Social Media = car. Brand = gas.

social-mediaOnline Spin just released an article about succeeding with Social Media and how the answer isn’t in advertising, Facebook pages or Twitter profiles. To this statement I only have one thing to say:

Duh.

Online Spin has it right. But is this such a revelation? Why is it that so many social media ‘experts’ out there don’t understand the fundamentals of brand engagement? When people talk about your brand, or friend/fan your brand, or tweet about your brand, it’s because they have bonded with your brand, not because you simply exist. The principles of brand strategy and engagement have never been more essential today, yet these social media tacticians have many clients believing that they’ll reap financial rewards if they just set up a fan page on MySpace.

The only companies that do well in social media without clear brand support are the ones who innovate in social media. Companies like Naked Pizza who put up a Twitter billboard out front of their location to give followers special deals. The desired brand effect was a pizza for early adopters (go figure, the pizza is 100% organic).

If you’re living up to your brand promises at every touch point and creating advocacy with your customers, then your elevated presence in social media is assured. Not only will people flock to your social media sites, but they may even create their own fan sites as well. I recently flew Virgin America and loved it so much, I devoted a whole article to it. And I don’t even know if Virgin has a Twitter profile.

My advice is this: get your brand in order and build some loyalty. Until you do, your social media presence won’t do much for you. Think of it this way. Social media is the car and your brand engagement is the gas. Without people who love you, your social media ain’t goin’ no where.

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Why it’s better to be with a virgin

virign logoFirst, my apologies to all you filthy-minded folks out there who are mistakingly reading this article.

My second apology is to Virgin America for not flying you sooner.

I rarely have good things to say about businesses from a service standpoint. Frankly, I think most companies are in business despite themselves, especially airlines. Which is why I had to write an article about my experience with Virgin America over Labor Day, and why, for the life of me, I can’t understand why other airlines simply don’t get it.

virgin check inRight from the moment we checked in with Virgin America we felt like we were in for an atypical experience. The check in counter was, for the most part, free from the clutter of bewildered humans wondering what to do next (automated check in, old school check in, etc.). In fact, it was relatively empty of customers altogether, which might say something about Virgin’s processing ability.

Anyhow, after a one-minute wait we were greeted at the counter by a smiling woman who welcomed us to Virgin and asked us about our destination. I have to admit we probably looked a little strange to her after staring, open-mouthed at her for about 10 seconds trying to process the fact that she was actually smiling. “Maybe she just got engaged,” whispered my girlfriend. When we got to our gate we realized that other Virgin employees had adopted this strange facial quirk as well.

virgin_planeOur experience into the atypical continued when we got on board. The interior of the cabin was bathed in a pink and purple glow, giving the entire aircraft the feel of a hip, boutique hotel. It’s a very cool effect if you’ve never been aboard before, and from the look of it, seems pretty easy to do. You replace white bulbs with pink and purple ones.

We were actually able to watch a bit of a movie on our personal screens before the plane took off, giving us something to occupy our time while waiting for the aircraft to board. And when we got airborne, we could resume watching our movie where we paused it.

And here’s the real kicker – it seems that Virgin is the first airline that isn’t just talking about WiFi, but actually offering it.

But here’s the real interesting thing about our experience with Virgin. We didn’t really know about Virgin through marketing or advertising before we booked our trip with them. Everything we knew about Virgin was through other people who have flown them before.

So it seems that instead of spending heaps of money on advertising, sponsorships and marketing, like their competitors do, Virgin America is spending money on making your travel experience better than the competition, and then letting you spread the good word to others.

Like I am doing.

And to me, this methodology emphasizes the Virgin brand, which is ‘forward thinking’. Don’t trust a commercial or ad to tell you about the benefits of an airline, trust your neighbor, or colleague, or friend, or social media site instead.

So to other airlines out there, stop talking to us about your differences (which are minimal, at best) and start doing something different to make us want to choose you above your competitors. Believe me, it’s not always about price when you can offer us a priceless experience.