How Airlines Can Create Better Customer Experiences with User-Generated Content

Airlines understand better than most companies that when your brand is strong, the sky’s the limit to your success. Yet, the more diversified the market and booking options, the harder it is for airlines to stand out and develop meaningful relationships with consumers.

Today, airlines are working to elevate not only their in-flight experiences, but also their entire customer journey. To do this effectively, many airlines are turning to the source of content that’s been driving consumer demand towards more experiential brand interactions: user-generated content (UGC).

Social networks have become a place for sharing nearly every part of people’s lives, and often the best, most visually alluring images are of people’s travels. In fact, there are over 438 million images tagged #travel on Instagram alone, and 89 percent of people say they would post a photo or video of a positive travel destination experience. Not to mention, this is the type of content people crave.

More than half of consumers (56 percent) say user-generated visuals are the content they most want to see from brands. So why not give consumers what they want? With 67 percent of people saying they would post about a positive transportation experience, there is plenty of authentic and compelling traveler-created flight content out there for airlines to leverage.

Here’s how!

Create more eye-catching digital ads

The travel industry is set to outspend consumer packaged goods (CPG) in digital ads next year — about $13 billion in the U.S. alone. More ad spend means more competition for consumers’ attention. How can airlines constantly produce enough captivating and relatable images to not only stand out in people’s crowded social feeds, but also keep all their ad creative fresh?

Savvy brands like Air France have started turning to customer content as an endless source of trusted and relatable visuals.

Wanting to diversify their visuals and offer a more relatable perspective to their target audiences, Air France ran Facebook ad A/B tests to see if user-generated content would truly resonate better with social audiences than their standard branded stock images.

After testing these Facebook ads for six popular flight destinations over seven months, Air France found that the UGC images outperformed their branded stock images across all core metrics, ultimately producing between 4-11 percent higher average click-through rates (CTR), 3-21 percent lower average cost per click (CPC) and 2-9 percent lower average cost per acquisition (CPA).

Drive more direct bookings

An important and often elusive goal of marketers across all industries is to boost online conversions. For the travel industry — and airlines in particular — finding ways to increase direct bookings can be a tough task to tackle.

According to Expedia, people visit an average of 38 websites before booking travel. What are you doing to convince people to book on your website instead of the other 37 they’re likely exploring?

As the largest passenger airliner in the world, the Airbus A380 aircraft is a marvel of modern comfort. To help entice travelers to treat themselves to this self-described “accessible luxury”, Airbus put powerful social proof directly on their booking page.

Their “Passengers say it best!” UGC gallery shows real customers traveling in style on Airbus’ A380 aircraft. Want to know how spacious the seats are, what their premium suites look like or what kind of in-flight bar experience you could have? The answers to all those questions are right there in unvarnished, FOMO-inducing visual detail — especially for visitors that click through to see more and are met with a larger social wall.

Since 60 percent of people say user-generated content is the most influential type of content when planning travel and 52 percent of people have actually made travel plans after seeing social images or videos from friends or peers, the potential impact of adding UGC to your booking pages could be significant.

Make in-flight experiences more social and shoppable

No matter how long or short the flight, airlines have a unique opportunity to personally connect with guests from takeoff to landing. Very few brands ever get this type of uninterrupted access to a (literally) captive audience. Are you making the most of that opportunity?

The entertainment displays that most of today’s airlines have on the back of every seat provide a prime opportunity to offer more than just movies and shows to travelers. Delta’s short-lived Song Airline was notable in the industry when it started in 2003 because the entire cabin contained only one class where every seat had a free personal entertainment system. However, what many fans of Song (myself included) liked best was that each of those entertainment systems allowed travelers to play trivia against other passengers on the flight. A two-hour flight could feel like 20 minutes because you would be fully engrossed in a trivia battle with the passenger in seat 22B. And this was before social media became as ubiquitous as email.

Imagine each passenger being greeted to their seat by the smiling faces and beautiful images of other customers who have just traveled to their current destination. What if, upon interacting with these images, passengers could find and book accommodations, excursions or tours with your airline partners at their destination — directly from the traveler content in their in-flight entertainment consoles? What if they could post photos in-flight and see them pop-up on everyone’s seat-back screens? Talk about creating social, customizable and value-added customer experiences!

Send more inspiring and personalized emails

Emails are a crucial but not always exciting medium for marketers, and finding ways to personalize more than just people’s names in a scalable way can be challenging. Even if brands have the tools to provide better email personalization, they often don’t have the volume of relevant content to support it. But by leveraging the stream of unique and relatable content people create on social networks every day, marketers can make engaging and personalized emails a reality.

Every year, Jetstar celebrates their company birthday with a birthday sale for customers. To help promote this big annual sale, they send a series of marketing emails. However, instead of just sending the standard content detailing the sale offers, Jetstar goes the extra step to provide destination inspiration, personalized with relevant real traveler images.

Maybe they know that 86 percent of people have become interested in traveling to a specific location based on social images they’ve seen from friends and peers?

There is no stage of the booking lifecycle that user-generated content doesn’t have the potential to positively impact. And when an omni-channel UGC strategy is done well, it can really move the needle to help airlines soar.

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