Friday 18 September 2009

Playing to the High Flying Social Media Card

World's Biggest Commercial Airplane Lands in Toronto and the Airport Invites the Local Plane Spotters to Join In
Photos by George Socka. (High rez available)
[DRAFT - Still have to Proof]
Newspaper readership is shrinking. Papers are closing. Reporters are losing jobs. Television stations don't have loyal viewers anymore. Tweens prefer watching downloaded programming on their computers to sitting in front of the tube (and thanks to flat panel technology, the cathode ray tube is the 21st century's first very first techno-dodobird).
Whats a publicist to do? Can't get items in the press because there is no room and all the writers you know have already sent you their resumes. And, if you do get an item in, will there be anybody reading, watching or listening to your bumpf?
Go to most client meetings and you will hear these two words - Social Media - before the doughnuts are trotted out.
Everyone, from non-profits to major corporations see Social Media as the PR white knight that will save them from the free-falling media readership / viewership / listenership numbers.
Social Media is a broad term which refers to the many NEW ways that people communicate, unfettered by ads and snake-oil, on the web. Second Life, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs (like this one) and Chat rooms are forms of social media networks.
If companies could drool, then most board room tables would be floating. The concept of reaching directly to consumers via Social Media, at little or no cost, is like building a perpetual motion machine -- sounds great but ..
According to one blog that I borrowed from "social media marketing is an engagement with online communities to generate exposure, opportunity and sales." It is new, it is exciting but it is far from being, as the cliche goes, an exact science.
Most forward thinking companies are toying with social media marketing. Soft drink companies do it. Beer companies too. And, even airports are trying their hand at social media marketing. Look what happened at the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) this summer.
Back on the first of June, the GTAA had, as they said in a press release, "a very ‘big’ day for Toronto Pearson." In this case, ‘big’translates to the largest passenger aircraft ever built. June 1st was the day that the 486 passenger, double‐decker A380 aircraft touched down at Toronto Pearson for the first time.
Emirates Airlines own the jetliner and its trip to YYZ (Toronto) signified the first regular scheduled service of the A380 aircraft into Canada and Toronto Pearson was its first Canadian destination.
The GTAA made a big deal of the landing. Not only were regular media outlets invited to cover the landing, the airport authority also reached out to the Social Media as well.
Amongst the throng of journalists witnessing the landing there were 60 members of the Plane Spotting Community (YYZ Airport Watch), inside airport grounds to see the giant jetliner. Plane Spotters are those people who like to camp out as physcially close as possible to an airport's active landing strip . Personal safety be damned, these are fanatics who are most happy when they are covered in exhaust from an incoming 757. Plane spotters write blogs, create websites and use photographs, video tapes and scanners to spread the word about the comings and goings at airports in most cities in the world.
In the old days, transportation authorities thought of plane spotters as "big" airport cockroaches. They built tall fences, dug deep ditches and hung visual barriers near runways to stop the spotters (most of whom are mild mannered middleage working men) from coming out.
It hasn't worked. And, when the GTAA had the "big" jet coming in, they decided to throw in the towel and invite this niche social media group to come in from the cold.
This is what one blogger had to say about the landing: "As silly and ridiculous as it may sound, I delayed a vacation with my INCREDIBLY understanding wife by two days to participate in an airside event to welcome the giant bird for it's maiden landing in Toronto."
"The good folks at YYZ Airport Watch," he continued,"managed to organize and pull off the event that allowed about 60 members of the Airport Watch group to observe the arrival of Emirates EK241, along with about 10 press folks."
What did the GTAA gain? Not much. They were making nice to a group of people who love the airport more than they do -- they spend a big chunk of their free time there -- and are an unpaid last line of security for the GTAA (they, more than anyone could spot fifth columnists trying to breach the perimeter).
The GTAA has a history of doing good things (let's ignore their predatory pricing). A former associate of mine runs the airport's art gallery. IT is tough to see, you really have to be going or coming somewhere to tour it. But, it is producing some of the edgiest and most unique gallery exhibits in the city. As well, the GTAA worked with Caribana this summer and organized the St James Community Steel Orchestra to play in Terminal Two as international visitors came into Canada.
There was an immediate pay-off in terms of the positive things that the social media and the above-ground press said about the GTAA. The downside? By only inviting 60 YYZ Airport Watch spotters inside the fence they have now created two new layers of plane watching social media - those that made it into the airport and the rest of us on the other side of the 10ft tall fence.