Embrace the opportunity social media presents for airports

Kevin Cullinane, Head of Communications at Cork Airport, explains how airports should leverage social media platforms to communicate with passengers effectively.

Social media must be effectively used by airports

There was a time in the not-too-distant past where the first piece of information you knew about your flight was presented on boards in the terminal, just before you checked in with your airline. Those days are now behind us, as the public can access up-to-the-minute flight information in the palm of their hands through social media.

Technology also facilitates following the exact movements of aircraft with free tracking apps. With passengers in possession of more information than they have ever had before, it has become more imperative than ever, as an airport, to have a strategy, operational plans, guidelines and structures in place on how to communicate effectively with customers.

You can’t plan for everything, but you can cover a lot of bases

Strategy and content plans for our social media platforms need to match the goals of our overall business and marketing strategies. To stay true to our strategy, we have implemented 12 key pillars of conversation to fit across all platforms. It is important that any content we produce aligns with at the least one of these pillars, but, ideally, it would fit into a few of them in unison.

To have a successful social media communication strategy, you must first identify the key messages you want to get across to your key audiences – particularly if you are involved in the travel industry.

Passengers want to get to their destinations as quickly, conveniently and safely as possible. You only have to look at the social media platforms of our peers in bus and rail companies to see how complex communicating with the travelling public can be. We know we cannot prevent passengers having issues with the airlines and travel companies they have booked with, but what we can do is communicate the message that getting through our airport is as easy as possible, with award-winning customer service and friendliness, as well as fewer queues, less stress and less hassle. So, while you can’t plan for everything, you can cover a lot of bases.

You may ask how we continue to communicate that message successfully? Well, first, we needed to find the best media channels to increase our overall brand awareness, then engage and inform our audience on them.

Social media channels trump terminal boards

Social media channels enable communication with passengers before they see the terminal boards

Select your social media channels wisely

We identified our core audiences early in the process and then set objectives for our communication with them, as well as picking the best media channels to perform that function on.

In the past, measures of success might have been limited to blanketing local print and radio media with editorial and advertising. Nowadays, we have a ready‑made, engaged audience of over 175,000 people who have actively chosen to follow us on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. These channels work cohesively for us, across different demographic profiles, to communicate our message effectively, and it is something that we constantly review.

Using Facebook’s Audience Insights tool, we know that the vast majority of people who ‘like’ our page come from our target regions across the South of Ireland. That helps us to be smarter and more strategic with our communications, marketing and advertising decisions.

Through a constant concerted effort to increase brand awareness, customer engagement and loyalty, we saw the Cork Airport website sessions through Facebook grow by 70.2 per cent in 2018, compared to 2017’s figures. With our passenger figures predicted to grow to 2.7 million in 2020 – up from 2.4 million in 2018 – it is clear to see how positive perception on social media of the services we provide can have a huge bearing on the successful completion of business goals.

Twitter and Instagram are very different – but both hugely valuable

Twitter is a fantastic platform for an airport to utilise due to the multitude of touchpoints it offers. At Cork Airport, we use our Twitter account to engage with local communities, key influencers and organisations.

Before the social age, we would need to attend multiple meetings or engage in long dialogues to understand issues that mattered to the local region. Now, we can do so from the comfort of a handheld device. While likes, retweets and a response cost us nothing but time, they may mean everything to a worthy local charitable cause and the communities who support them, or the myriad of travel and tourism businesses who depend on international connectivity for survival.

We can also use Twitter to increase our website traffic, have instantaneous communication with passengers, share company news, incentivise consumer engagement through competitions and bring in additional revenue streams, like our car park offering. This would have been much more cumbersome, costly and ineffective before the dawn of this era of digital communications and marketing.

Spider Awards

Cork Airport won the 2019 Spider Award for Best B2C Campaign in Ireland

Meanwhile, Instagram is a wonderful place to gain access to a slightly younger market than both Facebook and Twitter provide. It enables us to engage predominately with a balance of females and males in the 18-35 age range who have different travel desires and needs.

It also offers us a flexibility to our tone of voice that just wasn’t on offer in past B2C communications. Given the visual medium Instagram provides, we can present a less formal and fun side to our brand that would have been very difficult to offer the public 15 years ago.

Instagram lets us show that we are a multi-layered operation and allows our followers to dream about more than 50 direct destinations they would love to visit from Cork Airport, and hundreds more through major hub airports served from Cork.

We can use the ‘stories’ element to grow our online community by producing authentic, original content, such as giving our followers a behind‑the-scenes glimpse of airport operations and personal testimonials.

We also repost user-generated content to create a sense of community on Cork Airport’s Instagram account. We have found that very successful in terms of engagement, as we have more than trebled our followers on the platform from 10,000 in October 2018 to over 32,500 currently. We use a combination of Instagram Insights, Hootsuite Analytics and Iconsquare to measure our performance on Instagram and set targets for growth.

When the plan comes together, recognition follows

Finally, you need to know how to bring all of your platforms together when it comes to activating campaigns that your consumers love to engage with. The days where you would just run something like a free-flights competition in selected media outlets and leave it at that are now consigned to ancient history.

Social media now needs to be an essential, integrated part of every campaign that you do as a successful airport business. A perfect example of this is our current ‘Love Taking Off’ advertising campaign.

The vision for the campaign is to grow Cork Airport as the airport of choice for passengers across the South of Ireland. We have activated this campaign through radio advertising, print advertisings and Out of Home media, such as billboards and bus shelters, with social media playing a key role in ensuring the reach and impact of the campaign. Ultimately, the metrics measure performance and the effectiveness of our efforts.

Social media is used well at Cork Airport

Cork Airport

Using social media for the Love Taking Off campaign has helped us to achieve our goal of an increased market share across the South of Ireland and our four years of consecutive passenger growth.

This cross-platform digital campaign also landed us the prestigious 2019 Spider Award for Best B2C Campaign in Ireland. Clear testament to the fact that planning your social media content strategically reaps results. Under my stewardship, my team and I have been lucky enough to win multiple Moodies, Sockies and Digital Marketing Awards, complementing our traditional advertising and marketing efforts to be seen as ‘best in class’ for passengers who love taking off from Ireland’s fastest growing and friendliest airport, here in Cork.

Unquestionably, having a clear business and marketing strategy can result in social media playing a key role in ensuring your brand proposition is effective in winning the hearts and minds of discerning passengers in a modern world.


Kevin Cullinane, Head of Communications at Cork Airport, has worked over the past 14 years to position Cork Airport as the principal international gateway to the South of Ireland. With commercial expertise and international marketing experience, Cullinane gives strong and visionary leadership at Cork Airport. Cullinane is also the Chairman of the ACI Europe Digital Communications Forum, after being elected to the position in February 2020. He has also been a member of Cork Chamber’s Transport and Infrastructure and Public Affairs Committees.

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