How Virgin Australia use social media to tell stories that matter

Social media has transformed the way businesses interact with their customers, especially when it comes to telling them stories. One brand who lead the way in this field are Virgin Australia, to learn a little more about their approach we spoke to Nick Henderson, the airline’s Public Affairs and Social Media Specialist...

How does social media influence the way you tell stories at Virgin Australia?

Nick: As anyone who uses social media knows we are shown hundreds, even thousands, of posts every single day across a number of platforms. From close friends marking major life milestones to random inspirational quotes shared by that guy you sat next to in history class for a semester, everyone is competing for your attention in this endless stream of information.

You need to find a way to make your brand stand out if you want to grab some of that attention. You can guarantee reach or views through a media buy but if your story isn’t compelling, social media users will give it a fleeting glance before moving on to that old school friend’s inspirational quote.

At Virgin Australia we work very hard to find a way to make people care about what we are saying by telling interesting stories - and we’re fortunate to have no shortage of interesting stories to choose from. Whether we are appealing to a known topic of interest - say explaining how pets can earn Velocity Frequent Flyer Points - or advising our guests of a small program change, which is important but may be less naturally engaging, we spend a lot of time working out the best way of weaving that information into an interesting story. 

We are guided by the principle of quality over quantity. If people aren’t engaging with our content and sharing it with their friends it is a pretty good indication that no one is paying attention and we are better off spending our time focusing on the things that are going to have an impact.

The prevalence of social media has resulted in an open dialogue between businesses and their customers - how does this help when telling stories?

The great thing about social media is that you get real-time analytics and feedback, which we use to constantly learn what is working and what is not. This applies not only to how we are doing as a social media team, but also in learning about where the business is doing well and where we can improve.

What ingredients go into telling a great brand story online?

If you are able to evoke a strong emotional reaction in your target audience through a great story then you will capture their attention. Triggering any strong emotion will work but some of the more common ones in successful brand stories include surprise, happiness, humour, awe, pride or nostalgia. 

When looking at social motivations to share a story there are a number of triggers. Your audience will share content if they have a passion for the subject matter, if it makes them look good or feel good, or if it will educate friends and followers about something they believe in.   

Great story-telling is more art than science so while data can be used to measure performance, nothing beats having someone with skill and experience to create those stories. Data comes into its own when used for targeting to ensure the right people are seeing your message at scale.

What is the ultimate aim of storytelling for Virgin Australia and why is social media the best place to do it?

The first is to have people remember what you’ve told them. The reason we tell people stories is to grab their attention for long enough that they absorb the information you are giving them. A Stanford University study showed that when provided with statistics people have a retention rate of about  five to 10 per cent, compared to 65 to 70 per cent when those statistics are told as part of a story. 

Once they’ve seen your story you then want people to share it. In the past, stories were shared at the pub, around the family dinner table or through traditional media channels such as talkback radio. The motivation for sharing a story remains the same but these days it is as simple as hitting the share button or tagging a friend in the comments. The strongest measure of success for me is how many people enjoyed your content enough to want to share it with their friends. If people are engaging with your content through comments or reactions it means they have cared enough about your story to take the time to respond. If they shared it, it’s generally a sign that they loved your story.

Everyone now has the power to tell stories, not just about themselves, but about other people and brands - does this cause many problems for Virgin Australia?

We actually find the opposite is the case in most instances. Some of the most far reaching positive stories about our brand have been published by our guests or team members. We regularly have guests get in touch through social media channels or crew email to tell us about something great that has happened on board, which we can then turn into a powerful piece of content to show people what we’re about.

When a story isn’t positive for our brand, this gives us the opportunity to address the issue and do our best to find a positive resolution to the situation. The biggest challenge for us is when misinformation starts to get shared on social media, as correcting something that has inertia on social is an almost impossible challenge.

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