Apr 092011
Video thumbnail for youtube video Smart social media – 5 ways KLM gets it right
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A friend in Amsterdam shared this video on Facebook today, and I was inspired to spin it here on the TLOTL blog. It struck me as a potential “beginning of the end” in the tedious debate of the question: is social media dead?

I refuse to waste pixels issuing birth or death notices for social media (or wade into questions of its citizenship for that matter). But if you are still monitoring social media’s vital signs, or if you just like watching videos, then watch the video. Then read my analysis. And whether you agree with me but think I missed a few points, or you think I’m hopelessly hopped up on social media Kool-Aid, I invite you to make your case in the comments section. [Hey, as long as you’re not a comment spammer or some other type of internet n’er-do-well, you can even launch an epic vitriolic screed against all forms of social media containing links back to your blog or Twitter page.]

Here’s my take on what this video and story does for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines:

  1. Launches a new Miami route with a dose of the fun a KLM passenger can have there. Message: when you fly KLM the transportation is part of the destination. And now one of the reasons you would go to Miami in the first place is one of the reasons you’ll consider flying KLM to get there.
  2. Targets a customer segment with a high expected lifetime value. If you’re a major airline in 2011, it’s nice to fill a seat. It’s reeaaally nice to fill it with young people who tend to travel in groups, probably don’t have kids or a spouse to think of, and spend disposable income on international leisure and entertainment. Seats filled (for 16-18 hours round trip!) with those kinds of passengers provide KLM with a captive audience who will buy drinks, meals, movies, and sign up for credit cards and loyalty programs.
  3. Connects a distinctive, generations-old brand with notions of youth, vitality, style, escape and adventure. These themes appeal to a wide cross-section of the traveling public, and indeed have been part of the air travel sales pitch to consumers for much of the last century.
  4. Shows KLM:
    a. Using social media. Period.
    b. Using social media to listen to customers, and not just to blast out special offers or manage the TV news cycle.
    c. Using social media to engage customers in profitable exchanges – “yes, we’ll gladly move the Miami route launch up one week, but you gotta get your raver friends to fill some seats.” I bet shareholders like that part of the story.
  5. Differentiates KLM as a company that rises above the B.S. — at a time when the dominant storylines in air travel are rising fares, nickel-and-dime surcharges, and (in America at least) TSA body scans, KLM is setting a Guinness World Record for the highest altitude dance party.  This is really smooth, and the nexus of content and context matters a lot here. How would we feel about this video if this were 1999 instead of 2011? In a world awash in post-Cold War, dot com, fin de siècle giddiness, a thumping, transatlantic, 30K-foot dance party would’ve looked terribly tacky and “me too.”

Leon Pals, a Rotterdam-based trendwatcher, posted on thenextweb.com that even if this video is just a clever concoction of KLM’s marketing department or creative agency, he enjoyed it as an example of effective social media. (Such sleight of hand would seem a needless risk for KLM, in my opinion.)

I would take Pals’ point further and say that even if some level of storyline manufacturing took place, this would only underscore social media’s value as a communications channel.

And BTW, let’s just take it as a given that all media is subject to misuse. We should move beyond moral outrage and accept that, at some level, we’re just going to have to figure out the difference between authentic and synthetic messaging. We can try to regulate and we should. And we can hope that those who think it’s ok to “pee in the pool” (I’m talking to you J.C.-Penny-and-or-the-agency-that-supposedly-acted-of-its-own-accord-to-employ-black-hat-SEO-practices-on-J.C.-Penny’s-behalf) will eventually be caught in the act, publicly shamed, and sent to the big house if necessary.

But in the meantime, we marketers have a job to do, and that is TO SELL. And whether or not J.C. Penny or anyone else is cheating is not our concern. What we need to do is tell great stories that inspire the right customer to engage our brands, and ultimately, buy our products. Well done KLM.