How Virgin America, just four years old, is using social media to build its brand in the USA with great success has been set out by Porter Gale, the airline's top marketer, in a fascinating Q and A in the American magazine Ad Age.
Gale quotes a Tweet by a happy customer whose flight was held up. "Further proof that Virgin America is incredible, it just sent me a $200 credit because my flight was delayed," the passenger posted.
Said Gale,"There's a perfect example of using Twitter as a guest-service/customer retention tool. Did we have to send him a $200 credit after seeing his original tweet about being delayed? Probably not, but this person is now going to be more loyal to us."
The airline responds to in-flight tweets, re-books customers who tell of missing flights and provides updates on flight schedules via text, email, Facebook and Twitter.
"Social media is an amazing channel for us in terms of engagement with our fans and guests, " said Gale.
"We are also finding that it is a nice channel for guest service. When we have had to cancel flights due to storms we have been able to connect with people via Twitter and re-accommodate them.
"It has a revenue component for us that we have been able to track and can actually see when sales are closed if someone has come from Twitter or Facebook. So it's serving a lot of functions for us."
Asked if social media was driving a significant amount of revenue for the airline, Gale responded:
"At one point we did a sale with Twitter called the Fly Forward, Give Back sale and they used promoted tweets to help push it. And that was actually our fifth-most successful day ever in terms of ticket sales."
Other airlines should recognise that social media is not going away, said Gale.
”People are online more and more. It's a great way to drive guest retention and guest connection."
Ad Age asked how far she thought word-of-mouth and positive buzz could carry the airline before they had to to start "investing significantly" in TV and print media?
Gale responded , "Word-of-mouth can carry us a long way, so I don't believe we will be doing TV anytime soon, being that we are still in only local markets. We don't have the footprint where TV makes sense for us. We, potentially, will use more print as we try to get more business travelers into the brand. But the bulk of our buy will continue to be online, out-of-home, partnership marketing and untraditional efforts."
One Ad Age reader commented, "I think this is a great example of a brand recognising that as well as being seen as an innovator in any category through its products and services, it also needs to be seen as an innovator in its communications methods. The medium really is as important as the message right now."