Virgin America an internal airline in the US, owes its existence in part to the power of stirring up customer demand via social media (disclosure: my company iCrossing works with some Virgin brands in the UK).
In short, it would seem, there was a great deal of resistance to Virgin's attempt to set up a US domestic service, with a lot of the lobbying by rivals focussing on the fact that the company is, well, foreign.
Legal fencing, defencing, shilly-shallying and fence-sitting ensued, for months. Finally, on December 26 2006, the DoT delivered its verdict: Virgin America would not be allowed to fly. This was a black day for Alex and the company. To that date, the Department had never reversed its decision on such a matter.
So Virgin decided to take the fight to the (metaphorical) streets.
They submitted a time-lapse video of one of the planes being painted to YouTube. Over the weekend, it garnered 200,000 views and found its way to the front page of digg. It wasn’t an especially remarkable film from a technical perspective, though at that time, there was nothing like it (all their rivals have since copied the idea, apparently).
They launched a blog called Let VA Fly (now defunct), unveiling all the sophisticated new features on their planes. At this point, they felt they had nothing to lose, so they might as well. They included an online petition, and forms which would create and send a correctly worded and legally valid complaint to individual users’ representatives, senators and the Department of Transport. Technically, it was a fairly simple site, based on open source Wordpress software. But it did the job.
Image: the Let VA Fly blog (now de-commissioned - from Twopointouch
A simple blog then, and a lot of action around the Digg community, tapping into geek-love for some of the features of the new airline and the ambient antipathy of US consumers to many of their dreary carriers (see Buzzmachine passim and my own smouldering sense of indignation and rage brought about by 18 months of intermittent bouncing around North America on planes).
Some "ROI" on their blogging and sundry social efforts (besides the fact the airline now exists):
- Front page of Digg 8 times.
- 75,000 letters supporting them sent to the authorities.
- 30,000 signatures on a petition supporting them.
Not bad at all...