Social Media Case Study: KLM Airlines

This week’s social media case study focuses on one of the most socially innovative airlines around: KLM.

When it comes to social media case studies, airlines often prove to have some of the most impressive, influential and trendsetting results. Yet, despite all of the data that supports the adoption of innovative social media marketing initiatives for airlines, few seem to be as willing to go the distance as KLM.

social media case study klmKLM’s social media program is brilliant…and they know it. When it comes to converting social media fans into paying customers, KLM is among the most successful brands around. In fact, on the KLM Facebook page, there is a section that breaks down their social media campaigns, explains how they went about executing them and posts the results. Effectively, they are their own social media case study as to why social is important to business. But our focus is a little deeper than that when it comes to our weekly case study. We aim to pull out the lessons marketers can learn from the KLM social media program as a whole.

The Campaigns

Featured on the KLM Facebook page are seven of their most successful social media campaigns. These campaigns include everything from “KLM Surprise” whereby special gifts would be presented to passengers who checked into flights using Foursquare or Twitter, to the “KLM Tile & Inspire” campaign whereby Facebook fans were asked to convert their Facebook profile picture into a Delft Blue tile and complete that tile with an inspiring message to be used as part of a mosaic design on a KLM aircraft that would travel across the globe. Below are two videos breaking down these campaigns.

KLM Surprise
KLM Tile & Inspire

Each campaign was equally inspired and generated similar results. For the two campaigns above, KLM reaped some considerable social benefits. The breakdown of the two featured campaigns by the numbers is below:

KLM Surprise Analytics
Foursquare 17.528 followers
Youtube 154,722 views
Twitter 1.597 followers
Tweet reach 2,6 mln
KLM Tile & Inspire Analytics
Created tiles 120.000
Number of countries where tiles were created 154
Views of the 2 videos 1.3 million
Number of destinations the 777 flew to 23

While the analytics are impressive enough as it is, the fact that KLM went on to further convert many of these fans is all the more notable. But what we wish to focus on is what KLM did that was as innovative and bold as it was simple and calculated.

The Lessons

Be Bold (But the Right Way)

KLM has had far from a conventional approach to their social media program. From presenting new meal options using Facebook videos that introduce the “chefs” (the “KLM A La Carte” campaign) to the controversial “KLM Meet and Seat” campaign that gave passengers the ability to preview their seat mates based on social profiles, KLM has dared to be innovative with each of their social media campaigns. But it is important to keep something in mind: the marketing execs at KLM knew exactly what they were doing, and these risks were as calculated as any.

By understanding the lead to conversion process, the KLM executives were able to put these campaigns together using careful market research, amalgamated and improved data from their own failed exploits (discussed below), and a clear understanding of the sales process for both the customer and the brand. You don’t garner new customers from social media by doing the same thing as everyone else (hence, the “Be Bold” part of the lesson) but you certainly won’t find them if you scare them away (and that covers the “Right Way” aspect). So keep in mind that for a social media campaign to work, you need to impress your audience and have the data to support your seemingly daring decisions.

Never Be Afraid to Try Something New

Social media is still in its infancy, and social media marketing even more so. There is no shortage of innovation out there, and with the ever-changing landscape of social media, you should never be afraid to be first to market. Your first-mover advantage will be huge when people see you doing something that no one has done before. KLM understands that and they have capitalized on it at every turn.

The airline only jumped into social media in 2009, but in these short few years they have managed to try their hand at virtually every campaign available on social media. Whether it is a Facebook campaign, a Foursquare promotion, a YouTube contest or a Twitter “Live Reply” campaign wherein the airline responded to user tweets using up to 140 REAL people to spell out the message, you should never be afraid to try something that has never been done before. When it comes to social media, people want something they have not yet seen.

social media mistakes facebook thumbs down

Try, Fail, Fix, Repeat

No one knows failed experiments better than KLM. Sure, they might have the budgetary luxury of making these mistakes, but over time they have learned exactly what they should not be doing in order to perfect their social campaigns. And on a smaller scale, you should never be afraid of the mistakes you make when it comes to social media. As we noted above, this is an incipient form of marketing; people are bound to make mistakes. But when you do, note your errors, redraft your campaign taking that into account, and start again.

For KLM, one of their big blunders came in 2011 when they offered a promotional gift to the first 50 male and first 50 female “Likers” of a post. Within minutes they had 1,500 “Likes” and no way of knowing which came when. Oops! But what is important is that KLM recognized their mistakes, fixed them and, more importantly, accepted their failures. And that brings us to our final lesson.

Humility is an Underrated Trait

People appreciate humility. It is a humanizing trait, particularly when it comes from a company as large and reputable as KLM. That is why the last important lesson to pull from KLM is that, while you might be a big brand, social media is a place for you to simply be a voice in the conversation. While an image needs to be maintained, you can be a little less corporate and little more fun when it comes to social (respecting professional boundaries, of course). As we never tire of pointing out, social media is about exactly that: being social. Not only does KLM have a post on their blog detailing some of their yearly bloopers, but they also make an important point in their step-by-step guide on running their social media program:

social media humble pie“Not that campaigns always need to be global and spectacular. Many of our establishments have successfully launched their local pages, and we’ve learned that the power often lies in simplicity — like showing the interior of a cockpit, or thanking someone for notifying us about broken lighting on our KLM sign. Our creative editorial board delivers a daily dose of captivating, engaging posts through our various channels.

Social campaigns have won us several awards, but it hasn’t been one success after the next. We’ve certainly had our share of bloopers. But rather than hushing them up, we decided to make them public and take them as a learning experience. And as it turned out, people liked us even more for it.”

Well said.

What lesson do you think is most important in the case study of KLM? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter!

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  1. […] innovatieve vliegmaatschappijen op het gebied van social media.  Ze bereikten grote faam met hun kadocampagne waar mensen die op social media lieten weten dat ze met KLM gingen vliegen bij de gate werden […]

  2. […] innovatieve vliegmaatschappijen op het gebied van social media.  Ze bereikten grote faam met hun kadocampagne waar mensen die op social media lieten weten dat ze met KLM gingen vliegen bij de gate werden […]

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