Virgin has been showing off its new Virgin.com web site. The firm has jumped firmly on the social media bandwagon with a host of new functionality designed to create a more two way relationship between the firm and its customers, and facilitate customer-to-customer dialogue.
At the Thinking Digital Conference in Gateshead, Virgin's head of online marketing, Alex Hunter, told attendees all about it. Although, sadly, we did not get the chance to play around with the site first hand, the emphasis appears to be very firmly on creating "a content and community platform" to put power back in the hands of the customers. Now the idea of a company allowing its customers to have conversations with itself and its other customers terrifies some firms and is usually botched by others, so it will be interesting to see the finished result from Virgin when it launches in a few weeks.
But from what we saw, they're ticking most social media boxes fairly reasonably. There are capabilities for users to upload content, there is a social currency engine, which awards users points according to their level of participation on the site (which presumably will be redeemable for goodies), and there is a recommendations engine, which calculates which pages people are saying good things about and makes appropriate suggestions.
Virgin is also extending the platform via Facebook Connect, allowing users to send information in real-time back to their Facebook profiles, and it is also talking to the Open ID guys. But the site will definitely seek to "augment not replace" users' favourite social networking sites, said Hunter. Interestingly, one semi-disgruntled spectator asked Virgin whether it was a good idea to make the site so obviously yoof-oriented.
"When you give people the opportunity to interact with a brand they will take it," said Hunter. We shall see.
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