NB:¬†This is a guest article by Shubhodeep Pal, senior innovation officer at airline and airport strategy firm¬†SimpliFlying.
But beware the pitfalls!
The airline and Klout, an online service that measures social influence on a scale of one to 100, announced the exclusive deal wherein users of Klout‚Äôs iPhone app could gain access to Cathay‚Äôs branded Business and First Class Lounge at San Francisco International Airport simply by showing the lounge receptionist a score of 40 or higher on their iPhone.
Note that all flyers who use the Klout app, regardless of whether they‚Äôre flying Cathay, can access the lounge provided they meet the minimum requirement.
Time to recognize the cult
Here‚Äôs the good news first: it‚Äôs cheering to know that airlines are finally waking up to the power of influencer marketing.
We have constantly encouraged airlines to reach out to their most influential (in terms of online influence) flyers so that they can leverage the power of what we call Cult Relationship Management.
A simple story told over and over again illustrates this point beautifully: when celebrity Paris Hilton once flew first class Emirates she was so impressed by her suite that she tweeted photographs of it to her millions of followers (who form the cult), who in turn have their own followers.
It was estimated that this apparent free publicity was worth millions of dollars given the rates at which Paris Hilton normally did commercials.
Social advocacy is an increasingly desirable pull-marketing tool that airlines are looking to leverage as they wake up to the viral power of social influence.
Cathay Pacific‚Äôs best hopes would be that something similar to the Paris Hilton incident happens with its lounge as well, so more people are encouraged to fly Cathay and experience its high-end service.
Vice president of marketing in the Americas for Cathay, Dennis Owen, says:
“By partnering with Klout, we have the opportunity to invite travelers who typically may not fly with us to experience our ground products and services, in hopes that they may one day choose to visit us again.”
Actually, they hope a bit more. They hope that these social influencers will advocate Cathay‚Äôs lounge and service to their online following and convince some of them to fly Cathay the next time they fly out of San Francisco.
In theory, Cathay‚Äôs thinking is sound. Having loyal influencers is always worthwhile.
Take Estonian Air‚Äôs much-feted social loyalty program, the first in the world for airlines – it leverages the power of influencer marketing. Social advocates get real-world rewards for online actions.
But don‚Äôt forget to focus on ROI
But here‚Äôs the bad news for Cathay. When Air New Zealand announced its Foursquare Mayors initiative, it rewarded the mayors of selected terminals with lounge access only if they were flying Air New Zealand.
With Cathay‚Äôs new initiative, the net has been cast much wider. Here‚Äôs why I feel it might be a bad move and a loss-making initiative:
- The benchmark of 40 is too low. Nobody influential online would have a score that low. If Cathay really wanted some ROI out of it, it should have at least tried to target the top-end of the influencer spectrum.
- Anyone without a ticket on Cathay and with a Klout score of 40 could get in. That could potentially be the entire city of San Francisco, home town of many a social media darling and, of course, Silicon Valley. There‚Äôs a hazard if there ever was one. The entire city might be an exaggeration, but I do know people who rarely tweet and are happy to post cat pictures on Facebook but still hit 40, even 50, on Klout. So essentially, even if you‚Äôre moderately active on social media, congrats! You have a free pass to Cathay Pacific‚Äôs lounge. You can fly economy over the next three months while the offer is active and enjoy some of the perks of flying Business.
- The influencer marketing could backfire. What if those influencers actually gamed Klout to get their friends access to the lounge instead of propagating the brand as Cathay expects them to? The lack of compulsion to fly Cathay and the low benchmark could cost the airline heavily in the coming months.
All one can expect is that the real gainer from this partnership would be Klout, which, despite its best PR efforts, has been on the end of stinging criticism and plenty of tongue-in-cheek comments about its irrelevance over the last year.
Even though the latest Wired profile would have you believe otherwise, within the circle of consultants in aviation at least, Klout‚Äôs validity and relevance has become increasingly suspect especially due to its erratic algorithm changes.
But this is a necessary first-step that shows great, and valid, belief in what the power of social influence has to offer brands. Welcome to the world of influencer marketing, Cathay. We hope you do it better in your next initiative.
NB: This is a guest article by Shubhodeep Pal, senior innovation officer at airline and airport strategy firm SimpliFlying.