Crisis was the trigger for KLM’s investment in social media. In 2010 a volcanic ash cloud originating in Iceland grounded flights across Europe and stranded tens of thousands of people at airports. Every airline flying to European destinations was hit, not least KLM. With its call centres overwhelmed, customers flocked to social media to ask questions about their flights. In response KLM recruited volunteers in its HQ to a pop-up social media customer service team, and they worked around the clock until the crisis was over.

“That’s where our social media operation was born,” Martine van der Lee, director of social media at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, told the Festival of Marketing (London, October 2018). “That crisis really brought back customer-centric thinking in our organisation … what we learned is that we have to be where our customers are.”

Fast forward to 2018, and social media is a key strategic channel for KLM, for both marketing and customer service. “For KLM, social media is not only a content channel, but we use it as our R&D map for marketing of the future,” van der Lee explained. “This thinking – to be where our customers are – has led to one of the largest social media operations in the world,” she asserted. “It becomes very intimate, we own the conversation.”