I am speaking this morning at the IABC Social Media Conference.
The topic of my presentation is “Leveraging Social Media to Build Brand”.
Here’s my overall premise (which might get me kicked out of the conference)…
You don’t need a social media strategy.
You need a brand building strategy.
…which you effectively activate using the most appropriate tools available (including in many cases Social Media).
If your goal is X amount of Twitter followers or Y number of followers on Facebook, I believe you are destined to fail.
It’s like stating your goal is to go to an Ivy league school, with no plan whatsoever on how to get good grades, or distinguish yourself in extra-curricular or community service activities.
If you want people to “friend” you then be an interesting, useful, fun, compassionate person.
In other words, be someone that most people want to be friends with.
At Virgin we’ve had a rather rapid learning curve on social media (and we’re still learning).
When I joined Virgin about 3 years ago, most of our brands were just beginning to dabble in this realm.
Now thanks to all the efforts of the crack teams at the various businesses, in the US alone we have 400,000 (and growing daily) friends, fans, and followers on line.
But I wouldn’t say we have a formal Social Media strategy.
We have smart and creative people at each of the Virgin businesses that are focused on doing what they’ve always done- building great brand experiences and find clever and impactful (and cost efficient) ways to market them.
And they are doing this in many instances by applying Social Media.
And understanding and leveraging what’s so unique and powerful about this medium (e.g. immediacy and 2 way dialogues, etc.).
I think a tunnel vision focus on Social Media is a bit dangerous.
I believe instead should focus on brand building and then leverage Social Media tools to accomplish this in new, exciting, and often measurable ways.
So here’s a brief summary on what I will be covering in my talk:
5 Tips for “What Works” in Social Media
1. CREATE BUZZWORTHY EXPERIENCES
I believe the best way to get people buzzing about you on line is to give them an experience that exceeds their expectations and is buzzworthy.
Virgin America is a great example of this.
From the moment you step on the plane you know that something is different.
The interiors have leather seats and incredible mood lighting (so you don’t feel like you are about to have a kidney removed when you walk on board).
There’s an interactive RED In Flight Entertainment System that allows you to order food and drink directly from your seat, whenever you want to during the flight.
No more waiting for the stewardess to arrive with the cart and no more blocking of the aisles just when you want to use the rest room.
And to top it all off, Virgin America were one of the first airlines to offer inflight wifi on all the planes.
So you’ve got this amazing experience and with wifi at your fingertips so many things to tweet and or blog about.
And not just typical airline stuff like whether there is enough legroom- but more buzzworthy stuff about the food and drinks (you should try the absinthe), the lighting, the leather seats, the seat to seat chat etc.
All of these little touches add up to a terrific and very buzzworthy experience.
Not surprisingly they’ve been able to create a lot of fans who spread the word through Facebook and Twitter, urging others to give the brand a try.
But the goal was to create an airline people love.
Not to be blogged or tweeted about.
That’s a nice result of the harder work of really re-inventing the domestic airline experience.
2. CONNECT (DON’T MARKET)
Social Media is rooted in engagement and entertainment.
And just like you wouldn’t want your real life friends to always be bombarding you with deals and offers- you don’t want this from the online brands you be-friend as well
Sure there are times when announcing a fare sale or phone deal is appropriate and useful information.
But it’s also important to communicate in ways that are just for entertainment and fun or to make a connection.
Virgin Money’s promotion last Thanksgiving called “Pass the Thanks” is a good example of this.
People were invited to share a moment of thanks (at a difficult time in the economy) and to post a picture and a brief statement about what they were thankful for.
It was fun, quick, and attracted attention from the financial blogs like Net Banker .
But the primary motivation was to share a meaningful moment with customers, not to market to them.
3. SUPRISE AND DELIGHT WITH SERVICE
Virgin has always prioritized Brilliant Customer Service. It’s one of the brand’s core values.
Social Media offers new avenues to deliver this.
Virgin America which I mentioned has on flight wifi has had the opportunity to leverage tools like Twitter for real time service recovery.
For example, while on a Virgin America flight, a passenger Tweeted about not receiving a meal they had ordered. Virgin America saw this Tweet and called the cockpit to have a flight attendant bring the meal.
Another example is the Virgin Mobile Angel.
Virgin Mobile has always had Angels, real life young women who attend Virgin Mobile events (like the Festivals) and help answer questions or surprise and delight by giving away free stuff.
They’ve brought this Angel to Social Media with the VM Angel on twitter @VMAngel. She is a real employee who answers customer care questions for Mobile users.
It personalizes the service and contributes to a positive brand experience.
4. KEEP IT REAL
Virgin’s cheeky, real tone of voice is a key part of the brand vibe.
Social media, given its casual nature and emphasis on authenticity, is a great opportunity to continue to leverage this brand differentiator.
Case in point, Virgin Mobile Canada had a Screw You Recession blog over the summer (www.ScrewYouRecession.CA) where people would share real world tips for getting by in all aspects of their lives.
This provided a fun outlet for the frustrations lot of us shared and created a sense of community and solidarity.
Similarly, we try to keep it real in customer service.
There are times despite our best efforts where things don’t go as well as we like.
When we receive complaints via any medium (email, Tweets, Blogs) we empower customer care employees to do the right thing and to communicate in a respectful but human voice (not a customer service robot).
Richard Branson, the founder and visionary behind the brand, has also embraced blogging and Twitter as a way to keep in touch with the brand’s fans.
He regularly Tweets on a wide range of topics.
Everything from who he is rooting for a cricket match to why he was fasting for Darfur to how he was spending time recognizing our top Virgin Stars employees.
He has one of the highest followings on both Virgin.com and Twitter of any of the Virgin brands.
He has always loved connecting with people. Social Media provides more ways for him to reach more people with a personal touch.
5. JOIN FORCES
Virgin has always believed in partnering with like minded brands.
Not necessarily big brands but brands that share the same philosophy to customer service and have a similar brand viewpoint.
It’s why Virgin America carries Method Soap in the airplane lavs.
In the social media space it’s no different.
And we realize we have a lot to learn. So we’ve pair up with brands like Google who have more experience in this space.
During November and December Google is actually picking up the in flight wifi fees for on all Virgin America flights.
On Virgin.com and Virgin Atlantic we partner with other entrepreneurs like Tony Hsieh the CEO of Zappos to answer questions about launching businesses.
Virgin Atlantic Pitch TV also allows people to upload videos asking for funding and a select amount of these (voted on by other viewers) are shown in flight on the entertainment system.
These 5 principles are basic branding how to’s.
Many strong brands follow them off as well as online.
The key is to stay true to who you are and what you know works for your brand.
And then use all the tools in your toolbox to bring the strategies to life.
And Social Media offers some great tools today, and some we haven’t even begun to dream of.
Deliver the goods and the fans and friends will follow.
That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What are your best practices for social media?