Unlike last week when I was in Nice and struggling to get through client meetings given a case of the flu, the week before I was in Amsterdam and full of energy. At one point I was enjoying a very good night out at a restaurant with two employees from Martinair. It is rare that I meet someone in the airline industry as passionate about social media as myself, but Lennart van Opbergen, eCommerce Specialist at Martinair was just that person. We ended up having a very entertaining conversation about a fairly wide range of eCommerce issues. In fact, I really enjoy it when someone makes me question some of my own beliefs by proposing intelligent counter arguments, and Lennart was such a believer in the power of Twitter, that I asked him to write a few words on his success using it in his job. Long time readers of this blog will know I’ve never really jumped onto the Twitter bandwagon, but Lennart gave me some very good food for thought – enough from me, time for Lennart’s own words:

Martinair is a Dutch airliner, flying mainly on Caribbean destinations. With sales channels shifting more towards the internet, we have been looking into ways to use Social Media to our advantage. We started using Twitter about 7 months ago. Already having a very competent call centre and customer contact centre, we choose not to use Twitter for customer support. Right now, we use Twitter for listening to what our customers have to say about us, to directly promote special offerings and to inspire people about our destinations.

Twitter is a great tool to listen to the world about what they have to say about your brand. Tools like Twitterfall and my favourite, CoTweet, let you define searches for particular topics. Listening to the world has already delivered very valuable information. The other day for example, somebody complained about functionality on the website not working how it was supposed to. After having the technical guys take a look at it, it was quickly discoverd that some exotic piece of coding was not implemented correctly. An excellent example of finding something very small but very important to your customers, otherwise left unnoticed. With a reply to this particular Twitterer, we apologized for it not working and thanked this person for having found the bug. As we do not use Twitter for customer support, it is very important not to react from this point of view. So, if somebody complains about our services in a Tweet, we reply with an apology and a link to customer support, as they are the experts in helping people with complaints.

We also use Twitter to promote special offerings. In a particular case, we had a big promotion going on with a famous Dutch warehouse called De Bijenkorf. Once a year this warehouse launches a three day sales campaign (Dolle Dwaze Dagen, literally Mad Crazy Days) with amazing offers. Last year we participated in this event with great offers to some of our destinations. By combining a specially marked fare in our online booking engine and a clever way of using hashtags in Twitter with the name of the event, we sold a nice amount of tickets through Twitter compared to the total sales during that period, as measured by our analytics software. This shows that a lot of people can be reached through Twitter without them being a follower of your account, by using hashtags and subjects in a smart way.

For another promotion, we had a special online auction of tickets. We used Twitter to let people know in advance when the special, very, very low start bids were coming up. This also led to some direct sales via Twitter.

Finally we use Twitter to inspire potential customers about our destinations. For this, we created several accounts related to the destinations we fly to. Through these accounts, we try to share really nice things to do on our destinations. Not the things you read about in tourist brochures, but things our crew like to do. While this does not generate revenue (that we track) or help people directly, it is a nice way to link your brand to a certain destination.

In the coming months we will invest more time into Twitter. At the moment we lack a “corporate” account for more general contact with the world. For this we will also need to free more resources. We are also looking into ways to thank our listeners and followers for their contributions. One way could be in the form of discount codes.

We believe that Twitter can be used as a great tool for connecting to the digital world without spending huge amounts of time or money. However your intentions must be honest and your Tweets must be consistent in tone of voice. Don’t try to “buy” your followers and stay social – let it grow naturally.