What happens when you combine a record snowfall at the airport and holiday travel? A little bit a chaos. Add snowfall up and down the West Coast and a blizzard moving across the Midwest and you’ve got delays splashed across every notification board. John and I were heading to Iowa on December 19th, the day of the biggest snow storm this season, and we were pasted to Twitter looking at notifications from Vancouver International Airport (“YVR”) and our airline.
Now that the dust has settled, I asked Alisa Gloag, Senior Communications Specialist at YVR Airport how they planned for days like that and how they were able to manage all of the voices coming through, from operations notices to agitated travelers and frustrated 140-character messages on Twitter.
“We knew Vancouver’s first snow fall was going to be busy for our Communications team between mainstream media and social media, but I’m not sure anyone anticipated just how busy social would be!”
Alisa said that last month’s snow storm on the 19th was the single busiest day they’ve had since they joined Twitter in 2008. “We wanted to make sure everyone who got in touch with us we responded to – even if they were frustrated and upset with the weather delays.”
“We had a solid plan ahead of time with some important messages ready like reminding people to plan ahead, check their flight status and leave extra time.”
Having a social media plan in place (for every day communications, not just emergencies) was the best way for them to prepare for the avalanche of messages. “We do have a comprehensive social media strategy and plan for YVR that we review and adjust to meet with the evolving nature of social media. The main focus of the plan is pretty simple: we work to care for every customer, whether they are online using social platforms or are in our terminal buildings. We want to make sure travellers have a great airport experience at YVR and responding to our customers in whatever way they engage with us – Twitter, Facebook, email, in person – helps us achieve this.”
On the 19th alone, the @YVRAirport handle was mentioned 116 times and they gained 80 followers, the biggest jump in their numbers to date. “We monitor our mentions and a number of key words primarily using HootSuite in combination with other monitoring tools like Google Alerts and Media Miser.”
They don’t just track “YVRAirport” they also take it a step further and monitor social networks for “YVR” to make sure they capture all mentions that might apply to them. I recall looking through some of the incoming messages for the airport’s Twitter by doing a quick Twitter search. Colourful language, obvious frustration, and less-than-complimentary adjectives were interspersed with questions, comments, and general concerns that were looking for responses. Each and every one of these updates was viewed by the YVR communications team.
“In the case of last month’s snow storm, trying to get information to passengers in the terminal, as well as responding to each tweet, certainly made for a busy day! But we knew that the first winter weather would attract a lot of attention so we had a game plan ready with available resources ready if needed.” Alisa said that they sent out their first tweet at 6:30am and made the commitment to update their followers every 30 minutes. They brought in extra team members in the afternoon to make sure they didn’t miss a single reply. “I’m extremely fortunate to work with fantastic people here at the airport, which makes all the difference when you have a number of comments (and not always positive ones!) all coming in at once.”
It’s definitely a team effort. From media relations and communications to the operations department who ensures that Alisa and her colleagues are are getting the most accurate and timely information out to their customers. “We’re committed to open, honest and timely communications across all channels. On social media platforms, that means responding to every tweet we receive in a timely manner.”
Recognized internationally for its services, features, operations, artwork, amenities, and accessibility, perhaps now you can add social media management to YVR Airport’s list of qualities.