Can Social Influence Result in a Free Flight?

Can Social Influence Result in a Free Flight?

While there is a certain amount of personal gratification in becoming influential in the social networking realm, there can be a few extra perks involved. How does a free flight sound? Virgin America is among the first brands to recognize that there is more than a little mutual benefit in rewarding those social network users who have climbed the ladder of influence. In fact, they have geared several contests towards those top users in their latest social media strategy.

Announced in mid-2010, Virgin America offered a free flight to top Twitter influencers in Toronto and San Francisco, based upon their Klout ratings. While the winning users were not strictly required to tweet about their flight or the free wireless access onboard, it was still modeled as a company promotion of their new daily flight plan from LAX and SFO to Toronto. The giveaway was a herald to Virgin America’s launch in Toronto, and they likened the contest to receiving a sample while shopping at the grocery store.

While it may seem counterintuitive to offer such opulent rewards and require so little of entrants, it’s not as strange as it sounds. In social media theory, it’s less about marketing and a lot more about customer engagement. It can sound forced to require a promotional tweet from the winner, something that might have negative repercussions on the brand. On the other hand, to simply bank on their excitement in winning the contest all but guarantees more than a few mentions of the brand to their followers.

The brand must have recognized that keeping a personal touch in social marketing is a key point. Virgin America later launched another social network-based contest. Virgin America’s Toronto Provocateur contest required potential contestants from Toronto to submit a 2-minute video promoting themselves as the best candidate to become Provocateur. The contestants then spread the word through their social networks to rally votes, increasing brand face time on their feeds and providing free promotion. The actual promotional work the winner took part in later was only the icing on the cake. It was the social network saturation that benefited Virgin America the most.

Unfortunately, in Virgin America’s case, drumming up all of that attention didn’t necessarily keep their Toronto-based business alive. Though the flights out of Toronto began as recently as March of 2010, the airline ceased the unprofitable operation as of April 2011. In the end, their Toronto Provocateur contest only drew 35 total contestants, all of which only received about 6,500 votes. The limiting regional qualification was likely a factor in the social networks not being employed to their full marketing potential. Despite their best efforts, Virgin America simply couldn’t establish itself in the minds of a new customer base through a demographically limited competition.

So perhaps while free giveaways are great in theory, they simply aren’t the best use of the sheer advertising clout of the social networks. The best social media campaigns are those founded on the concept of reaching beyond the original customer base and across demographics. It’s true that potential customers will always be drawn to promotional giveaways and free prizes, but it may not be wise to found your entire social media plan on those factors.

Do you have any examples where influence resulted in a great prize?  Let us know.

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