How do you create social media buzz these days? An outrageious video that goes viral may work. So might targeting the key opinion-leaders in your sector.
Virgin America is trying the latter tack as it launches Toronto service from San Francisco and Los Angeles beginning June 23.
The airline's social media and communications manager, Jill Okawa Fletcher, says it teamed with Klout to pick key social-media influencers, based on their Klout scores, in the Toronto and California markets, and provided them with free flights based on the belief "that once people fly us -- they are hooked."
Promo codes were handed out to the first 120 influencers to book flights on the Toronto routes for travel between June 23 and Aug. 23.
The promo codes were good for a free roundtrip flight -- although passengers have to pay the taxes -- Wi-Fi at no charge and an "invitation to our star-studded Toronto launch party on June 29," Okawa Fletcher says.
Klout measures people's overall online influences based on more than 25 factors, including everything from followers and mentions to list inclusions and the influence of followers to develop a Klout score.
"We hope that by providing free samples of our unique in-flight experience, including Wi-Fi on every plane, mood-lit cabins, touch-screen seatback entertainment system and on-demand food, we will convert flyers and build word-of-mouth and loyalty amongs key influencers in new markets," Okawa Fletcher says.
Founded in 2007, Virgin America is looking for cost-effective ways to promote itself and has turned to social media as a prime forum.
"As a brand, we've found that social media is an informal, authentic way for us to engage with guests and prospective guests -- and also amplify our awareness within limited ad budgets," Okawa Fletcher says. "As we enter a brand new market we thought it was an interesting approach to partner with clout in this way."
From bloggers who accept products in exchange for endorsements to journalists on paid-for press trips and the Royal Champions controversy, social-media marketing such as the Virgin America-Klout alliance could be problematic if not handled properly.
Virgin America points out that all participants are subject to the Klout Influencer Code of Ethics.
Among its provisions:
"If you accept the offer you are not required to do anything. We do not want to "buy" your tweets. You are receiving the product because you are influential and have authority on topics related to the product. This is a more targeted form of receiving a sample while shopping at the grocery store. You are welcome to tell the world you love the product, you hate the product or say nothing at all."
If the influencer goes public with their Virgin America flight experiences, Klout requests that they disclose that they received free flights without obligation.
Thus goes marketing in the social media era.