Social media communication has become commonplace, and companies all over the world have jumped on the bandwagon in order to ensure their brand is present and accounted for in the digital age. By now, it is commonplace for airlines to maintain a presence on one, if not, several online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. But apart from airlines, how can other aerospace companies – including those operating in the passenger experience space – promote themselves in this arena? One strong example can be seen from Boeing, which has mastered the art of Brand Journalism.
What is Brand Journalism? According to marketing strategist and bestselling author David Meerman Scott, Brand Journalism “is when any organization – B2B company, consumer product company, the military, nonprofits, government agencies, politicians, churches, rock bands, solo entrepreneurs – creates valuable information and shares it with the world. Brand Journalism is not a product pitch. It is not an advertorial. It is not an egotistical spewing of gobbledygook-laden corporate drivel. Instead Brand Journalism is the creation of web content – videos, blog posts, photos, charts, graphs, essays, ebooks, white papers – that deliver value to your marketplace and serve to position your organization as one worthy of doing business with.”
Boeing began interacting with aviation enthusiasts in 2003, when the company held a worldwide naming contest for the 7E7. On Boeing’s newairplane.com website, fans were invited to join the “World Design Team” and vote for one of four possible names. “The Dreamliner” was the winner of the contest in which nearly 500,000 votes were cast from over 160 countries. After the naming contest, the Design Team members were updated regularly on the progress of the 787 program via website and email updates. Boeing continues to use the site to promote updates on new programs such as the 747-8 and the 737 MAX as well as new fleet orders from airlines. As with the 7E7, Boeing also used a unique website for the KC-46 Tanker program.
In January 2005, Boeing joined the Blogosphere with “Randy’s Blog” coincidentally one day before Airbus rolled out the A380 for the first time. On that day, Randy Baseler congratulated Airbus’ achievement, but also called the aircraft “a big plane for a small market.” Three weeks later on the blog, Baseler introduced the stretched “747 Advanced”, saying it would fill some of the capacity gap between the 747-400 and the A380. Baseler’s blog effectively kept readers informed about the company’s decision-making, and imparted its messaging, without seeming too corporate.
Twitter has also become a powerful communications tool for Boeing. While the airframer was a little late to the game, it has made up for lost time. The airframer has utilized three Twitter accounts since 2010 to share “tweets” about company events including orders from the Farnborough & Paris air shows, aircraft production milestones, and company history. In 2012, Boeing promoted the 787 World Tour on Twitter by posting photos and updating future tour stops. Boeing’s Twitter accounts have a combined following of over 118,000 people.
Another way in which Boeing reaches out to its social media followers is through invitation-only gatherings, or “Tweetups.” Every year for the past few years, Boeing has invited aviation enthusiasts, or “AvGeeks” to attend what they call an “AvGeek Fest” in Seattle. Many of the attendees learned about the event and registered as information was disseminated on Twitter.
Boeing is not alone; NASA has also hosted notable Tweetups, which have included Space Shuttle launches. And Lufthansa and Southwest Airlines have invited Twitter followers and bloggers to attend special events. Lufthansa’s events have included A380 and 747-8i service inaugurations. Southwest recently invited Twitter followers to attend its 737-800 aircraft inauguration and the EAA Airventure Air Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
As one can probably imagine, an invitation to an exclusive event such as these makes a company’s followers feel truly special. And it’s easy to see why so many companies are now engaging in this practice. Invitees tend to bring fresh enthusiasm to an event. When they share their experiences with their own online audiences, they effectively become brand ambassadors for your product.
Writer, commentator and noted AvGeek Benet Wilson, in prior post for Aviation Week, summed up the success of Boeing’s initiatives, saying social media has brought “a human face” to the Boeing brand.
Below, an excited crown captures the arrival of the Boeing 787 during a World Tour stop at DFW Airport.
AvGeeks may not be as critical about a product as traditional media, but don’t count on always receiving rave reviews. Tech- and travel-savvy followers of AvGeeks expect honest assessments and reviews, not regurgitated press releases. It’s also important for companies to ensure that real journalists are present at such events, in addition to their own brand media reps and aviation enthusiasts, as this helps to ensure a level of objective reporting.
In aerospace, is having a social media presence useful only to airlines and airframers? No. Suppliers such as Rockwell Collins, Honeywell and GE Aviation are all engaging with consumers on a deeper level. Yet many companies in the passenger experience (#PaxEx) space have remained socially silent, no doubt due in part to the fact that a lot of #PaxEx systems are sold as white label and then branded by the airline.
There are some exceptions, of course. Portable inflight entertainment specialist digEcor, IFE content service provider IFE Services and aircraft seat company Optimares are just a few examples of #PaxEx companies that have embraced social media, blogs and newsletters to inform people about how their products improve the passenger experience. Their input, insight and participation in the conversation is welcomed.
Consumers are increasingly aware of, and loyal to the brands with which they have favourable experiences. Isn’t it time that the greater #PaxEx industry consider what their brands mean to consumers as well? It’s time to unlock and engage.