New travel industry analysis reveals airline brands’ biggest social media stumbles

by | Aug 22, 2023 | Public Relations

One of the biggest faux pas in social media marketing is neglecting to engage with customers there, especially if they directly ask you a question. And even though the airline industry has seen monumental growth over the last year as pre-pandemic travel patterns reemerged, the brands in the sector appear to be struggling to meet new consumer expectations in the new digital-dominant world.

New industry analysis from customer engagement platform Emplifi focusing on social media activity for global airline brands, particularly customer engagement KPIs for X (the former Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram, finds that the industry actually has a solid response time to customer care inquiries conducted over social platforms—but that’s only if they respond at all. The research reveals that on average, only 25 percent of customer questions posted in comments on an airline’s public posts receive responses.

The travel sector is making massive strides toward recouping pandemic-era losses and re-establishing its financial stability. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that airline ticket revenue has reached nearly record-breaking levels of $805 billion for the year 2023. But challenges persist, particularly in customer service—which has become a priority for consumers in the new age: With 86 percent of consumers now willing to abandon a once-trusted brand after just two negative experiences, airline brands are under increasing pressure to provide seamless and stress-free travel experiences.

New travel industry analysis reveals airline brands’ biggest social media stumbles

X has been dominated by negative sentiment directed at airlines

Not only are airline brands failing to address customer questions on their social accounts, they are experiencing a significant dip in positive sentiment on X. When looking at the most mentioned airline brands on X, Qatar Airways wins the top spot. 

The stress of air travel often leads passengers to seek rapid solutions via social media, and X has been a critical source of real-time customer support for airlines. Interestingly, negative sentiment in public comments towards global airline brands on the platform has remained consistent, hovering between 31-36 percent between the peak of the pandemic in 2020 all the way into 2023. 

While negative sentiment has remained at the same level for nearly three years, more notable is that positive sentiment on public airline tweets has actually decreased by 21 percent in 2023 compared to 2022.

New travel industry analysis reveals airline brands’ biggest social media stumbles

Brand response rates showing improvement, but stagnation persists

While airlines have implemented social care strategies, there has been limited progress in the post-pandemic era. Following the turbulence of COVID-19, 2021 witnessed airlines achieving their best response rate to user queries, averaging 27 percent across the three platforms. This was the largest jump in percentage of customer responses, up 22.6 percent.

However, the percentage of questions answered on social media platforms has stagnated in 2023. On average, only 25 percent of public questions asked in the comments on a brand’s post receive responses, leaving a substantial 75 percent unanswered. 

Even though most questions go unanswered, response times are fast

When compared to other industries, the airline industry falls on the lower end of the social care spectrum. The telecom industry is the top-performing industry for social care on Facebook and X—the airline industry answers 40 percent fewer questions, on average, compared to telecom companies. 

Though a majority of questions go unanswered, the airline industry does excel in response-time speed on X (1.2 hours) and Facebook (4.8 hours), second only to telecom.

New travel industry analysis reveals airline brands’ biggest social media stumbles

Shift in customer question volume on social media

In response to the pandemic’s disruptions, the number of questions posed to airlines via social media surged, aligning with lockdowns and travel restrictions in early 2020. Remarkably, the peak questions during the pandemic gradually diminished in the summer months of 2023. July marked the lowest number of average questions (17 for the month) directed at airlines via X, while February experienced the highest number of average questions (38 for the month) worldwide.

Most mentioned airlines on X in 2023

Qatar Airlines (534,250 mentions) took the lead for 2023, garnering the highest number of mentions on X worldwide thus far. US-based airlines followed distantly: United Airlines (243,865 mentions), American Airlines (213,357 mentions), and then Delta (202,769 mentions).

“While brands recognize the importance of top-tier customer service, staying aligned with rapidly evolving expectations is a challenge,” said Zarnaz Arlia, Emplifi CMO, in a news release. “The airline industry, in particular, needs constant refinement of their social care strategy. Our analysis shows there’s room for improvement. By prioritizing customer care on social platforms, airlines not only meet customers where they are but also foster loyalty, encouraging advocacy and, in the end, driving profits.”

Read more about the research here.

Comments made to brands from 107,346 posts on Facebook and 12,540 on X were analyzed from January 01 – July 30th, 2020-23. No direct messages were analyzed as this is a private metric that is unavailable. Industries with less than 50 profiles in the sample were excluded. Only user comments including “?” are considered as questions.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter