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Marketing

Published April 11th 2016

Interview: How Cathay Pacific Remains the World’s Best Airline on Social

We spoke with Cathay Pacific's Digital Marketing Manager, Priscilla Chok, to find out how social works at such a prestigious brand.

When it comes to airlines, few carry such brand prestige as Hong Kong’s national airline, Cathay Pacific.

Flying to 200 destinations in over 50 countries, the airline was founded in 1946 and broke records in 1998 as it made the first world’s first non-stop transpolar flight flying over the North Pole.

Cathay Pacific has been awarded the ‘World’s Best Airline’ four times – more than any other airline, and announced record profits in 2015. It’s fair to say they’re doing what they do extremely well.

On the flip-side, airlines are in the news relating to social far too regularly.

Think of the infamous US Airways tweet that offered up far more than its followers were expecting, or when Delta tweeted out a congratulatory message to Team USA for beating Ghana in the 2014 World Cup, proving its social team weren’t all that hot on fact-checking before pressing ‘send’ – by overlaying Ghana with a giraffe (there are no giraffes in Ghana).

And, as digitaltrends.com commented: “Compared with the other tweet fails here, Delta’s could be considered relatively minor.

But if you’re in the business of getting people from one place to another, you better make sure you know where you’re taking them.”

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A constant challenge for airlines is differentiating themselves in a marketplace where pricing is crucial, as well as making sure that customer expectations are met.

This can often be problematic in a fast-paced industry, which can also be prone to delays and last-minute changes.

Social media gives people the opportunity to provide feedback and share thoughts regarding their travel experiences.

This can be seen as a PR nightmare, but from our research, we have found that it’s an opportunity for brands to gain a competitive advantage by listening to online conversation and adapting swiftly.

As part of our interview series in 2016, we’ve been lucky enough to talk to some excellent brands in many different industries.

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Having a keen interest in how airlines operate on social (we’ve published a report on the sector) we jumped at the chance to be able to speak with Priscilla Chok, Digital Marketing Manager at Cathay Pacific.

Our conversation covered how it has created such a strong social brand, how it uses social, and what social intelligence means for the team.


How social works at Cathay Pacific

Priscilla and her team oversee all the social media activities for the brand – including marketing content, customer servicing and crisis handling for both Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragon Airlines (soon to be rebranded as Cathay Dragon) across the globe.

Although the activities are overseen from Hong Kong, each local area has its own social presence – as Priscilla explains.

“As well as our global accounts, we also have a few channels and a few checkpoints that we work closely with our support teams that we have locally – we have local teams wherever Cathay flies to – they have their own local pages, channels or handle which they manage to give a local flavor and voice.”

The Digital Marketing team Priscilla manages works particularly closely with the corporate communications arm of the business, on marketing and branding campaigns, as well as the digital retail team, which manages the website sales, online sales, and mobile sales – so the Digital Marketing team are close to the results on how the content that they generate brings quality traffic to the website.

Reporting is an extremely important facet of any marketing activity, and Priscilla explains how reporting underpins strategy for the whole team.

“Everyone in our team looks at the reporting – and it also goes into the communications department. They will also know what exactly marketing has been doing, or if there are corporate stories – how they perform.”

Probably the most well-versed use case for airlines on social, however, is for customer service. Priscilla explains how her team fits into this.

“We also work with a lot of customer-facing departments in terms of customer servicing and credit handling.

 

We see people asking, for example, ‘Where’s my lost baggage?’ Or ‘My flight is delayed.’

 

We liaise with these various departments in order to get the customers settled and handled, swiftly and helpfully.”

The Cathay approach to online service is very customer-centric.

“We try to avoid passing on cases or passing through information from channel to channel. If the customer comes through to us on social, we will help.

We hope to complete the request of the enquiry within social…customers don’t like when you pass them on as they want to see you as one brand, as one single voice.”

This is definitely the savvy approach when it comes to approaching customer care on social – when one tweet can impact a whole brand.

“The happier the customers are the better the brand is being portrayed; everybody is watching how you are handling your customers, and even if they are having a really bad time, there could be just a moment to make or break the whole situation.

We want to make sure that we are extra attentive, really fast, with the best solution that we can provide.”

Campaign measurement and competitive insights

Customer care is just one of the many use cases Priscilla and her team use social listening for. Another is measurement of its marketing campaigns.

She explains how her team will study its online channels to understand the conversations around the brand before and after campaigns, and how the social mentions and people’s engagement varies and responds.

“We use social listening to gauge how successful a campaign was: did we reach the objectives that we set in the beginning in terms of people talking about it, people sharing about our content, our materials and how far our campaign reached?

Say, for example, our brand campaign we launched in January 2015.

Since then we have been actively monitoring and listening how the hashtag has been picked up, what people talk about and how people are using it. Have people been adopting the #lifewelltravelled hashtag in their own lives?”

 

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Seeing the hashtag being shared and used online is a measure of success for the company.

“It means they understand the Life Well Travelled philosophy that is coming from Cathay, and agree with it and when they travel and they share their moments they resonate and they associate themselves with this hashtag.

That’s one of the ways to measure the success of our marketing campaigns.”

Cathay also monitor the campaigns of its competitors, to ensure that it’s staying at the cutting edge of its industry.

Priscilla continues, “We learn from our competitors’ successes, and their failures as well. So we’ll say, ‘Okay, some other travel brands apparently ran that and nobody liked it so, maybe it’s something we should avoid in the future.”


Success for the Digital Marketing team at Cathay Pacific

Of course, all of this reporting and benchmarking is great – but how do Priscilla and her team know when they’ve got a success on their hands?

“In a marketing context, we have KPIs to hit – it could be reach, it could be engagement. For our own internal team’s KPI we want to evaluate what content is the most effective way in terms of reaching people or getting technical sales, because there are different sets of objectives that we need to hit.

So for technical, it could be, ‘Okay, so what sort of content or copy would be driving quality traffic?’

If it’s a brand campaign, then, ‘How much reach have I been getting?’ ‘How much engagement or people talking about have we been generating?’ ‘What is the cost-effectiveness associated to this compare to other media channels?’

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These will be familiar conversations for any marketer.

But Priscilla closed our interview on a refreshingly customer-first note. She leaves us with a point that perhaps tells why Cathay Pacific has been awarded World’s Best Airline more than any other in the world.

“Ultimately,” Priscilla ends, “we want to make sure that our customers are happy.”


Thank you to Priscilla for speaking with us. This interview is one in a series with industry experts – you can expect more every week.

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