A couple months ago I noticed Alaska Airlines had a Twitter account, and it got me wondering how airlines were using Twitter. Being an active Twitter user myself, I can see lots of reasons why airlines should be all over this new medium. First and foremost, its a great way for an airline to connect with tech-savvy travelers instantly (answer questions, respond quickly to complaints, etc.). Further, it’s another way to build customer loyalty via special deals, traveler stories and even funny pictures.
All that said, I thought it’d be interesting to see how the top airlines stack up in regards to their Twitter efforts. I did a quick summary (perhaps called a TwitSum? ; ) of the number of followers, number of tweets etc. Further, I included the number of destinations served as well as the fleet size of each airlines to provide a little perspective. All of the below Twitter stats were taken on 11/23/09:
BV: How fast did you reach your current level of followers at 13,440, and how long has Alaska had a twitter account?
EP: We’ve focused on growing our account organically over time — listening to what people had to say, answering questions and offering help where we could. We established our account in December of 2008, but didn’t actively start tweeting until February of 2009. Our account really took off when Mt. Redoubt (a volcano near Anchorage) erupted in March. We used Twitter as a way to update our Customers on what was happening; when the hub was open and closed.
We were blown away at how appreciative everyone was for the near real-time updates. It helped them make more informed decisions about their travel. It also helped us decrease calls to our call centers. With Twitter, we can answer lots of people’s questions with one tweet — pretty great resource, if you ask me.
BV: What metrics do you guys track to guage the success of Alaska’s Twitter account?
EP: We track lots of things — number of mentions, what % of those mentions are positive/negative/neutral, the number of retweets, etc. We also track Customer Service issues. Twitter is a great listening post. It’s easy to see what people are saying about our brand.
BV: What types of Twitter-centric promotions have been most successful?
EP: Contests and fare sales are very popular. Everyone loves a contest. We’ve also hosted several aviation themed events — those have proven to be exceptionally popular. Often selling out in under a minute.
BV: In your mind, what is the biggest positive of Alaska being on Twitter?
EP: We can talk to our Customers in near real-time, listen to what they’re saying and participate in the online conversation. Customers love when a company is proactive in addressing their concerns.
If anyone doubts Twitter’s impact on business and communication, I think Elliott’s comment regarding giving real-time updates en masse and reducing call volumes puts that to rest. While Twitter can’t reach your entire customer base, it can reach a very active portion of it and ultimately drive sales (or reduce complaints = saving money). In 2010 I’ll come back to this topic as I’ll be curious to see what changes over the next year with Twitter and the airline industry. In the meantime, if you’d like some additional analysis on airline Twitter usage, check out this blog post by Brian Solis.