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WestJet's social Christmas campaign: 'nothing short of astounding'.
Thursday, 13th February 2014
Source : Pamela Whitby
 

When social media works, it really does work and it delivers significant bottom line benefits, writes Pamela Whitby;

Richard Bartrem, WestJet’s vice president of communications and community relations can still hardly believe the results from the Canadian airline’s Christmas Miracle campaign.

“We were blown away. It was phenomenal, truly nothing short of astounding,” he says. Bartrem, who in the days following the campaign had estimated that the number of YouTube views would top at 4 million, could not have been more wrong.
 
4Hoteliers Image LibraryWithin 3.5 weeks the campaign had been viewed 35 million times in 230 countries and the story has been covered 1600 times by media outlets around the world. On December 8, the morning the video was released, it was the number one trending topic on Twitter. Before long, the airline’s call centre was inundated by calls from people who just wanted to wish WestJet employees a Merry Christmas. “I even had a call from a lady whose son I used to babysit in Montreal,” says Bartrem, who had been spotted talking about the campaign on a CNN news broadcast on December 1oth.
 
The video which features a Santa, clad in WestJet blue, taking Christmas orders from passengers on two internal flights, 175 employees, a frenetic shopping expedition and 19 hidden cameras which captured the surprise and delight of customers as their gifts arrived on the on a carousel in a Toronto arrivals hall, clearly struck a chord.
 
All power to social

Many travel brands today complain that measuring a return on investment from social media is difficult, if not impossible. But WestJet’s campaign proves that if you get it right there are clear, measurable business benefits. “The business results were literally amazing,” says Bartrem
 
Without any call to action on the video itself in the 14 days leading up to Christmas, WestJet saw:

  • Site traffic increase by 100%
  • Bookings increase by 77%, and
  • Revenues up 86% on the previous year.
What is more, the airline saw subscriptions to its YouTube channel rise more than ten-fold from 3,000 to 40,000. “Video has always been an important part of our strategy but now we have a bigger and broader audience to speak to,” says Bartrem. In addition, previous video content on the channel, which had until then received just 3 million views, has now been watched well over 4 million times.
 
If that isn’t enough to convince you then consider this: WestJet’s Christmas promotion cost the airline less than it would have cost to have a billboard up in Toronto for three months.
 
So what exactly led to the success of the campaign? Or was it just a fluke?
 
It may sound cheesy, but Bartrem firmly believes this campaign worked because there was “something very genuine and authentic for our brand” which has at its core the idea of caring for people and having fun. It wasn’t a contest, but rather a simple gesture that managed to genuinely surprise and delight customers. It was also about timing. That it was Christmas, and the airline had managed to capture the customer’s genuine delight with 19 hidden cameras, were other factors that made the video so shareable.
 
Learning from experience

WestJet is no stranger to social media and has been experimenting with since it hired its first social media employee back in September 2009. Not everything has worked: when the airline switched reservations systems in October 2009, customers were going on Facebook to “’like’ the fact that we sucked”. But even in circumstances like this, Bartrem believes that the power social gives you to turn things around cannot be underestimated. Thrown in at the deep end, the new social employee used this as an opportunity to start a private conversation with angry travellers.
 
Bartrem says the experiential marketing team is constantly working on new ideas and video has always played a central role. “What we do with social in general has been a number of years in the making,” says Bartrem. As an example, he points to the firm’s yearly April Fools’ Day press releases – such as the announcement that they will be replacing cabin air with helium to cut costs, or the introduction of childfree cabins. “It [YouTube] allows us to capture and share those moments,” he says.
 
For Bartrem, social media cannot be a hard sell. You need to think carefully about what message you are trying to convey, and define metrics to prove that what you are doing is worthwhile. Quite often, he says, it is the simple stories that work best.
 
When it comes down to it, the most important thing is that content is engaging and relevant to the audience. In the past, you had to fit your brand message into a 30 second advertising slot but social media gives you much broader scope to have a different conversation with the customer.
 
Today WestJet uses various tools, such as software to measure brand sentiment but will be rethinking its strategy following this most recent campaign. After all it’s not just about the number of views on YouTube, it is about understanding all the media impressions that a campaign delivers.
 
And fluke or not, the Christmas Miracle is one that delivered in spades.
 
To find out more about why social is essential weapon in a travel brand’s marketing armour join us in San Francisco for Social Media and Mobile Strategies for Travel on March 17-18

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