United is flying high with its digital content.
The airline has been publishing a steady stream of compelling pieces – ranging from cutting-edge 360-degree virtual video tours to beautiful behind-the-scenes stories and stunning user-generated photos – that entertain, inform, and engage.
Recently we chatted with Ryan Bujeker, Director of Social Media Strategy and Digital Engagement at United Airlines, to learn how the company develops all this superb content, and to find out which important trends he sees on the horizon.
Check out the All-Star Q&A below:
Q: What do you think the difference is between good content and bad content?
A: Good content always evokes an emotion; whether it’s funny or cute or educational or informative, good content piques interest or taps into a passion point the audience may have.
For example, in our industry, we have a core audience segment that has an extreme passion for flying. So we strive to give them anything behind-the-scenes that we can, offering them a glimpse into the airline’s fleet and operations – exclusive access that they wouldn’t be able to
I also think good content gets the attention of the audience in a matter of a few seconds, whether it’s a short video or a strong headline. And from there it gets passed along. That’s ultimately what brands want, for their content to get shared.
Q: What roles do digital content and social media play for United?
A: Both definitely play an increasingly important role here.
Our customers have become more and more digital savvy over the years, so we’ve worked hard to deliver thoughtful digital touch-points throughout their journeys with us.
So much content consumption happens on small screens now, especially for our audiences, which are always on the go, so connecting on social media – engaging people in their feeds – is where we need to be.
We want to be top of mind, so we’re putting more resources into social media and distributed content. In many ways that demand for engaging on social media has paved the way for us to produce more original digital content, and to building out platforms like United Hub.
Q: Speaking of United Hub, we’re big fans. It’s a great way for audiences to engage with your brand and see behind-the-scenes. What’s the story behind the site? How is the content created?
A: United Hub has actually existed for a number of years, but within the last 18 months it’s undergone a significant transformation.
We partnered with RebelMouse to modernize the platform; we revamped the front-end, audience facing, experience as well as the back-end technology. We made the presentation mobile-friendly, and integrated with their distributed content management system and smart publishing tools. It sets us up to truly operate like a publisher.
Just as importantly, the personality of United Hub shifted as well. We set out to humanize United more. We wanted the content to be more personal, approachable, relatable, and friendly. We wanted our customers to feel as if they are truly interacting with us, as people,
trusted advisors, and travel experts.
Part of the goal of United Hub is to shift perception of the brand. We want people to think differently about United, to realize that we’ve evolved and improved every aspect of the airline.
As for the content creation, we’re fortunate to have number of really outstanding contributors to United Hub. We have in-house writers, and we’ve also built relationships with some freelance writers and other content creators through our strategic partnership with NewsCred. In addition, we tap into our partnership with Ink, the publisher of our in-flight magazines – Hemispheres and Rhapsody.
So our content comes from all sorts of sources now, including United employees sharing their travel stories to pieces via NewsCred’s licensed content service, including articles from BBC travel, Bloomberg Travel, etcetera. It creates a well-rounded, diverse, experience.
Q: How do you ensure that your content reaches audiences? Which distribution methods do you use?
A: It’s always our aim to be where our intended audience is and deliver content that is relevant to them in that chosen environment at that time.
So we distribute across a mix of channels and platforms. For larger campaigns or series of content, in particular, we’ve gotten much more sophisticated in using data to target customer segments based on behaviors. We also find new audiences with similar profiles to reach.
First, we listen for what our customers are most interested in, and then plan our editorial accordingly – topics like travel technology, airport tips, or the best way to experience new destinations that we’re introducing.
We’ve also been increasingly focused on finding additional avenues to get more value out of our evergreen content; in particular, our destination-related content. For example, we’ve integrated with Facebook Instant Articles as a brand publisher, which is quickly becoming a key
source of mobile traffic to United Hub.
We’re also testing more sponsored native placements - really diving in beyond organic publishing, which is exciting.
Email continues to be one of our greatest distribution levers. Messaging the right content to various customer segments delivers some of our biggest spikes in traffic to United Hub.
Finally, one of the things we’re thinking a lot about is how we distribute more content to owned platforms like United.com, our in-flight portal, or our mobile app.
Q: Is there a piece, or a couple pieces, of United content that you’re especially proud of?
A: There’s so much I’ve been excited about in the last year.
One that comes to mind is from last year. We celebrated our 90th anniversary in April 2016 and for it we partnered with Ceros to develop a piece called United Airlines’ Firsts in Aviation. We tapped into our archives to highlight unique innovation firsts in the industry that United was on the forefront of; such as the first flight kitchen, creating a new profession for women as female flight attendants, and the first airline to introduce the Boeing 777 aircraft.
It was tremendously popular among employees because they loved seeing the brand’s history unfold in a unique format. But it also tapped into one of our power audiences, the AvGeeks or Aviation Geeks. These are huge aviation enthusiasts and they loved seeing that rich history
presented so beautifully.
Q: Final question, are there content marketing or social media trends that you’re watching closely right now?
A: I’m really excited about interactive content right now. There’s so much potential to create really deep experiences for digital platforms.
UGC is another area. It is still a very powerful and successful content source for us. It allows us to tap into the enthusiasts. Or even just business and leisure travelers who love to take wing
shots of a breathtaking sunset or sunrise. So we’re continuing to build that up as part of our content library.
Finally, video is where more and more of our time, energy and resources are being spent. We’re experimenting with being more and more creative with it. For example, our product team introduced our first piece of virtual reality content when we launched United Polaris, our new international business class, last year. It takes the viewer through the new lounge, the new cabin design, and all the various amenities.