Virgin America Offers Social Media Perks To Most Influential

Do you have to be Ashton Kutcher to have influence on Twitter? If not, what does it take to be an influencer on social networks? And Is there a return on investment on the time you spend on social media tasks? Virgin America airlines is examining what influencers can do for their brand and is depending on a social media analytics company to surface the results so they reward those that do the best job.

Influencers on Twitter can garner rewards from various brands when their tweets display a knowledge and expertise in that brand's field. The start-up analytics company Klout measures just how influential people are on Twitter and Facebook and it's not solely based on number of followers - but moreso on interactions with fellow followers and how influential they are. With Virgin America's non-stop service beginning this month between Toronto and LA/San Francisco, they are partnering with Klout to determine the airlines' greatest influencers.

In tandem with the debut of the Toronto service commencing on June 23, Klout will determine the most qualified influencers that have made an impact vis a vis opinions, links and recommendations across the users' online "social graph." In turn, those influencers will be awarded free round-trip airfare, free WiFi on the flight and an invitation to Virgin America's Toronto Launch event. The firms said that users will not be required to Tweet about the event--likening the free flight to "receiving a sample while shopping at the grocery store."

Klout measures people’s overall online influences based on more than 25 factors, including everything from followers and mentions to list inclusions and the influence of followers to develop a Klout score.

“We hope that by providing free samples of our unique in-flight experience, including WiFi on every plane, mood-lit cabins, touch-screen seatback entertainment system and on-demand food, we will convert flyers and build word-of-mouth and loyalty amongst key influencers in new markets,” noted Virgina America's spokesperson, Okawa Fletcher.

"As a brand, we’ve found that social media is an informal, authentic way for us to engage with guests and prospective guests — and also amplify our awareness within limited ad budgets,” Okawa Fletcher says. “As we enter a brand new market we thought it was an interesting approach to partner with clout in this way.”

Known as "Payola" in the pre-social media world, today the term "Blogola" could easily apply to promotional campaigns such as what Virgin America and Klout are entertaining. In a previous post titled Top 12 "Blogging For Dollars" Deals, I detailed promotions where bloggers accepted products and perks in exchange for endorsements and recommendations.

Virgin America is cognizant of the fine line here, and notes that all 'winning' influencers are subject to the Klout's Code of Ethics, which includes the following stipulation:

“If you accept the offer you are not required to do anything. We do not want to “buy” your tweets. You are receiving the product because you are influential and have authority on topics related to the product. This is a more targeted form of receiving a sample while shopping at the grocery store. You are welcome to tell the world you love the product, you hate the product or say nothing at all.”

So if the influencer goes public after they are awarded a trip, Klout requests that they disclose that they received free flights without obligation. 

If this type of campaign is successful, you can be assured that the location-based social networks like Twitter Places and Foursquare will seize the opportunity to not only determine "influencers" but to determine "influencers of a particular location." The opportunities for variations on this theme could become a standard for brands and influencers going forward.