Innovation is one of the qualities that define Airbus’ approach to manufacturing aircraft. In 2013 Airbus set out to use cutting-edge social media approaches to communicate this innovative identity to a wide audience. In doing this Airbus aimed to push the boundaries of social media in the B2B category and lead global social media conversations around aerospace.
Working with Good Relations Brand Communications, Airbus implemented an approach based on tactics often reserved for B2C brands. A guiding principle was that innovative brands need to communicate in innovative ways; it’s not just what brands say but how they say it that establishes an innovative brand image. With this in mind, Airbus rolled out a series of firsts in social media in the aerospace and defence sector.
The key to Airbus’ B2B success was:
1) Early adoption and experimentation with new social media channels and features of those channels
2) Producing and optimising content in real time for major events
3) Exciting creative content development keeping social conversations going beyond major events
Results for the year included securing major global awareness and conversation, illustrated by Airbus stories becoming top trending topics on Twitter globally. As well as broad public reach, the right people were reached, evidenced by significant social media engagement with key stakeholders.
This social media success contributed to positive business impact for Airbus. For example, the passenger comfort campaign succeeded in driving comfort up the airline and passenger agenda, resulting in direct public engagement with the subject by airlines executives.Objective
Innovation is an important driver of sales for Airbus. Social media is a particularly effective channel to demonstrate innovation to both Airbus’ core audiences and the broader general public – the medium as well as the message can be innovative with social media.
Airbus has a broad and complex mix of core stakeholders, from employees to customers to financial audiences – and within all of these groups there are large numbers of active users of social media.
Social media also gives Airbus direct access to the general public in a way that was not previously available. By appealing directly to the general public Airbus can better support its airline customers in promoting its aircraft, as well as potentially drive passenger preference for flying Airbus.
With these insights in mind, Airbus set out to lead aerospace social media conversations in 2013. The following campaign activity was at the heart of this.
Live coverage for the first major social media aircraft launch
On-the-ground social media coverage was provided for the first flight of Airbus’ new aircraft, the A350 XWB. This became the number five trending topic on Twitter worldwide, the number one trending topic in France, and reached 6.7 million people globally. It is now used by Twitter as a Success Story on their business website.
Other Airbus channels generated similarly impressive results, such as 533,537 views for the live broadcast of the event on YouTube. Close alignment of channels was an important feature throughout, including using Twitter to promote broadcast highlights during the five hours-plus of live coverage and to collect questions to put to interviewees during the broadcast.
To maximise engagement, Airbus posted exclusive content from behind the scenes including a Vine video of the crew leaving the aircraft when the flight was complete. These videos were an early example of Vine use in live events in the B2B space.
The speed and quality of social media content production was shown by the fact that the BBC News selected an image of the take-off tweeted by @Airbus to illustrate its story on the BBC website. This became the most-read story on the site - which has 64 million monthly visitors worldwide.
Leading stakeholders became part of the social media conversation, giving their support and engaging with the Airbus Twitter account. These included British Prime Minister @david_cameron, key airlines like @qatarairways, AirAsia CEO @tonyfernandes, TV presenter and science fan @ProfBrianCox, and trade press like @airwaysmagazine.
Championing passenger comfort
This promoted Airbus' call for an 18 inch minimum standard for seat width in aircraft. New scientific research was commissioned and then revealed on social media demonstrating that a minimum seat width of 18 inches improves passenger sleep quality by 53% when compared to the 1950s 17 inch standard.
The activity was anchored around the #AirbusComfort hashtag and is one of very few examples of sponsored Twitter trends in the B2B sector - and the first ever for an aerospace or defence business. It took place over a continuous 36 hour period and content was created in six languages, including providing live responses and monitoring in Korean, German, French, Spanish, and English.
The sponsored trend secured 74.3 million impressions, gaining widespread awareness amongst potential airline passengers regarding the impact of seat width on comfort. Influencers such as @TheEconomist, @CNNMoney, @CNNEE (CNN en Espanol) joined the conversation. Tweets with identifiable sentiment were very positive - with 18% positive and 81% neutral. This is testament to the success of this campaign and how well it was received by Twitter users.
A variety of other social media tactics were used alongside the promoted trend, including Airbus being an early-adopter brand in its use of video in Instagram. A series of amusing videos were created promoting the importance of one extra inch.
The business impact of the campaign was underlined by the way in which several leading airline executives directly addressed the issue of seat width and comfort in public at the Dubai Airshow in November.
Innovative digital artwork to tell the story of the A350 XWB
A series of digital artworks was commissioned, gaining over 90,000 likes on Facebook. These used innovative techniques to show the innovative technology offered by the A350 XWB. Art works included Nicola Felaco’s digital vector art and Brian Grimwood’s iPad paintings.
These images helped sustain ongoing conversation beyond key milestones in the manufacturing calendar, keeping the A350 XWB front of mind for potential airline customers and future passengers.
The 2013 social media programme gave clear leadership for Airbus in conversations around aerospace. For example, Airbus achieved over 47 million organic impressions for tweets in 2013, compared to 21 million for its main competitor.
The foundation for this reach is the scale of the social media communities for Airbus. At the close of 2013 Airbus’ main global pages had 161,000 Twitter followers, 467,000 Facebook fans, 127,000 LinkedIn subscribers, and 65,000 YouTube subscribers. There was notable uplift in community size in 2013, for example 97,000 new Twitter followers - a 152% uplift. These give Airbus the largest social media communities in the aerospace and defence business - and some of the largest communities of all global B2Bs.
As well as reaching a large audience, careful targeting and creation of content means that Airbus is reaching the right audience. For example, 10% of its Twitter followers are engineers and 6% are pilots.
Reach and advocacy were also driven by high engagement levels, with the quality of content produced for Airbus in 2013 resulting in numbers often rivalling or exceeding those of the largest B2C brands.
With its enhanced social media presence, 2013 was a record year for Airbus, closing the year with an aircraft order backlog worth US$809 billion.
Sion Owen, Account Director, Good Relations
Annie Tarling, Account Director, Good Relations
Stephanie Kelly, Senior Account Executive, Good Relations
Matt Robshaw, Account Executive, Good Relations
Emma Boya, Head of Social Media, Airbus
Sandra Fernandez, Corporate Communications Officer, Airbus
Lauren O'Neill, Trainee, Airbus
Jack Hughes, Trainee, Airbus