ARCHIVES: This is legacy content from before Industry Dive acquired Mobile Commerce Daily in early 2017. Some information, such as publication dates, may not have migrated over. Check out our topic page for the latest mobile commerce news.

Virgin Atlantic flies upgrade offers to social media users

Virgin Atlantic is turning a social media contest into a mobile offer for a free cabin upgrade by asking Twitter users to post their best requests, gifting the user with the most creative answer with two one-day upgrades for an already-purchased flight ticket.

The British airline is taking to its blog to reveal some of the most hilarious and ingenious appeals that its flyers have said to staff members in the hopes of receiving a complimentary upgrade to its coveted upper class and premium economy cabins. In turn, the brand is asking its customers to Tweet their own #BestRequest for a chance to receive a free cabin upgrade on an existing flight ticket.

“Manufacturing viral content is no easy task,” said Gary Schwartz, president and CEO of Impact Mobile, New York. “Authenticity is the name of this game and brands often have a hard time playing in this space.

“Horror stories abound. Fostering user-generated content (UGC) is a natural solution.”

Fueling competition
The airline is employing a humorous approach to the social media contest and simultaneously proving to customers that its employees do listen to their requests and feedback.

Virgin Atlantic is also aware of the public desire to test out its upper class and premium economy cabins, which are equipped with amenities such as restaurant-style dining and top in-flight entertainment options, and is offering a few lucky consumers the chance to upgrade.

“#BestRequest taps into a common traveler behavior ? asking for an upgrade,” said Kelly Pellico, vice president of mobile innovation at Millward Brown, Santa Monica, CA. “Rather than the tired birthday and honeymoon requests, the brand is challenging its customers to get creative.

“A creative spin on an existing behavior, and the value of the reward, could prove effective in getting customers involved and garnering broader social buzz. How big the buzz gets depends, in part, on whether there are supporting media channels driving awareness of the contest.”

During the month of August, flyers that have already purchased a standard Virgin Atlantic flight ticket are encouraged to visit Twitter and post their best effort at an upgrade request that no employee can turn down, using the #BestRequest hashtag.

Winners will be chosen each week, and will receive the one-way upgrade for themselves as well as a guest traveling alongside them.

A panel of three judges will select the winners based on how creative and entertaining the entries are, in addition to the level of knowledge displayed about the Virgin brand. Judges may also take into account the social influence of the user, the entrant’s audience size on other networks and the volume of activity generated around the post.

This suggests that Twitter users with strong followings may have an advantage when entering social media sweepstakes for other brands as well.

Spreading branded cheer
Virgin Atlantic is also spreading branded fun by revealing some of its most unusual upgrade appeals, from marital squabbles to broken-hearted passengers.

A survey commissioned by the company found the three top reasons for requesting an upgrade were flyers claiming a birthday, attempting to convince the staff of their friendship with Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson and saying they were off on their honeymoon.

Twitter users who have tickets booked with a Virgin Atlantic flight will likely be prompted to join in the posting and offer their most creative response for the sweepstakes.

Virgin is also hoping to drive awareness and membership of its Flying Club rewards platform with the contest.

“Social is a great way to connect with customers,” Ms. Pellico said. “It can create a sense of community for a brand while also allowing two-way conversation.

“Virgin Atlantic’s #BestRequest contest fits with the brand’s customer service focus and sense of fun. As other airlines look to leverage social to connect with customers, they need to think through how to do so in a way that’s consistent with their values and distinct personality.”

The airline is no stranger to leveraging mobile tactics to augment the flying experience for staff and customers.

In January, Virgin Atlantic enticed travelers and training crew members with a new augmented reality application that offered a real-life tour of its new 787 Dreamliner’s cabin and a sneak peek at the traveling experience (see story).

“Virgin is allowing its community to author rich UGC that has viral potential,” Impact Mobile’s Mr. Schwartz said. “Similar to the pizza chain that challenged their customers on Valentine’s Day to Tweet their cheesiest lines.

“It is what the Twitter channel was built to facilitate.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York