KLM new initiative: cool & innovative, or plain gimmick?

In the travel industry and social media sphere, airlines have been among early adopters, in particular with the use of Twitter, where an estimated 191 airlines companies are present as of August 2011. (For more details, check out this infographic by Simpliflying, or this one, by Mashable) While industry leaders include companies such as Southwest, Delta, Jetblue and other known heavy-hitters, there is definitely one company that has blazed its trail with social media, and that is the Dutch national airline, KLM. It’s latest hooplah? During 10 hours, on September 19th, followers were invited to tweet with the chance to get a personalized reply by KLM’s team. By personalized, they actually meant it full on, with a Youtube video to back it up. See an example of reply in the video below. Pretty cool!

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Nevertheless, I can’t help but thinking there is something strangely gimmicky in this initiative. First of all, it strongly reminds me of another successful yet better-known campaign – the Old Spice Guy, with Isaiah Mustafa answering customer questions, whether serious or not, via Youtube. Mind you, in this case with KLM, it was nearly “live” replies, which makes it even more innovative. Having said that, what were the goals of this initiative and how will KLM measure its success? Sure, only 10 followers got their question answered, (not to mention the many thousands who did not win, thus not getting their question answered) yet the contest itself is sure to draw lots of attention and buzz. But mobilizing up to 140 employees for a full day for this stunt? From a communications or marketing perspective, it’s pure genius. It’ll get lots of talk, and will confirm KLM in its social media darling status. But from a customer service perspective, not so sure… I can only imagine if anyone lost their luggage today with KLM, or waited over the phone for a long period of time before getting answered… Or better yet, if we stay in the social media world, have all tweets been answered to customer satisfaction today? As marketers, such initiatives are appealing and will certainly help promote the brand. I am just not convinced that this particular initiative will have the same legacy as previous ones by KLM.

Below, you shall find two iconic initiatives conducted by KLM with social media. Enjoy!

This is without a doubt the best social media marketing tactic I’ve heard of, ever. Talk about a company listening to its customers, in this case DJs and trend-setters. For an airline to decide changing its inaugural launch date between two cities, following a bet made with tweeps, this just demonstrate how leading-edge this company can be. Sure, they turned it into a media & PR event, but who can blame them, right?

In this second example, KLM confirms its social media avant-garde status, bordering on Big Brother in order to surprise and delight its customers. How they use Foursquare, Twitter and other social media platforms in order to track down customers is certainly interesting, but it seemed to me like the video of this initiative probably had more impact for the company than the actual good deeds made by employees on that day. A great PR stunt, in other words, but less durability in time.

So, of all three initiatives, which one is your favorite, and why?


Frederic Gonzalo
Written by Frederic Gonzalo

Senior marketing and communications expert & speaker with 18 years expertise in the travel and hospitality industry. Consulting since early 2012, I provide strategic planning, social media & mobile development counseling to small and medium businesses alike. Reach me at frederic@gonzomarketing.biz

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