British Airways has given itself a more fashionable brand image by launching two web sites as part of a new social media marketing strategy.
Chris Davies, digital marketing manager at BA, said at the Social Networking World Forum in London this week that the sites had "challenged the perception of the brand" and made the airline seem more "up to date and exciting".
BA's Metrotwin site was launched five months ago as a single online community for people who often fly BA's most popular route between New York and London.
Metrotwin publishes recommendations of the best places to go in both cities, and users suggest a twin of each restaurant, attraction or neighbourhood in the other city. The recommendations come from locals, bloggers and online communities, and can be reviewed and rated by everyone.
Davies explained that the focus when creating the site had been to produce a unique angle and approach, as well as giving users a "fun" social community in order to encourage them to the site.
"The challenge was that, for the first time, we had to work in an agile way, " he said. "We just provided the tools for users of the site to talk about London and New York, not the story."
Davies said that BA had found the "best expertise" to make the site work, employing design and advertising agencies BBH, Agency.com and Made by Many. The agencies helped with the interaction features, and enabled BA to create a network of bloggers and online communities.
BA launched another social site on 17 February to promote the BA Great Britons programme, which provides 180 free flights each year to anyone who wants to fly somewhere to develop their talent. The public has the final say with an online vote.
The log-in authorisation to the site is through Facebook Connect in order to make registration easy.
Davies advised companies not to focus on "traditional hard marketing return on investment metrics" when designing a social community strategy.
"I admit that we do look at page views, but we really concentrate on the brand lift overall," he said.
Davies also advised getting the legal hurdles out the way first, such as how the business intends to deal with comments posted on the site relating to different brand names.
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