It’s not often I go to an airport to have lunch, but recently I did just that to catch up with the folks running the airport of tomorrow.
This airport, which has free Wi-Fi service, has a Web page dedicated to everything social: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr,YouTube, LinkedIn, you name it.
And, world travelers out there, I’m guessing that you can’t guess which airport I’m talking about. OK, you read the headline, so you probably can guess it’s CAK. But to those that have never been through, those letters stand for the Akron-Canton Airport.
CAK isn’t a large, 80-terminal international player, but rather than spend millions of dollars getting into a marketing battle with the bigger players on the block, such as Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, it has decided to embrace its sweet spot and expand through the affordable marketing opportunities brought about by social media.
Leading the way is Kristie VanAuken – who holds the long and super-important sounding title of senior VP, chief marketing and communications officer. VanAuken is the official airport spokeperson, and she helped the airport become the first in the nation to blog, using the forum to create transparency and a certain human touch to an industry that is not always known for being buddy-buddy with fliers. As social media has grown, VanAuken has been willing to try more and more strategies – so long as they fit the overall marketing goal of CAK. In fact, she OK’d the airport becoming the nation’s first on Facebok.
“We started a Facebook group in 2007 when two of our younger staffers started telling me, ‘Let’s do this,’ and I said, ‘Why would we?’” She told me recently after a social media luncheon hosted at CAK. “Because anything we do, we can experiment, but it has to be a thoughtful experiment.”
So when her staffers showed her how many people we’re on Facebook, a thoughtful experiment seemed a no brainer. What’s more, the people on Facebook were drool-worthy. VanAuken is looking to engage a certain audience. We’re talking about the 25- to 40-year old Web savvy traveler looking for easy access to information from their PDA or lap top. Without spoiling the demographics research you wanted to do on Facebook, I can tell you now the site is stuffed with that type of person.
Going beyond that, though, VanAuken has used Facebook – and more recently Twitter – to really engage with these people in marketing strategies that closely align with the organization’s overall goals. When CAK wanted to help get a regular flight to Milwaukee off the ground (terrible airplane pun required by the TSA), VanAuken and her staff set up a contest for trip to the beer city using traditional and social media. Like any good marketing campaign, it built awareness for the CAK brand and the new product being offered. The difference this time? Through the social networks VanAuken’s team was able to respond to people in real time and track the conversations going on about their effort. The resulting conversations gained Facebook and Twitter connections that remain, creating a solid base for future efforts.
On a daily basis, the goal is keep up the conversation with those people to help maintain and grow that audience. That effort, too, is working: As I post this blog CAK has 14,037 people who like it on Facebook and 2,395 Twitter followers. Check out either account (Facebook here, Twitter here) and see how often VanAuken’s team responds to threads and conversations on both to create a warm fuzzy feeling about the entire Akron-Canton experience.
CAK is also getting national recognition. Forbes named it in its list of the top 10 airports using Facebook (showing a now-outdated overview where CAK has nearly six times as many fans as the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport). And BTW, as the kids say, while we’ve spent a good bit of time talking Facebook and Twitter, CAK’s less-documented successes sharing photos on Flickr or showing how airports function on YouTube have also helped to build the brand, get marketing campaigns going and generally sent good vibes through all those tubes holding the Internet together.
And here's the part I've had VanAuken explain to me on two separate occasions that still blows my mind: She spends about 10 percent of her time on social media. She has one other woman in her department who spends 20-30 percent of her time on social media, including the researching of new outlets (currently she's looking into FourSquare, which VanAuken finds underwhelming thus far, and any site pushing geo tagging). That’s it. Moreover, because of the emphasis on social media, she can completely reevaluate every other advertising campaign because she has trackable metrics from the social strategies.
Her thoughts to marketing pros still living in a traditional media world?
“My suggestion to naysayers is, you could waste $100,000 on newspaper ads, which you generally can’t measure because, generally speaking, traditional advertising is hard to measure, or you can put that time into social. And social is pretty much free.”
Something to think about.
Next time: Don't hire Slytherin Co. SEO: Avoiding the snake oil salesmen promising to improve your Web traffic by tomorrow afternoon
Last time: IMHO, this blog on what the kids are talking about is NSFW
Want more CAK?
VanAuken on Twitter
Mike Cottrill is the manager for online operations at Smart Business. His posts are infrequent and based on objections and questions to the online world he hears in the business community. You can follow him @mrcottrill, connect with him on LinkedIn or mail him a letter, if that's your preferred method of communication.