Are Virgin America’s Free Flights a Good Social Media Strategy?

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Virgin America is giving away free flights to social media influencers it has identified on Twitter. There is (it assures us) no catch. It has used Klout, a tool which analyses influence on Twitter, to identify influential people in the Toronto area and offered them free flights on its new services to Los Angeles and San Francisco. These influencers only have to pay taxes. They are not being asked to do anything in return for this. They are just being asked to enjoy a flight, free Wi-Fi onboard and a launch party in Toronto.

This is an interesting social media strategy. Typically examples of blogger and Twitter outreach have seen brands ask them to do something in exchange for free product or experiences. They might offer them something for free or invite them to an event, for example, but would ask them to cover it on their blogs, on Twitter, take and share photos or recruit their friends to discussions. Virgin America’s approach is refreshingly different. And also refreshingly clever.

It is often a shame when brands dictate what they want bloggers and Twitter users to do when they engage with them. Usually they have not understood what each of these influencers is looking to achieve with their blog or with their followers. A successful social media outreach strategy will treat each of these influencers as individuals, recognise that they are interested in different things and allow them to use their involvement with your brand to further their own blog or social media aims. For example, if I write a design blog, I might want to review the interior design and lighting on Virgin America flights. If I am a plane fan, I might compare the airline with competitors. And if I am a small business owner, I might review the offering from a business perspective, looking at cost and ability to work onboard. Each influencer wants to talk about different things in different ways.

With this in mind, there are two ways to work with influencers online as a brand:

  1. Research each influencer and treat them as individuals – building a relationship with them and understanding their interests, their aims and what you can offer them or ask them to do that will help them as individual bloggers or Twitter users
  2. Enable influencers to experience your brand or service and trust them to cover it as they so choose. You focus on giving them an experience they will enjoy and allow them to write and cover the experience in a way that works for them. Of course they may not write at all about your brand – although if you choose carefully people typically will.

The second of these is the braver option as brands will feel that they lose control over what may be written about them. In many cases, however, it can be the cleverer option. As in Virgin America’s case – give influencers an experience that you know is good and trust them to cover it in any way they choose.

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

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