The world becomes a tad bit smaller with every passing year. Yes, thanks to international trade, the internet, and greater human mobility, the miles between Kathmandu and Montevideo have never seemed shorter. Airlines have always been at the forefront of making the globe much easier to circumnavigate physically. And they are now doing their part to bring together people from across the world online as well.

Yes, airlines are engaging more people through social media than any other sector within the travel industry. eDigitalResearch’s “Travel Social Media Benchmark” measures how well brands within the travel industry perform on Facebook, Google+, and other popular social media venues. The results are in and they show that airlines are making better use of these tools than any of the other players in the travel realm, including hotels.

How, exactly, are the world’s largest airlines capitalizing on social media’s popularity? Well, here are a few prime examples of top-notch social media campaigns generated by airline companies.

Name the plane. Paint the plane.

When Air Asia purchased a fleet of A330 planes, they invited the public to join them in the celebration by running two consecutive contests on their blog, Facebook pages, and Twitter feed. The first contest invited fans to name a plane. After the winning moniker was announced, the public was provided with the chance to design a paint job for the newly named craft to sport. The winner was awarded a trip to Toulouse, France to tour the Airbus factory.

Social Media meets GPS.

Australia’s Qantas has recently introduced technology that allows them to track social media conversations that take place within any of their ten Qantas airport lounges. This enables them to identify where feedback originates from, providing them with a better idea of which areas are working well and which are not. For example, a customer who tweeted his disappointment over not being able to order his favorite cereal brand was pleasantly surprised to discover that it had been added to the menu upon his next visit.

It’s gone to the dogs.

Virgin America launched its Operation Chihuahua and the hashtag, #VXBark, with great success. The airline transfers Chihuahuas from places that have too many to other locations to expedite their adoptions every year. Each dog is featured in a Facebook bio and trip updates are shared continuously on social media feeds. Plus, for every flight booked during the Operation Chihuahua, Virgin American pledges a donation.

Not just a “fair weather” friend.

One major criticism that has been aimed at the airlines’ social media presence is that many of them fall silent on the weekend–a time when air travel is bustling. American Airlines, however, have proven to be socially present 24/7. During a recent bout of Arctic-like weather in the United States and Canada, several airlines and their passengers found themselves grounded. And everyone was tweeting about it. On a particularly frosty Sunday, American Airlines generated the most tweets by far and earned themselves the title as the fastest responders with an average response time of twelve minutes.

Get social onboard.

KLM has always led the pack when it comes to social media marketing. Yes, the airline that brought you the world’s “highest in the sky” dance party has recently introduced its latest social media venture–Meet & Seat. Passengers can share details from their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles with one another and choose seats based on shared interests.

These marketing-savvy airlines have managed to market their brand, win new customers, and fill their seats simply by tapping into the potential of social media. If your company has been dodging Facebook, evading Twitter, or pooh-poohing Pinterest, you may want to rethink your strategy. If you want the public to embrace your brand, you need to first embrace the public. And the public’s on social media.

What airline’s social media campaign stands out in your mind the most? Why?

This article was contributed by Kimberley Laws, a freelance writer and avid blogger. She has composed a countless array of articles on social media marketing, blogging, travel destinations, VoIP, and hosted pbx. You can follow her neurotic and OCD ramblings at The Embiggens Project and Searching for Barry Weiss.

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