Airline companies are daily subjects of conversation and news reports as Americans sort through the myriad issues surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic. From health concerns over flying in close quarters to questions about Airlines' role in the economy, people are talking about Delta ($DAL), United ($UAL), American ($AAL), JetBlue ($JBLU), and Southwest ($LUV) more than usual.
In some cases, conversations are positive, such as when JetBlue announced that it would be the first major US airline to require passengers to wear masks. In other cases, the outrage is real, as when an American Airlines passenger shared a video of a packed flight full of unmasked — and not socially-distant — people.
So how is social media treating the various airlines? As it turns out, not equally. Here's what we found.
There are more than 2.5 billion active Facebook users around the world. 1.66 billion people log on every day, and Facebook's "Like" and "Share" buttons are seen on more than 10 million websites every single day. How an airline is seen, perceived, and contextually mentioned, on Facebook can be critical to its success or failure.
When it comes to straight Facebook likes and followers, Southwest Airlines outpaces other airlines by a large degree. With 6.16 million followers on the world's largest social network, it nearly doubles that count of Delta with 3.27 million followers.
However, in the past month — during the apex of the pandemic and as airlines often stumbled their ways through the associated issues — United has picked up the most followers. Only Southwest lost some followers on Facebook. The reason for that may be found in the next chart, which visualizes the amount of chatter each airline saw on the social network.
Mentions of the various airlines by brand name jumped on April 10, when a $25 billion government airline grant program was announced. But Southwest outpaced other mentions, peaking at 112,000 on April 12 right as it was revealed that Gary Kelly, the airline's CEO, had received a $1 million pay bump just as he assured people that he would not be furloughing his employees.
Twitter isn't as large of a platform as Facebook, but its users are certainly engaged. The social network has over 330 million monthly active users and more than 500 million Tweets are sent per day. Of all Twitter users, 80% are affluent millennials who are more likely not to just spend money on travel, but also make lifelong brand-allegiance choices.
As on Facebook, Southwest enjoys a follower count on Twitter. With 2.17 million followers, it leads JetBlue's 1.97 million followers. Both brands are often perceived as the more forward-thinking, innovative airlines when compared to industry stalwarts American, Delta, and United, the latter of which has just over 1.08 million followers on Twitter.
But in the past month, the two following leaders on the platform lost the most. At the end of April, both JetBlue and Southwest saw their following counts drop, albeit by a fractional percentage. However, Delta and United both saw appreciable gains in followers as they took to the platform to help customers with cancellations and rebookings.
Back to normal?
Airlines' relative success as travel eventually returns to some semblance of normal will largely depend on how they behave online in the meantime. While the $25 billion in bailouts will help airline employees in the near term, if their corporate bosses don't make a good showing on Facebook and Twitter, it's possible that they'll have larger problems down the line.
After all, more people are spending more time online than ever observing how their favorite — or most hated — companies are making out as they sit at home waiting for the day that it's once again safe to set foot on a crowded airplane.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.
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