Estonian Air’s social loyalty program rewards fans for online promotion

One of the most compelling aspects of location-based social networks such as Foursquare and Facebook Places are their game dynamic, which rewards users with virtual badges for checking into venues repeatedly, thereby promoting a venue or brand to their friends through Facebook and Twitter. Airlines such as Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, Virgin America and JetBlue have launched campaigns that reward their fans and followers for ‘checking in’ into their virtual venues.

Gamification
The initiatives by these airlines are early steps in what is called the ‘gamification’ trend, which is described by JWT as “Brands applying game mechanics –incentives and rewards such as leader boards, leveling, stored value, privileges, superpowers, status indicators, etc.– to non-gaming spaces in an attempt to drive certain actions or behaviors.” Gamification can encourage people to perform taks that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, filling out tax forms, or reading web sites, and according to trendwatching.com it taps into basic human needs: “Fun and entertaining, games allow players to visualize progress, while satisfying fundamental needs and desires – for reward, status, achievement, self-expression, competition, and altruism.” For more on ‘gamification’, we recommend reading ‘Gamification 101: The Psychology of Motivation’.

Social loyalty
Moving beyond location-based reward schemes such as TopGuest, companies such as Badgeville, CrowdTwist, Gamify and Manumatrix have created ‘white label’ social loyalty platforms that allow members to earn points, unlock badges, and be featured on a leaderboard as they engage in various activities such as watching videos, commenting on articles, reviewing, “Liking” or tweeting products and promotions, posting photo’s on Instagram, and participating in polls. Examples of social loyalty programs include ‘Samsung Nation’ and the upcoming Hilton Social HHonors (site is not yet live).

Estonian Air ‘AirScore’
In late October 2011, Estonian Air, flag-carrier of the tiny but internet-savvy Baltic nation, became the first airline in the world to launch a social loyalty programme on Facebook, rewarding its customers and fans for being strong advocates online. Called AirScore, the scheme allows customers and fans to get rewards for promotional actions such as sharing a review of the airline or tweeting a deal.

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Badges, points, levels
The rewards in the AirScore program consist of badges, points and levels. By carrying out specific tasks, like participating in a poll, members can earn badges, which are a status thing foremost (Estonian Air is considering to reward certain badges with perks such as premium check-in at the airport). Members also receive 1,000 points when joining the AirScore program, another 1,000 when a Facebook friend becomes an ambassador, and 100 points when they like a post, share content or complete a poll. Points are also awarded when members book a flight ticket via the Estonian Air website or post their flight on Estonian Air’s ‘FlightBook’ Facebook application. Members can then redeem their points for flight discounts and Estonian Air goodies, and by collecting more points they also unlock new levels, which entitle them to to new rewards. For example, ‘Gate’ level members receive a 5 percent discount on Estonian Air bookings, while top-tier ‘Cockpit’ members can redeem their points for free lounge access or a meet and greet with the airline’s CEO.

Friends, and friends of friends
Says Estonian Air’s CEO Tero Taskila, “Using traditional channels to promote the airline and the country abroad requires a big budget and human resources. Therefore, we have decided to use Facebook and also other social media for that purpose.“ […] “Social Media is one of the most effective ways to market and promote brands across the borders.” Adds Shashank Nigam, CEO of SimpliFlying, who worked with Estonian Air in developing the Air Points programme, “Social loyalty becomes especially important once airlines realize that some of their most ardent flyers are also its most vocal brand advocates. Hence, it becomes easier for airlines to target the most high-value customers in terms of not only miles flown but also in terms of their social influence online.” See this video interview for more.

Estonian Air currently has over 20,000 Facebook fans and in the first ten days after the launch of the AirScore program, over 1,000 members signed up and together their wall posts reached an audience of more than 1,3 million Facebook users (friends and frieds of friends). To power its AirScore social loyalty platform, Estonian Air is using the ‘Bamboo’ app from ManuMatix, which is also behind a similar program of cruise travel agent  CruisesOnly.

Asked how the new social loyalty compares with Estonian Air’s current participation in the SAS Eurobonus loyalty program, Gunnar Mägi, Marketing and Development Director at Estonian Air, said that “we do see these loyalty programs working with different segments. While EuroBonus is for existing flyers with AirScore we are trying to win new flyers. In the future we would like to create a system of conversion.”

Virgin America
Virgin America may very well be the next airline to roll out a social loyalty program. TopGuest, the company behind Hilton’s upcoming social loyalty program ‘Social Hhonors’, said it will offer its service to all its current partners, which include Virgin America, Best Western, Wyndham and Caesars, in the months ahead. TopGuest members will receive 2,500 ‘travel reward’ points for connecting their Facebook account, and then can earn more points for things such as “liking” a Topguest partner on Facebook and for tweets, Facebook posts, Foursquare check-ins with their social networking friends.

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