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At their heart, airports are about connections. They bring lovers, families and business partners together. They overcome distances. They provide a common space to gather, relax, shop and entertain. They embody the web. They facilitate socializing. Airports are the ultimate representation of mobility.

In today’s increasingly mobile and social environment, airports are learning to extend these connections into the cybersphere. Some are taking particularly creative approaches to these new cyber connections.

Andrew O’Connor, portfolio director at SITA, says, “Some airports are starting to make headway with their apps and on social media. The airlines started first and had the hook-in on social media through their apps, which is a way of connecting to their passengers.” He points to one major limitation on the utility of apps and social media to passengers at the airport: the availability of free wi-fi. “Offering wi-fi opens up the opportunity for these connections, and also gives airports a chance to present passengers with vouchers and offers.”

O’Connor also points out how apps can promote airport services. “Apps can entice passengers with parking conveniences and special offers at concessions. There is a good opportunity for airports to build closer ties with the passengers passing through the terminal,” he says. “Frequent flyers will appreciate the deals and other features that are available through an app.”

Social media and apps come together to create a harmonized set of what Karen Bender, e-commerce and marketing director of Copenhagen Airport (CPH), refers to as “key marketing utilities”, essential to building connections with airport customers. 

Marc Ellam, customer experience and social media director at Heathrow Airport, explains that social media activities have enabled Heathrow to connect with passengers on “a number of levels”.

Right: Heathrow Airport has developed its own app to connect with passengers

He highlights the importance of social media for “customer experience and basic customer query resolution, or for the value-added engagement and compelling content that adds to your experience in and of the airport”.

Bender points out that the particular social media channel selected must be relevant to the market. In Denmark, Twitter is the realm of politicians and journalists. The airport is most effective reaching its customers through information and entertainment posted on Facebook and Instagram.

“Facebook is a strong channel for us,” Bender explains. “We are also on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Twitter is mostly for our international passengers because it’s very small in Denmark. Pinterest is really big in some markets, such as the USA, but not that big in northern Europe. We have it, but it’s our smallest channel. More is happening on Instagram. People love taking pictures at the airport. There are so many emotional pictures of people meeting and also saying farewell to each other. Coffee is very popular with the Danish, so there are lots of pictures with their Starbucks coffee.”

Entertain and inform

Beyond coffee, CPH’s passengers are hooked on entertainment and crave information. “Our strategy is to make the relationship with the airport into a journey. We’re doing that by giving information, by entertaining and by giving inspiration. We give general information that can, especially during the summer, be about how to get through the airport. We will post more films about how you prepare for security checks, what you need to pack into your suitcase, remember to take your belt off and so on. But it can also be information in concerned with irregularities and travel disruptions – a pilot strike, winter storm and so on. Then we use our social media a lot – but we especially like to entertain and inspire.”

CPH finds that content with a human touch works best in its market. “Two weeks ago we had a guy proposing to his girlfriend, who had been gone for six months,” Bender explains. “When she came out in the airport arrival hall, he had music and dancers, a band, and he proposed. We asked if it was okay to film it and put it on Facebook. Everybody loves things like that. That’s real entertainment. We also do inspiration. We try to make interesting posts and campaigns, but with a bit of a commercial message. We just had a film on Facebook about how fast you can get through the airport to buy a gift for your girlfriend, and more than one million people have seen it.” 

Left: Facebook and Instagram are popular social media tools for Copenhagen Airport

Bender also suggests a balanced approach to content. “You have to make sure you have high engagement, because if you are commercial and post all the time, nobody wants to share. Nobody wants to ‘Like’ that. You have to make sure you really entertain,” she says.

Ellam agrees, and emphasizes that the development of the social media channel, including the development of content, must be carefully planned. “We’ve always been deliberate about our content calendar and our content planning,” he says. “We’re never scrabbling for content. There’s always something happening at the airport.”


Ellam also points to partnerships with traditional communication and entertainment channels, to build interest in the airport and increase engagement on social media. “We’ve partnered with the BBC, supporting the Airport Live TV show in 2013. We trended for three nights that week,” he comments. “We’ve partnered in many ways, such as the collaboration with Doctor Who for its anniversary and with Top Gear. We did a lot of stuff when we supported the Olympics. We’ve engaged with celebrities like Andy Murray. All this helps develop a critical mass. Each time, we were able to learn from those instances and carry it forwards.”

Ellam also believes that crossing channels, referring a follower from Twitter to Facebook to learn more, for example, is good practice. “We’re putting out a broad spectrum of content that represents a lot of elements of the airport,” he explains.

“Whether that’s the operational side, the aircraft that are flying in, the human stories of people all on their own, people at the airport who work here and visit here. We might talk to you on Twitter and resolve your query but we can also give you a link to Facebook and say, ‘If you are interested in that stuff, there are some great images over here.’

“It’s about being deliberate in your channel management as well, which has really worked for us – understanding your audience and the sentiments within your audience,” Ellam continues. “You use CRM to look at your customer profile, then create appropriate content and make sure you’re putting that out there to engage the right people at the right time.”

Useful app

CPH’s app give passengers the information they want, when they want it. “What was important for us was to make the app useful to our customers,” Bender says. “Our strongest feature is that you can get the flight information service, and you get the updated flight information on push messages through it all the time. We have developed the app further, with the customer in mind.” For example, the app gives passengers access to their electronic airport club Advantage membership card with personal club pages in the app. The app also incorporates augmented reality wayfinding and 360° tours of the airport lounges. “Whether you are sitting at home on your sofa or are standing at the airport, we can guide you around,” Bender says. About 830,000 of CPH’s customers have signed up for the app.The airport is proud of this figure and is considering how to increase the app’s usefulness to passengers in future.

“The app and general mobile development is one of our most important future platforms,” Bender says. “We’re going to build more relevant content at the right time for the right passenger. That will include service content as well as commercial content.”

Right: In January 2014, Copenhagen Airport launched a new app and website to help accommodate Chinese travelers to Europe

Emerging markets

Perhaps the best measure of trends for these platforms is the importance placed on them by developing markets.

Air travel in China is growing rapidly and passenger numbers are expected to top those in the USA by the 2030s, making it important to commit now to social media engagement and mobile apps. As May Zhou, vice president SITA China, explains, Chinese airports are focusing on social media and apps to improve the customer experience. “We see airports investing in passenger services and 100% of them are investing in social media and mobile services to provide an efficient and personalized journey.”

Driving these airports’ investment in new media is what SITA calls “a strong desire to develop more personalized customer service through direct interaction”. So far, more than half of Chinese airports (53%) rate their social media investments as performing well or above expectations as regards customer loyalty, SITA indicates. “In particular, airports are using mobile and social media to communicate with passengers in times of disruption. By the end of 2017, 94% of airports in China will have implemented real-time notification via social media and mobile.”

CPH has also taken advantage of this growing market by creating an independent app for Chinese passengers. “We found out that it was one segment of our passengers that needed information in their own language, so the app was a good way to reach them.” 

This article was first published in the January 2015 issue of Passenger Terminal World

 December 3, 2014

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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