The secrets of successful social media engagement

From parody safety demonstrations at football matches to flag scavenger hunts, Head of Sponsorships at Emirates Roger Duthie reveals how best to use social media to relate with fans 

Vision: When did social media become a significant part of Emirates’ strategy, and how would you define your approach?

Roger Duthie: We came into the game quite late, and that was done on purpose because we wanted to make sure that we had a specific approach. We launched in 2012 with Facebook, and we felt that it was a great platform to connect on a more personal level with our fans to support their passion for sport. That’s what sport is all about; it’s so emotive for the fans.

And that’s what we want to connect to. We were the first airline that has a sport and culture tab on our Facebook page, and that allowed us to relay information about our sponsored events to potential customers and to fans.

V: What platform would you say has been the most successful?

RD: On Facebook, we have 5 million fans; on Twitter, it’s close to 600,000. On Instagram, it’s around 700,000, LinkedIn is 460,000, and Sina Weibo is 16,000.

An example of a successful campaign we just did was the Benfica video (where an Emirates cabin crew performed mock safety instructions at a Portuguese football game between Benfica and Sporting CP). That received over 21 million views. What was more important about that video was there were over 300,000 shares, which shows that these viewers like what we did and are sharing it with their friends and colleagues.

V: What about the hashtag #EmiratesFlag campaign for the 2015 Rugby World Cup?

RD: Our sole and unique opportunity at the Rugby World Cup was the flag bearers – children aged 14-16 carrying flags to lead their national team out onto the pitch. We wanted to find these 100 children from around the world, and to do it in a fun and creative way. Most of the kids came from England, but we had international platforms as well in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

We had a competition on social media where we gave clues and they had to find a particular flag which was hidden somewhere around their city. If they found the flag, they were in with the chance of carrying a flag for their national team at the Cup. It was a really successful platform for us, and we got some wonderful PR from it throughout the world.

We had been planning this event for the last couple of years, so people were really aware of what this opportunity was.

V: Everyone tends to associate social media as being very fast and reactive, whereas that anecdote proves that, at times, it can be extremely considered…

RD: Definitely – you have to plan. Some things are spur-of-the-moment, but for us it’s all about planning. Any World Cup we’re planning for, it’s at least a two-year project. Any other of our sponsorships, for example, Grand Slam tennis – that’s six to eight months of planning; an Arsenal football game would be six weeks. We have such a great opportunity to connect and interact with fans, we want to make sure that we get it right.