The pandemic of COVID-19 severely impacted the Thai economy over the past few months. Two of the most impacted businesses were manufacturing and travel & transportation (Statista, 2020). Obviously, airlines were negatively affected by Coronavirus because of the lockdown. Despite a crisis, we saw abnormal Facebook fan growths in September - October 2020 of the 6 airlines, including Thai Airways, Bangkok AIrways, AirAsia, Nok Air, Thai Lion Air and Thai Smile (as shown in Figure 1). So it might be interesting to find the online movement on Facebook of airlines contributing such fan growth.
Figure 1. The number of fans of 6 airlines in 2020
So, this article described how airlines adapted themselves on Facebook, one of the most powerful social media in Thailand, after COVID-19 outbreak. We aimed to find the new Facebook trends of airline pages in Thailand. Some interesting business questions would be:
What was the posting frequency of each airline in different periods?
How did customers react to new Facebook trends?
How did airline fanpage perform during different periods?
What are popular posts of airline fanpages before and after COVID-19 outbreak?
First, we should define the scope of Pre COVID, COVID and New Normal in order to compare them as displayed in the following figure. Thailand registered the first COVID-19 death on March, 1st. So, we set up this date as a start date of a serious pandemic. A few weeks later, Thailand was locked down and all flights were canceled until Jun, 30th. The government allowed airlines to operate again on July, 1st, which we called New Normal.
Figure 2. The scope of data of Pre COVID, COVID and New Normal periods
Figure 3. Average numbers of posts of 6 domestic airlines in 2020 and 2019
In addition, we explored the posting behaviors of 6 airlines to make sure there are no seasonality effects. To determine whether they were significant changes in the number of posts, we compared average numbers of monthly posts of these 6 airlines between 2020 and 2019. However, there were no obvious posting trends as shown in the above figure. After that, we would start analyzing how airlines react on Facebook. The following paragraphs compared how airlines reacted differently on Facebook during those 3 periods.
Figure 4. Weekly fan growths of 6 airlines during 3 periods
The page performance index growth of Thai Airways was caused by a big fan growth from 820,000 on Oct, 3rd to 3,057,000 on Ocut, 4th (2,236,587 fans or 272.6% growth in one night). However, when we analyzed individual posts of Thai Airways fanpage during late September - early October, there were no highly engaged posts which may contribute to 2.72X fan growth. Therefore, this might be stimulated by other external factors.
We further conducted a preliminary analysis and saw Thai Catering, a new food service of Thai Airways, was a viral trend during New Normal. In addition, It got lots of media attention. This might be one of the reasons of Thai Airways online presence contributing to an increase in Thai Airways fans. The main products of Thai Catering were deep-fried dough sticks as shown in the following figure.
Figure 5. Thai Airways deep-fried dough stick posts with 4X % post interaction than the average of ordinary posts
During COVID-19, Thai Lion Air’s customers reacted more to the posts (both positive and negative) while AirAsia reduced Facebook posts. However, there were no significant changes for Full Service Airlines.
Figure 6. Full Service Airlines - % post interaction vs average number of posts per day
Thai Airways received slightly more %post interactions on Facebook during COVID-19 period compared to Pre COVID and New Normal. On the other hand, the number of posts per day and % post interactions of Bangkok Airways remain the same during those 3 periods. We may imply Bangkok Airways' Facebook posting behaviors are similar during those 3 periods.
Figure 7. Low Cost Airlines - %post interaction vs average number of posts per day
Overall, it can be seen that AirAsia, Nok Air and Thai Lion Air posted differently during 3 periods. There were significantly fewer posts of AirAsia during COVID period than those of Pre COVID or New Normal. Similarly, the post frequency of Nok Air slightly decreased during COVID and New Normal. Interestingly, the percentage of customer interactions of Thai Lion Air’s posts dramatically increased during COVID period. Therefore, we will drill down further to analyze why AirAsia posted less during COVID and why Thai Lion Air’s post received more customer interactions. AirAsia might have a lower number of selling posts during COVID because the country was locked down. According to the following figure, AirAsia had a lot of selling posts per day during Pre COVID (1.4 posts per day). Nevertheless, during COVID-19, the country was locked down, so AirAsia cannot communicate promotions to their customers. This led to a significant drop of selling posts to 0.34 posts per day. Later, AirAsia could promote domestic travel again since July, which made the number of posts per day return to 1.22 during New Normal. On the other hand, the number of other posts per day dramatically dropped during COVID and it did not increase again during New Normal like the selling posts. This might be a result of the airline crisis, making AirAsia focused on selling tickets rather than other CRM activities.
Figure 8. The numbers of selling and other posts per day during 3 periods
Customer Service might be the main reason why Thai Lion Air received more engagement during COVID. The top posts of Thai Lion Air contributing to high %post interaction during COVID-19 were related to customer service. These included flight changing, ticket return, fee waive, COVID prevention policies and others. However, we cannot conclude whether there was a positive or negative impact on Thai Lion AIr. So, if we can do sentiment analysis, we would get a more in-depth understanding of customer voices. Conclusion Airlines reacted differently on Facebook during the pandemic. Here are some of our key findings:
Thai Airways diversified their business with Thai Catering. The main product was deep-fried dough sticks.
AirAsia reduced selling ticket posts during COVID-19 during lock down, however, they started to create selling posts again after domestic travel is operated.
Thai Lion Air focused on policy communication and customer service.
As you can see, many airlines reacted differently during Pre COVID, COVID and New Normal. Thus, Facebook might be one of the tools to understand consumer behaviors and serve their needs in the new era of the airline industry.
Statista, 2020. Projected coronavirus (COVID-19) impact index by industry and dimension. Available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/1106302/coronavirus-impact-index-by-industry-2020/#:~:text=The%20outbreak%20of%20COVID%2D19,severly%20impacted%20by%20coronavirus%20pandemic.
The Standard, 2020. Airline Performance 2020 Quarter 3 Available at https://www.facebook.com/thestandardth/posts/2605901016369441