Written by Master Student at Lund University
The winter of 2010-2011 was tough for the travel industry in Sweden. Records were set both in terms of temperature and snow amount (Wikipedia, 2013). This meant trouble for the travel industry, since consumers wanted to get from point A to point B in reasonable amount of time. Many trains and flights were heavily delayed or even cancelled. This particular winter was the starting point for the travel companies’ increased focus on social media for customer service. This paper will study the Swedish governmental train operator SJ and the pan-Scandinavian airline SAS, which is partially governmentally owned. Travel companies get a lot of questions from their customers, and using social media is a way of adapt to today’s consumers and their way of communicating. Social media could be used in various ways to satisfy customers and in a longer perspective strengthen the brand.
This study will focus on SAS and SJ, and their activity on Facebook and Twitter, since the companies are mostly active in those channels. In Sweden, Twitter is a relatively small medium with about 171 000 active users (Intellecta, 2012). Being available in many different channels could be successful in brand building, but it could also harm the brand if not managed properly. SAS and SJ have different strategies for social media, but they have the branding issue in common. This paper will discuss and analyze the branding through social media, its challenges and opportunities, within the Swedish Travel industry.
Social media sites could be used in many ways, but Heller Baird and Parasnis (2011) argues that most consumers, 70 %, mainly wants to connect with friends and family, while only 23 % wants to interact with brands. While consumers avoid brand interaction, marketers want to use social media in their advantage, which is contradictory since Web 2.0 was mainly created to link people together (Fournier & Avery 2011). Sometimes, brands are not welcome in social media since they seem inauthentic in their presence. Fournier and Avery (2011, p. 192) call brands “uninvited crashers of the Web 2.0 party”. The technology has empowered the consumers, not the marketers.
Social media has enabled online consumers to give critique in ways not possible earlier. Facebook “likes”, Twitter “retweets”, and blog comment fields among other tools are new ways of providing critique to the author. Fournier and Avery (2011) argue that all this rating, ranking and perusing has made consumers more critical of brands and their messages. Networking, allied consumers are able to weaken a brand substantially on social media. Negative critique easily leaps to mainstream newspaper journalists, which could be disgraceful for the brand (Fournier & Avery, 2011).
Gallaugher and Ransbotham (2010) have developed a framework for consumer communication in social media, called the 3M Framework (Megaphone, Magnet, Monitor). The framework focuses on developing firms’ communication strategies on social media. As a Megaphone, firms use social media to share their message aiming at positioning the brand by competitions, news or other information. Firms works as magnets when the draw inbound dialog, which they do by being accessible. Customer feedback can be used to enhance market research and foster innovation. Firms can also monitor social media, in terms of Facebook wall posts, tweets and so forth, observing inter-consumer engagement. This is valuable market intelligence, but it is also commonly available for competitors. These communication types may all be used by a firm, but in different channels (Gallaugher & Ransbotham, 2010).
Sashi (2012) claims that firms’ use of social media can forge relationship with customers, understand problems and find solutions for each individual. Customers have gained substantial power with social media (Kietzmann et al.,2011). If unhappy with a firm’s customer service, they can complain on any social networking site at any time, and others can add their negative experience stories as well (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Furthermore, Johnson (2011) believes that firms have to accept the increased power of consumers and take advantage of it by accommodating the demands.
Interaction with customers can be conducted with large variation. Geho and Dangelo (2012) argues that business users of social media must become more competent in their use of medias such as Twitter, since a more effective language can expand the brand’s reach. According to Sreenivasan et al. (2012) study, airline companies cannot neglect the power of social media, especially regarding consumer complaints. The study also finds that airlines should use microblogs such as Twitter as an effective customer-service platform to maintain the brand reputation and avoid spread of negative WOM.
Jansen et al. (2009) argues that Twitter’s impact on the commercial sector’s customer relationship is substantial, in terms of WOM branding, and in a further perspective also brand image and brand awareness. Furthermore, Jansen et al. (2009) suggest multiple Twitter accounts for different areas of the corporation to direct traffic to the right departments, compared to how telephone support usually works.
In order to satisfy the customer, companies might be tempted to compensate bad experiences. When companies publically reward complainers, it may be followed by an increase in numbers of complaints (Gallaugher & Ransbotham, 2010). Boshoff (2012) claims that companies’ approach occasionally is to do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Yet, Boshoff (2012) argues that moderate level of service recovery is enough to reach customer satisfaction.
Both the studied companies are active users of Twitter and Facebook in their customer service operations. SAS using Twitter to retweet praise, answer simple questions and forward news. In their presentation box (@SAS on Twitter), they state following: “The largest airline company in Scandinavia, flying to and from Europe, with flights to North America and Asia. Customer service: flysas.com or facebook.com/SAS”. By this, SAS don’t want to use their Twitter account as a customer service channel. Still, customers tweet them for questions, complains and cheers. Regularly, SAS retweets praise and answers by wishing a pleasant trip. On both Facebook and Twitter, SAS writes most of their megaphone (Gallaugher & Ransbotham, 2010) messages in Swedish, even though the company is equally present in Denmark and Norway as well. A few messages are written in English, but answers to customer posts are in the language the customer uses (given any of the Scandinavian languages or English). By being mainly available on Facebook where a large amount of their customers are present, they can easily spread their messages to their 348 866 followers (at 16th February 2013). Sreenivasan et al. (2012) argues that airlines should use Twitter as an effective customer-service platform, and according to Geho and Dangelo (2012), a more effective language can expand brand reach. SAS may have many followers, but a large amount of the questions asked are answered with a direction to their telephone support. A lot of the customer activity on Facebook as well as on Twitter is rants regarding delays or cancelled flights.
SJ has a slightly different social media strategy. In Larsson and Ågerfalks (2011) case study on SJs use of Twitter during the winter of 2010, they called SJs approach to social media an “office-hour approach”, since they were only active during office hours. Today, they are active between 06-22 on weekdays and 08-22 on weekends. On the other hand, SJ is active on Facebook on weekdays between 09-16, office hours. This could be seen as an office-hour approach to Facebook, as they’ve focused mainly on Twitter as a customer service channel. However, SJs Facebook page is highly used for megaphone communication with contests and more or less important news. SJ has to withstand a lot of criticism due to travellers’ delays. They use of twitter to more deeply try to solve their customers' problems. Sometimes by providing links to forms or information pages, other times they help by asking to send a Direct Message (DM) when ID number or ticket number is needed. A proof of this is the high number of users SJ is following. To be able to send a DM, one must follow the recipient. Due to this date, SJ has written over 67 000 tweets, most of them answers to customers’ tweets.
On both SJ and SAS Facebook pages, there is some inter-consumer engagement (Gallaugher & Ransbotham, 2010). Most of the times, one individual complains, on which another individual comments, not seldom in the company’s favor if he or she doesn’t find the complain legitimate. In these cases, neither SJ nor SAS replies. As Gallaugher and Ransbotham (2010) claims, this is valuable market intelligence. In this particular case, even other consumers can learn what is legitimate to complain about or not by reading previous complains, while the company can gain information about what’s commonly frustrating their customers, both minor and major issues. Since the complains are public, the consumers have the power on their side (Johnson, 2011; Sashi, 2012) Mass-likes of complain posts will most definitely affect the company and its decisions, but as both SJ and SAS actively replies to most complains, they might reduce the risk of negative word-of-mouth, and instead build a strong online brand reputation, agreeable with theories of Johnson (2011).
Neither SAS nor SJ has multiple accounts on any social networking site, as Jansen (2009) suggests. It would be eligible for SAS though, since they serve markets with various languages.
SJ and SAS communicate in all three ways proposed by Gallaugher and Ransbotham (2010). As a megaphone by sharing news and contests, as a magnet by providing the possibility to complain and ask for help, and as monitor by letting the customers help each other out. By doing this, especially SJ can make use of the potential of their both channels. SAS works the other way around with Facebook as the primary customer service channel. Yet, Twitter only allows 140 characters, which may not always be enough to express an issue. Due to the latest Facebook layout, only the five most recent customer posts are visible by default, which might cause both pros and cons for SAS and its customers.
Neither SAS nor SJ compensates customers publically. If there is question about some kind of compensation, customers will be asked to send a DM or call the telephone support. Boshoff (2012) argues that customer satisfaction could be reached without over-compensating the customer. It is hard to tell if SJ or SAS does that, but the comments on SJs Facebook page tells that they don’t. They hardly compensate at all, at least in customers’ opinion.
SJ and SAS have different ways of using social media, but which is more efficient? To use Twitter as main online customer service channel is bold. The medium is relatively small in Sweden (Intellecta, 2012) but they’ve achieved to get as many followers on Twitter as they have on Facebook. SAS, on the other hand, uses Twitter as a touching point without articulated intention. Today’s Facebook layout is not superior for customer service, at least not in a customer perspective. Yet, Facebook as a single channel could work as megaphone, magnet and monitor without being cluttered.
Via social media, especially Facebook, SAS and SJ announce contests, which could be seen as a part of the branding strategies. As they have many followers, the reach is large when posting information. However, it is important not to spam uninteresting news, since followers actually have the power to avoid the messages with just one click. If there is a problem with the website or any other of the companies’ services, consumers will let them know right away, which is an asset when providing a wide range of services.
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