The historical bond of social media and loyalty programs

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In the arena of what seems to be comparing apples to oranges, TravelDailyNews.com reports the results of a survey from SimpliFlying in partnership with Eezeer: “As of July 2011, there are 191 airlines on Twitter, while only 179 airlines have loyalty programs.” When I read that, I was given to wonder if they could also tally other seemingly unrelated facts, like the number of airlines that don’t have an “e” in their name versus the number that have frequent-flyer programs. You know: so what?

Here’s the “so what?”, I realized: The point where apples might meet apples lies in TravelDailyNews.com’s next note: “The first loyalty program came into existence 30 years ago, in the form of AAdvantage by American Airlines, while the first airlines on Twitter joined just 50 months ago: jetBlue and Delta in May 2007. And what a journey it has already been!”

A journey, indeed. And what’s the connector? Innovation.

Loyalty programs and social media platforms both are innovations that were popularly accepted even before they began to reach their full potential. Now the loyalty programs are hard at work (with about a 30-year head start), wisely exercising their marketing power–and social media has the potential to do the same. For marketers, both innovations demand engaging in the innovations’ potential efficiently–as customer-focused tools. In the case of loyalty programs, this means using the innovation to gather actionable customer data that leads to customer dialogue, tailored offers and relevant value propositions. In other words, to listen and respond appropriately. In the case of social media … well, no “other words” are needed–they’re the same ones: “To listen and respond appropriately.” In neither case is merely “broadcasting” to the names gathered by program enrollments, “friending,” “liking,” “following” or whatever new connection point that will arise in the future the best use of the innovation.

Loyalty programs ultimately are communications tools. The key for them is dialogue–and, with current innovation enabled by social media in mind, the next step is trialogue–extending the loyalty program’s network into the customer’s social network.

So, the apples-on-apples stat we can take away from this survey is not the disparity (very slight, indeed) in airline Twitterers versus airline frequent-flyer program operators, but is instead the similarity in the acceptance of innovation. Next up: the fulfillment of customer-dialogue potential.

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