When trying to improve your digital marketing skills it’s advisable to learn from the best in the business.

In social media that means taking a lesson from KLM, an airline that can achieves €25m in social sales each year.

At Econsultancy’s Festival of Marketing today KLM’s social media manager Karlijn Vogel-Meijer gave an insight into the company’s strategy, which is built around a laser focus on the customer experience.

The talk kicked off with a reminder of a very important rule for social marketers: you’re a guest at someone else’s party.

This means that people have made a choice to follow or ‘like’ you on social, and if you don’t respect that they can easily unfollow you.

Here’s a run through of Vogel-Meijer’s talking points…

Legacy company, new marketing reality

KLM flies to 67 countries around the world, so it has a huge market outside of the Netherlands that it has to cater to.

And as 95-year-old brand it has a long heritage that brings with it a lot of processes and procedures.

This could have hindered its social strategy, but instead the company has been quick to adapt to the “new marketing reality”.

This new reality means that it’s not what you say but what you do that counts in the eyes of customers.

Vogel-Meijer said:

If you bring out a message people don’t like or that isn’t true, people will kill you for it.

KLM relearned this lesson during the World Cup when it tweeted ‘Adios Amigos’ after the Netherlands’ victory over Mexico.

The brand subsequently received 90,000 responses, of which 70% were negative.

It rose from the ashes

Recounting the story of KLM’s social origins, Vogel-Meijer said that in 2010 the company learned a lesson by responding quickly when flights over Europe were banned due to the Icelandic ash cloud.

Previously the company had only been using social to push out standard marketing messages, however thousands of questions began pouring in on Facebook and Twitter as all other service channels were busy.

Faced with the dilemma of either responding to the queries or ignoring them all, KLM opted for the former.

It did so without waiting to form a proper strategy, but responded to the situation as it developed.

That was the start KLM’s social strategy and remains the basis of its success.

Return on social investment

Using a last-click model KLM can attribute €25m of sales to social media.

This is in no small part due to its focus on the customer experience, which lies at the heart of everything KLM does.

The three pillars of the airline’s social strategy are:

  • Service.
  • Brand and reputation.
  • Commerce.

To retain this focus on customer service, Vogel-Meijer said the company has to be willing to answer all questions in public, even if they have negative connotations.

This is no simple task bearing in mind that KLM receives 45,000 mentions per week, of which around 5,000 are genuine queries that need to be investigated.

Yet the brand still manages an average response time of 23 minutes, and communicates in 11 different languages (soon to go up to 14).

But good will never be good enough for some customers, particularly when they are in a rush for their connecting flight.

To manage expectations KLM publishes an up-to-date average response time every five minutes in its Twitter header image.

Social payments

Monitoring all that customer feedback means that KLM’s social team has a good idea of what passengers want from the company.

For example, one employee noticed that a lot of people were asking about social payments, so they spoke to KLM’s IT and accounts teams to see if it was possible to set it up.

This resulted in a new social payments tool, which cost €3,500 to setup and now takes €80,000 per week in sales.

According to Vogel-Meijer:

It’s about moving fast and breaking stuff. Just try it, or you’ll never know if it works. You might fail and it’s wrong, but just go straight away and try again.

For more on this topic, read our write up of the Ryanair CMO’s talk from the Festival of Marketing