on Twitter, but expect that number to grow (maybe even as a result of this article). Twitter users can follow tweets on their mobile phones or via their email accounts, making Twitter a powerful tool for brokers and dealers to instantly announce new listings, price changes or aircraft wanted.

YouTube

Google paid $1.65 billion for this one, but it still fails to make a profit. YouTube’s ultimate business applications remain to be seen, so despite its 100 million video views a day, this may not be the best place to start your social media efforts. On the other hand, it’s not a bad place to upload company promotional videos, as it has become another search tool for millions of people including business users.

Even if you can’t find a business use for YouTube, you can always watch that bulldog on the skateboard.

MySpace

Forget it. This is a waste of time unless your weekend rock band needs a place to cultivate fans for your next gig.

LinkedIn

This is a powerful business networking site, and its ownership group has great ambitions for continued growth and influence.

LinkedIn is efficiently structured to avoid the frivolities of other social media sites, thus creating the opportunity for professional networking by your company’s executives. LinkedIn’s recommendation tool offers a great way for brokers and dealers to recommend support-providers like aviation law firms and aircraft finance specialists. It’s also a good way for a satisfied customer to recommend a broker, dealer or service provider.

Within the unwritten rules of LinkedIn etiquette, it is okay to ask satisfied clients for such referrals, but they must be members of LinkedIn to do so. It’s also good form—and good karma—to offer as many positive recommendations of others as you can.

Blogs

Blogs are powerful communication vehicles for demonstrating your company’s expertise in a particular area of general aviation. The more specific your niche, the more likely your blog will be viewed as authoritative with readers.

Blogs can be hosted independently on websites like Blogger.com or Wordpress.com - or developed on media sites like FastCompany.com. Of course you’ll want to host your blog on your own website. Blogs can be used as one-way communication tools, but also benefit by inviting comments from others in order to build meaningful dialogue and input on your ideas.

Getting Started

If you are intrigued by the potential upside of all this, here are a few tips on how to implement a social media marketing initiative for your organization. First, decide what your goals are. Is it to drive traffic to your website? Is it to get customers and prospects talking so you can learn more about their needs? Is it a low-level PR tool? How will you measure results?

You may want to build a social media presence merely as a defensive posture just to lock in your page name on various sites. (Note: this is not like registering a domain name for a website, where the registration companies respect copyright and trademark laws. For example, anyone can use any name—including yours—
for their own Twitter account).

Before launching out, get professional guidance on best practices, either by reading the relevant literature, by investing in the training of an employee, or by hiring an outside expert. You’ll want to establish a social media code of conduct for employees and determine precisely who has control and access to manage the sites you use.

It’s important to begin by assessing where your company currently stands. Many companies probably don’t realize it, but they may already have multiple social media pages built by well-intentioned employees. If those employees leave without sharing the access password, those sites could stay online for a long time with outdated, inaccurate content. When you eventually launch a social media page, it is important to label it as the official page sanctioned by your organization.

Post content frequently. Nothing says unprofessional like a blog or a Twitter page that has gone weeks without an update. In fact, the expectation by Twitter users is multiple daily postings. Blogs should be updated at least twice a month.

Roll out your social media efforts one site at a time. It takes a while to learn the rhythms of this medium, and it is better to execute well on fewer sites than be spread too thin on multiple sites. Monitor your website traffic (using a free tool like Google Analytics) to see if social media is really making a difference.

If You Build It, They Will Come… NOT

Social media pages need to be promoted. Just because you create a presence doesn’t mean people know it’s out there. Think about promoting your social media sites in terms of concentric circles, by first getting employees to sign on as fans and followers, then inviting vendors, colleagues and customers to join the discussion.

This can be done by announcing each new social media page with an email that invites people to join by clicking on a live link in the email. A free but effective way to develop a following is to have all employees use an email signature containing links to your blog or social media sites.

Finally, be sure your company website includes a social media referral tool like ShareThis that allows visitors to add a link from interesting content on your website to their own Facebook, Twitter or other social media pages.

Keep in mind, social media marketing initiatives will need to be bolstered by other forms of brand-building and public relations, because the one thing that has not changed in the age of Twitter is this:

Brands are belief systems, and that makes your company’s credibility more important than ever before.

As a highly interactive medium, social media marketing requires a commitment to fast response times, an always-on attitude, a willingness to continuously monitor activity and the ability to quickly respond to comments, both positive and negative. Social media is relational marketing… and relationships take commitment!

 

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