Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via flickr

Inform

In tense, time-sensitive circumstances travellers turn to social media for information. The most effective tweets and status updates read like newspaper headlines: clear, concise and timely. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has been particularly good at this, using Twitter to send out frequent updates filled with re-booking tips, location-specific information, and links to more detailed content. No wonder the brand gained more than 4,000 Twitter followers in the past week!

Reassure

Between news updates, some airlines are reassuring customers that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Brussels Airlines addresses stranded passengers who may be worried about angry bosses or missed exams. Meanwhile, Lufthansa is keeping its customers’ hopes alive by re-tweeting passenger success stories while staffing up in airports and call centres.

Engage

Some airlines are going a step further by responding to customers personally. KLM’s Twitter feed is littered with @replys (individual responses to customer questions, comments and concerns) in both English and Dutch.

But some of the best engagement is taking place on Facebook, where customers and airline staff have more space to share stories, advice and sympathy. Lufthansa has been using Facebook to post updates and converse with fans throughout the week. KLM (can you tell we’re impressed with them?) has a “Volcanic Eruption” Q&A sidebar on its Facebook page and helpful staff members answering questions around the clock.

One of Facebook’s strengths is that it encourages customers to engage with each other. Like friendly passengers bonding in an airport lounge, people are using branded pages to exchange war stories, share information and even offer stranded strangers a place to crash.

Of course, Facebook and Twitter also provide ample opportunity to criticize and castigate an airline brand on its own turf. But losing control is inevitable in the digital age. And for the most part, all it takes is a touch of humanity to turn a disgruntled customer into an appreciate fan or follower.