From C-suite down, Finnair and its staff value social media

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Finnair has long been at the forefront of airlines on social media, with successful online campaigns — both with and without the assistance of PR and communications firms — dating back to 2010 with the airline’s first Quality Hunters passenger experience crowdsourcing programme. But as social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have evolved over the last seven years, the airline has continued to develop its presence online, including getting staff and even C-suite executives active on Twitter, Instagram and (to a lesser extent these days) Facebook.

“It’s something that we definitely want to encourage because we think that our customers are on Twitter,” Finnair director of media relations Päivyt Tallqvist tells Runway Girl Network in the airline’s Helsinki headquarters. “So much of the discussion in the industry is happening on Twitter, that I think that our executives need to be there. But they need to be there because they want to and because they see that it’s useful – not because someone from the Communications team is telling them to do it.”

Key to the airline’s work is that it’s not a top-down process, Tallqvist says. “So, we’re basically supporting them if they want to get help with getting started but a lot of them are actually quite active already on their own. It’s also showing a really good example to everyone else because so much of the discussion is online that you kind of miss out on a lot of the feedback that’s coming from the industry and customers if you’re not there.”

Finnair is emerging from a period of cost-cutting and job-shedding, with strong growth in its key Asia-to-Eurpe market driving growth. With a competitive market for talent, Finnair needs to attract the best of a highly mobile, social and vocal workforce.

“We really encourage our employees to also talk about their work. It helps when we’re recruiting so many people,” Tallqvist explains. “You might get a completely different view when you are following a cabin crew member on Twitter where she talks about what her work is like. You might get a much better view than from any recruitment ad.”

Of course, ensuring that the view is appropriate is crucial, but the practical Finnishness of the airline shines through in its rules for staff online.

“We have social media guidelines that keep on evolving as new types of channels evolve and new practices evolve,” Tallqvist says. “Basically we tell them to respect other people and use common sense. Essentially, that’s what our guidelines are about: you respect your colleagues, and you respect your customers.”

“You identify yourself as a Finnair person if you are actually talking about industry matters – I think that’s important,” Tallqvist says, highlighting the role of Twitter as a kind of discussion forum for the aviation industry.

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“We encourage people to be open and honest about where they come from. Obviously, the normal confidentiality rules apply. Customer data privacy is super important to us, so that must be respected in all situations.”

Particularly, Tallqvist notes, “you can’t take a photo of a customer and tweet that without their permission. If you’re taking a selfie with a famous customer, you always need to ask for permission.” The golden rule? “Use your common sense. Is this something that you would want to see posted? I think it all starts from that and it starts from our values of respecting other people’s opinions, cultures, religions, backgrounds — respect and common sense, they take you a long way.”

In terms of the split of social media, Finnair leaves that up to its staff. If they want to talk about the airline where they are, in the style best suited to that medium, then the airline is all for it.

“We have many more active employees on Twitter and Instagram,” Tallqvist notes. “It used to be that Facebook was the place to be. But now you see the experts are likely to be on Twitter. A lot of our cabin crew members and pilots are on Instagram. Visual storytelling is becoming much more important. And you see that when we have a new generation of cabin crew members coming in, a lot of them are active on Instagram and it adds another great aspect to the Finnair story.”

The Finnair communications team, too, makes use of staff members who are comfortable with the digital world in its work, Tallqvist says. “We also do Instagram takeovers with employees. July was an Instagram takeover month and we’ve had a female pilot talking about her job. We’ve had an engineer from our technical services. We’ve had cabin crew members. We want to show what working for an airline is like and Instagram is great for that.”

Doubtless, new apps and new media will emerge soon. With a common-sense approach to finding its way through what can already feel like a social media labyrinth, Finnair is a case study in making the most of its employees’ interests in telling their own stories, and helping to create a narrative for the airline too.

John Walton was a guest of Finnair in Helsinki.

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