Feedback: SimpliFlying's Shashank Nigam on virtual returns

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As airlines increasingly embrace social media as part of their market strategies, Shashank Nigam of brand strategy consultancy SimpliFlying asks: is getting a return on investment fantasy or a reality?

It is a very simple proposition. "Like" a Facebook fanpage to get a random reward. In the case of American Airlines' AAdvantage, the reward was to get between 100 and 100,000 miles just for liking its Facebook fanpage, in its Mystery Miles contest.

The loyalty group at American Airlines, AAdvantage, set up the Facebook fanpage at the start of February. And in the first couple of weeks, it managed to garner 2,000-plus fans organically. Then it launched the Mystery Miles campaign to drive membership and the numbers went through the roof.

Within three days it hit a staggering 210,000 fans. The AAdvantage team had achieved the goal of attracting a critical mass on its Facebook fanpage, so that the fans could be exposed to the latest earn and burn opportunities. With full credit to the AAdvantage team for doing a fabulous job, the growth was certainly beyond expectations and here are some questions I hope the airline leadership would have asked their team after the campaign:

How do we distinguish between the one-time "likers" and the "real fans"?

How do we set the right expectations for future campaigns, given the first campaign was so generous in giving away miles?

How shall we start driving business from these fans - how many offers are too many?

How shall we scale up the marketing team internally and use tools to manage this?

The key to a successful strategy is to learn how to deal with a social media fluke that outperforms expectations and leverage on it for long-term returns. But that is difficult to determine, unless goals and strategies are devised before the launch of a campaign.

And there are examples of airlines that have done a good job with building a social media strategy that reaps results.

VIRAL VIDEOS

Air New Zealand's safety video "Fit To Fly" achieved 1.2 million views within 40h. It is high energy, 80s retro, lycra-clad fun hosted by that era's exercise guru Richard Simmons. But its not the first of Air New Zealand's safety videos that has gone viral. The Bare Essentials safety video, featuring crew (and chief executive) in just body paint, has over six million views in less than a year. And safety videos featuring the New Zealand All Blacks have over 100,000 views put together.

When the latest video was shared on SimpliFlying.com, a reader commented: "It is great to have Youtube videos go viral but does anyone know exactly how many additional sales this video generated and how many sales they lost because someone does not like the hip announcement?"

It was an appropriate comment, to which an Air New Zealand representative replied: "Your comment simply reinforces the benefits of our campaign - what's the likelihood of you knowing about Air New Zealand before all of this? Most likely limited.

"Our use of social media is about generating talkability and awareness much like the old brand television commercials of old - but without the cost. It's about growing awareness and preference, so that when people come to book a flight, they remember Air New Zealand and choose us. As for anyone who doesn't like it - well, once again people don't like ads for all sorts of reasons, whatever the channel. In our case, a bit of controversy simply drives further awareness."

In fact, about 20% of all viewers of the "Fit to Fly" safety video "disliked" it on Youtube. And it seems that was a fact Air New Zealand accounted for in its strategy.

It also seemed to have clearly defined goals, like measuring click-throughs to the website from the video, and potential bookings from that IP address sometime in the future. And that is where the key to a successful social media strategy lies.

DETERMINE THE BUCKETS

Now that most airlines are running a number of campaigns on social media, it is important to classify them into different buckets, namely Measure & Monitor, Create & Communicate and Engage & Empower. Almost all initiatives can be put into one of these buckets, and it allows the airline to strike an overall balance in terms of achieving business goals.

It is also important to tie campaigns to specific business goals and determine whether they drive revenue, engagement or reach, and to what extent. Once this is done, simple dashboards can be built to measure how each initiative is achieving the goals. This way, the airline can determine the effectiveness of its social media strategy through a co-relation to business metrics that goes beyond the number of likes or re-tweets.

It is up to each airline what it truly wants to achieve out of social media. JetBlue's director of loyalty marketing, David Canty, said recently: "We don't try to monetise it. From our point of view the value is from listening to the customer. It is much more of an opportunity to listen and share experiences." And JetBlue has built a strong strategy around that.

How is your airline building a social media strategy that is reaping results?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shashank Nigam is chief executive of SimpliFlying, a customer engagement strategy specialist; simpliflying.com is a leading aviation blog and "airline Twitterati"