How has perennial 'challenger' airline Virgin Atlantic taken flight on social media?

Like so many of the Virgin brands, Virgin Atlantic has built a positioning as an irreverent challenger brand, up for a bit of fun.

Over the years, the airline has made much of its red-clad crew in its marketing, but it took a different tack at the start of this year, moving to a positioning it claims captures its "pioneering spirit and entrepreneurial essence".

Its approach to social has been very visual, with posts accompanying images highlighting desirable destinations.

Recently, it also ran a light-hearted push on Facebook to mark founder Sir Richard Branson's 65th birthday, using #challengerichard to get him to "relive the first Virgin flight and sell seats using only a board!", which was liked by more than 1500 users.

However, the big event influencing its social-media output in July was inspired by some 'old-media' activity - Up in the Air, the fly-on-the-wall ITV documentary that goes behind the scenes of the airline.

Over the course of the month, Virgin Atlantic made this one of its main social focuses, using Twitter to advertise to users during the show's ad breaks.


55 - April: A big topic of conversation was a "nightmare" 33-hour flight delay in Las Vegas. Affected passengers were set to demand compensation, due to various delays and excuses provided by Virgin Atlantic staff. The story, covered by The Telegraph, was shared 875 times across social, spreading negative sentiment online.

57 - May: A letter was issued to passengers of a Virgin Atlantic flight to make them aware of an unscheduled stop in Ghana for the aircraft to be able to pick up additional fuel. An image of this letter was uploaded to Twitter, with one user stating "that is what we call good customer service". This tweet received 98 interactions.

61 - June: Virgin Atlantic's decision to cut 500 jobs dominated conversation this month, as a BBC article describing the redundancies was shared 512 times on Twitter.

60 - July: Virgin Atlantic: Up in the Air, an ITV programme following the day-to-day working lives of the airline's employees, was aired this month. The documentary was able to drive conversation, with more than 10% of mentions reflecting positive sentiment.

91% of brand-preference discussion about Virgin Atlantic was positive. Much of this was inspired by ITV documentary Up in the Air, which prompted viewers to talk about how much they enjoyed travelling with the carrier. The 9% who disliked it felt other airlines offered a superior service and better value.

50% of commentary about the experience of flying with British Airways was positive. Club World customers were especially satisfied with their level of comfort on BA flights, citing relaxing lounges, leg space and other features as making the experience less stressful. Non-Club World passengers found it less pleasant, with lack of legroom and families being split up leading to numerous complaints.

Airlines' share of chat

Share of chat on social platforms. Produced from human analysis of 2500
pieces of user-generated content (UGC) from 16 June to 17 July 2015

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