KLM-logoDutch airline KLM is widely recognised as a world leader in social media use, and not in the aviation industry. What lessons can we draw from its success?

Lesson # 1 Try it and see, and don’t be afraid of failure

There is no magic to KLM’s success except a willingness to try something and see if it works. Gert Wim ter Haar, KLM’s social media hub manager, admits that there have been plenty of mistakes on the way. He points out that in order to succeed, you have to be willing to fail.

Lesson # 2 Make it work for you

KLM has always focused on making money from its social media presence. Asking customers to move to a website to make a booking was losing people, so the airline looked for a secure payment platform that could be used with social media. It didn’t find one, so it created its own.

Lesson # 3 Speak the customers’ language

KLM tried outsourcing its social media work to India, but soon found that the team needed to speak the same native language as their customers to interact properly. When a customer wrote in Dutch street slang, one of the social media team was able to reply the same way. The reply went viral. People like having fun, and they like to see others doing it too.

Lesson # 4 Listen to your customers – and then take action

Four years ago, KLM clocked a tweet from two customers asking them to bring forward the launch of a particular service by a week. They responded with a challenge: find enough people to fill the plane, and we’ll do it. The plane was full within hours, and KLM rescheduled the flight. KLM also noted a high volume of tweets about the long delay before customers could find items left on planes. It developed a new service to reunite customers with their belongings before they had left the airport.

The action is the important bit: lots of companies listen and record feedback on social media, but very few respond.

Lesson # 5 Make sure people know what you’re doing

KLM does hope for word of mouth recommendations on social media. But it doesn’t rely solely on that. It also uses paper flyers at check-in and airport billboards to advertise its social media services. You do need to tell people what you’re doing. They may not look on social media unless they know that you’re there.

Lesson # 6 Social media is owned by everyone, and everyone is responsible

KLM doesn’t have internal discussions about who owns what, or who pays for what in its social media strategy. The social media brand and strategy is owned by everyone in the company. And everyone knows that they’re expected to deal with the customer’s issue, not pass them on to someone else.

Lesson # 7 Social media is a 24/7 game

Not only is KLM’s social media feed monitored 24/7, but it also has information about how long customers will have to wait for a reply. This waiting time is updated every 5 minutes. Not surprisingly, this has been a huge hit with customers. Waiting for 10 minutes is fine if you’re expecting to do so.

Lesson # 8 Engage with both customers and non-customers

In October last year, KLM ran a #happytohelp campaign. Its team of 250 customer service staff, located in a glass pavilion in Schipol Airport, answered all tweets about travel-related queries. It didn’t matter whether they related to KLM services, or not, the team was ‘happy to help’. Engaging with non-customers means that they might just engage with you next time, and the physical presence of the team in the airport provoked curiosity among customers and non-customers alike.

Lesson # 9 Be innovative

KLM’s social media presence goes way beyond broadcasting information and replying to customers’ tweets. It also offers new services and campaigns via social media, such as its ‘Best Deal’ fare tweet, and its ‘Meet and Seat’ service, which tells customers who else will be on board their flight, and allows them to connect up ahead of time.

Lesson # 10 Don’t  assume that nobody will notice what you do.

KLM’s social media team has been seen to delete negative posts on Facebook. As one commentator pointed out, if you only delete the negative posts, and allow multiple positive comments, that doesn’t sound fair. Deleting posts has led to attention being drawn to the very thing that the team wanted to avoid.


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