Shashank Nigam Talks About Social Media For Airlines

Interview with shashank nigam, ceo of simpliflying about social media in airlines industry

simpliflying
Shashank Nigam

I had the good fortune of meeting Shashank Nigam, CEO of  Simpliflying at the Social India conference, ((Blog posts for the Social India Conference event)) Bangalore in October last year. His talk threw light on some awesome work they did at Simpliflying for International air carriers and airports too, to engage customers via social media. The blog is a big resource for the amazing work they do and is a must for anyone who is interested in social media. Apart from that Shashank was a highly energetic speaker at the conference and I knew that here were some great ideas and experiences to learn about for all of us. So I got in touch with him via email and the following is the email interview:

1. Hi Shashank, can you share a bit about SimpliFlying and what is keeping you busy apart from traveling?

We’ve been at the cutting edge of marketing innovations in the airline industry globally, always looking to push the envelope through our strategy consulting service. In the last six months, SimpliFlying has helped Estonian Air create the world’s first social loyalty program, which got the airline that flies 800,000 pax/year, 1mn impressions on Facebook in 15 days and two global awards in two months. And we’ve designed and executed LAN Airlines’ internationalisation strategy on social media, setting up and empowering autonomous teams in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and USA.

Along with this Senior Marketing/Comms executives at Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, IATA, ACI, Toronto Pearson Airport and Halifax International Airport have experienced our MasterClasses.

2. SimpliFlying enables airlines and airports to engage with customers globally. Would love if you can share one of your exciting case studies from India in 2011.

We’ve led the marketing launch of Bombardier Q400 in India for SpiceJet, mostly through innovative marketing mediums. They launched the Bombardier Q400 in India for the first time on regional routes and managed to achieve an 88% load factor in the first two weeks of operations after primarily reaching out to customers about the new product through social media.

It started out as an up-hill task, because Indians have typically not been the most keen to fly turbo-props and battling this mindset was the biggest challenge. Moreover, SpiceJet wasn’t flying these planes on major routes like Delhi-Mumbai, but secondary cities like Hyderabad-Goa – and there was a need to create destination awareness in specific segments.

The strategy developed leveraged on potential travelers educating one another about the new aircraft and learning about destinations – all through a series of contests on Facebook and Twitter.

Another airline we’ve done marketing strategy consulting for is Jet Airways, which recently became the first Indian airline to surpass 300,000 fans on Facebook. The airline achieved this prestigious milestone within less than two years of the launch of Jet Airways Facebook community. [pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]Reaching the 300,000 fans milestone stands testimony to the success of Jet Airways’ initiatives in actively reaching out to and engaging with a large cross-section of its guests.[/pullquote]

3. Aviation is an industry that can mint on social media but in 2011, I have witnessed that we are not thinking much barring a few. So what kind of challenges do you see for the Indian airlines and airport industry in social media?

Indeed, that’s true. Airlines in general are very siloed, whereas social media is by design something that impacts multiple departments. So airlines have a natural challenge to decide who “owns” social media, as well as who pays for it. Then there are legacy IT systems that cannot be easily modified in airlines. Airports in India are a different ballgame, with most owned by AAI – and that is a B2B organization, not too consumer led. Some of the privately-run airports like CSIA and Bangalore have recently made some in-roads, but there’s a long way to go.

4. The future for social media in India is Mobile and I am confident that 2012 will see lot of innovations. What are your thoughts on it and how can the Indian aviation industry benefit from it?

Mobile is certainly the big wave to ride in 2012. In a recent study we published (http://j.mp/roiandmobile) shows that most marketers are looking to build their brands and drive direct sales through mobile. And since mobile use in India is many times that of the computer, the numbers will certainly be larger. Jet Airways last year introduced QR codes to be scanned from mobile phones across a number of channels. We should see more airlines do similar campaigns this year.

5. How do you think social customer service will evolve in this arena and don’t we need to do more than just saying that a concerned person will get in touch?

There are many airlines around the world that are not only replying to most tweets/FB messages in context but also setting time guarantees! KLM responds to all tweets within 60 mins and aims to resolve the issue within 24hrs. Delta responds to every tweet within 9 minutes and ensures resolution within 24hrs as well. There are others like SAS Scandinavian and Virgin America that have only 2 people in social media each and yet give personal responses to a majority of messages sent to them. Here are 10 more case studies: http://bit.ly/shbOvA

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]As it is, 88% of all tweets from travelers to airlines are customer-service related. So certainly we will see airlines needing to embrace social media for customer service, because that’s where the travelers are.[/pullquote]

6. Your final thoughts on this industry from Indian perspective. Do you think we will see some excellent work that can make it to the finalists of SimplyFlying awards category in 2012?

SpiceJet has been innovative and Indigo going international is a good sign too. I’m sure we’ll see lots of innovations from Indian airlines in the field this year.

Thanks Shashank for sharing with us! Jet Airways has done some great work and hopefully we are going to see some more players getting more serious and spending more budgets,time, etc. on social media. Social Media is a must for service industry to help serve better and become a likeable service for fans.

Even though, these responses belong to the airlines industry, they are applicable in all other service-driven areas too.