Today, airlines are taking a bit of a victory lap after J.D. Power's travel survey found that passengers are more satisfied than ever when it comes to North American airlines. J.D. Powers cites "new technology investments" that have "dramatically improved the reservation and check-in process" and that travelers "feel that they are getting great value for their money."
This sounds like great news for an industry that has historically been rough at the edges when it comes to customer satisfaction, and it likely is. But according to data tracked via Facebook likes over the past few years, the picture isn't quite as rosy as J.D. Over the past year, virtually all of the top airlines in J.D. Powers' survey — JetBlue, Southwest, Alaska, and Delta — Facebook likes are seeing a slowdown.
Alaska Airlines ($ALK) topped JD. Power's survey "for the 12th consecutive year" with a score of 801 out of 1,000 for traditional carriers. But on Facebook, where Alaska Airlines interacts with more than a million customers, followers have slowed to an almost standstill. In 2017, Alaska's Facebook likes soared from 718,000 to 980,000. But since then, the company has only picked up another 29,000 followers on the world's largest social network.
In 2017, Alaska's Facebook likes soared from 718,000 to 980,000. But since then, the company has only picked up another 29,000 followers on the world's largest social network.
With a score of 788, Delta Airlines ($DAL) came in second in J.D. Power's traditional carriers rankings. Delta has an objectively impressive 3.19 million followers on Facebook after an April 2018 social media account consolidation. But since the new year, Delta has only gained around 3,000 new followers on Facebook. In 2017 during the same time period, Delta was collecting new followers at twice that rate.
JetBlue ($JBLU) topped J.D. Power's survey for low-cost carriers with a score of 817, tied with Southwest. With 1.45 million followers on Facebook, JetBlue has a powerful communications and marketing tool on its hands. But as can be seen clearly in the graph above, it's gaining new followers at a slower rate than ever. With 1.95 million followers on Twitter, the airline may prefer that platform, but a slowing follower count on Facebook can't be a good thing.
Southwest ($LUV) has a staggering 6.12 million followers on Facebook. But that number has barely budged since late 2018. The beloved airline cruised from 5 to 6 million Facebook followers in just over a year from 2017 to 2018. In early 2019, however, it looks as though Facebook users aren't boarding the Southwest Facebook flight.
What's it all mean?
Surveys are powerful, and J.D. Powers is a leader in the space. But surveys of this sort are also excellent marketing fodder, in this case both for J.D. Powers and the airlines. We don't doubt the accuracy or import of this particular survey in any way. However, we believe it's important to look at external data from other sources — in this case, Facebook — to gain some context.
It's quite possible that the airlines in question have simply reached their saturation points on Facebook and that this slowdown in follower pickup is a reflection of that. Meanwhile, Facebook likes are a one-dimensional metric — they don't measure whether or not a social media user likes or dislikes a brand. As such, we leave the data here as another measure to temper perceptions.