For leading the creation of the World’s First Social Loyalty Program for an Airline, Tero Taskila is the SimpliFlying Hero of March 2012

By now, Estonian Air is quite a superstar on social media having done a number of innovative campaigns on Facebook followed up by the World’s First Social Loyalty Program. And when we chose them as one of the three big guns to vote for in the March round of SimpliFlying Heroes, Estonian Air trumped KLM and SAS despite stiff competition from them. We reached out to Tero Taskila, the CEO of Estonian Air and he was kind enough to oblige us with some juicy tidbits about the story of the airline’s rise as a social-media presence. Previously, he has done an exclusive podcast with us that has details on Estonian Air’s Social Loyalty Program and its marketing strategy — check it out for some inside scoops on Estonian Air and its plans for this year.


The Growth Story

The forerunner of Estonian Air social media was an old-fashioned customer forum that gave official, but informal answers to airline-related questions. This was the first user-generated online content and gave Esstonian Air confidence when new forms arrived. They continued with a blog where they shared slightly longer articles of public interest. This became a channel to explain background of news, route development etc.

Estonian Air’s focus has always been on integrated marketing – a collaboration of messages between all channels, giving customers only new social platforms to express and rally for what they already love, their national airline. When Facebook emerged, it did not hold a guarantee of success but they wanted to be where the customers were. When it came to Twitter, they noticed that in Estonia the tweets were from opinion leaders well-familiar with their brand.  Hence, they could not ignore that segment and have grown to be the fourth most popular account in Estonia thanks to the tone of voice and details they offer.

In 2010, Estonian Air released Flight Book, a Facebook app that allowed someone to let their friends know they are flying a specific Estonian Air flight.  Passengers were able to make contact with others on the same flight, even arrange seating together, if they so requested, at the check-in.  At the time this was the first of its kind among airlines and was an answer to how to create an online community among the community of flyers. In 2011, they began experimenting with Facebook auctions (regular, reversed, group, pay-as-you-wish) and they made Estonian Air an international sensation.


Creating the World’s First Social Loyalty Program

The success of the above-mentioned Facebook campaigns created interest within Estonian Air to continue with similar initiatives. This resulted in AirScore, the first-ever airline virtual loyalty program. AirScore “Ambassadors” share Estonian’s offers or information on their Facebook wall, including airfares, cultural and sport events taking place in Estonia. Supporters of the airline are rewarded with discounts for social media advocacy, without even having to fly the airline. Think of it as a business deal – you distribute Estonian Air’s ads and they reward you with points of various use. Through AirScore the airline enjoys increased traffic to Estonian Air’s web site, and bookings, driven via Facebook. The element of gamification that they had grown to love at auctions took a new format in the form of tiers and badges.

For some AirScore customers the ultimate goal will not be yet another ticket, but a dinner the company president or an invitation to the company birthday ball that a traditional loyalty program does not allow. Customer behavior indicates that participation in the AirScore program increases their loyalty and builds the airline’s relationships. Social media allows marketing efficiency, wide reach and will continue to be the airline’s channel of choice for future route launches and campaign distribution. To illustrate, the program reached over 1 million wall impressions in less than ten days and continues to grow. It  was awarded the respected  2011 Best social media campaign at Mega Awards in Miami, Florida, where it beat aviation industry giant Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, a 50 million-plus member program which had just completed a multi-million dollar overhaul.


Measuring success on social media

Tero admits that this is indeed an issue with which they are wrestling a lot. “Good analytics is the key to measuring success and we are not fully pleased with the transfer of data across applications. First, we value increasing website sales through social media integration. Conversion of fans to travellers is the ultimate goal of any airline social media site. Second, we view social media as the top brand awareness site and try to educate our fans about our news, products.”

The team loves the engagement rate metrics for Facebook and believe it to be a true indicator of page loyalty. It is defined as ER=100% (Number of likes+comments)/page owner posts/ number of fans.  For example, if a post gathers 100 comments and 100 likes and they have 1000 fans on their page the engagement rate is 100% * (100+100)/1/1000 = 20% . However, the team is aware that 90 percent of likes will never return to their pages again. That is why they started looking at a new platform for customer engagement.

As for AirScore, it is steadily growing and expanding. The ambassador number is growing by 41% average, content sharing by 37%. They have over 3000 ambassadors whose audience ads up to 440,194 unique connections. Purchases are increasing as well.

Tero says that Estonian Air has observed that customers are motivated by the discount codes that they earn by sharing their offers. “We get questions like “Why do you just post this in Facebook and the web? I would like to share it with everybody and get points for it!“”

They are excited at having a database of customers in which they know their interests and what they cheer for. Tero believes this is going to be an entire new way of marketing in which you know not only the destination your passenger flies to but also their favorite movies and hobbies and the name of their cousin.

For a really small team, Estonian Air certainly punches above its weight in social media. Their social media team was cross functional until 2012.  Now they have one dedicated person and one running Twitter aside of his main duties. Surprisingly, for a team that sounds focused on measurement, they hardly use any tools except data and Bamboo Mission control by Manumatix for AirScore.



Looking to the future and tips for social media managers

As the goal of monetizing continues, jaw-dropping campaigns are in the pipeworks. Expect Estonian Air to keep following new trends and are addicted to testing world’s firsts and “tryvertising” projects. They have a goal of growing to be the nation’s second most popular Twitter account and are expanding into neighbouring markets on Facebook. They’re also trying joint cross-marketing campaigns with partners much bigger than them.

Tero says social media is mainstream today and general marketing principles are applicable now more than ever – unless what you do is absolutely fabulous or it is the world’s first, nobody is going to raise an eyebrow. Investment in new technologies is a must.  Mistakes must be taken in your stride and lessons must be learnt from them. “Who cares that groups did not sell at our Facebook auction last June? We tried and tested the market. Something nobody else had done before us.”

Signing off, Tero has two interesting tips for social media managers. First, make your social media visual:  A good designer will make your sites as much as an editor. Second, nurture your fans. Give them reasons to feel elite. He reveals that Estonian Air is working on a day code-named Aviation Geek Fest. This will be a day for social media fans to see hangars and aircraft, that will allow community feeling to grow even further.

Great insights indeed from a man with vision! We must add a special note of thanks and kudos to Gunnar Mägi for being a moving force behind Estonian Air’s social efforts. Here’s looking forward to their next great initiative!

Disclaimer: SimpliFlying was instrumental in helping Estonian Air set up its social loyalty program.



Know someone who’s worthy of being a SimpliFlying Hero?

Simpliflying Heroes are individuals recognized for outstanding social media use in the world of aviation. Do you know of somebody who uses social media effectively in their airline or airport to achieve specific business results? Or do you think you fit the bill?

Then go ahead and fill up the SimpliFlying Heroes nomination form. By filling out the nomination form, you bring them a step closer to being recognized by SimpliFlying for their efforts.

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