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Virgin America's New Terminal Checks In to Foursquare, Facebook

  |  April 14, 2011   |  Comments

Airline creates leaderboard monitors for geo-social engagement with travelers.

virginleaderboard2Virgin America didn't leave out Foursquare and Facebook Places when designing its new state-of-the-art terminal in the San Francisco International Airport. The five travelers that check in via the two geo-social platforms most often will appear on a check-ins leaderboard monitor in the terminal, which is dubbed "Terminal 2" or "T2" by the brand.

A version of the leaderboard can be seen on the airline's "T2 Takeover" Facebook page, where viewers can add an app to their profile to participate via Places. The brand's @VirginAmerica Twitter activity is also streamed on the right-hand side of the leaderboard. Virgin America worked with San Francisco-based social marketing firm Context Optional to create what may be best described as a digital scorecard-and-tweets-ticker combo.

Check-ins around the terminal on both platforms help players earn one of five Foursquare-styled badges. They include "Ground Crew" (one to four check-ins), "Flight Crew" (five to 10 check-ins), "Navigator" (11 to 20), "Co-Pilot" (21 to 50), and "Captain" (50-plus).

"We've left all kinds of little 'Easter eggs' throughout Terminal 2, and we want our customers to discover them when they check in," Jill Fletcher, Virgin America social media manger, told ClickZ. "They are in unusual places so they can discover all of the unique things our terminal has to offer."

Some of the discovery items include a video game for kids, stylish chairs decorated with red butterflies, and original art pieces. Other geo-social check-in points include baggage claim, airport gates, and the ticket counters.

Virgin America wants to see results before directly syncing up its "Elevate" frequent flyer rewards program into the "T2 Takeover" initiative, Fletcher said. "This is more of a test for us," she said. "Once we see how people adopt it, we might incorporate it into rewards like that. For now, it's more for the social game aspect… We are starting with [SFO] T2 with the possibility of expanding into other airports."

virginleaderboard3At the same time, the San Francisco-based airline has an ongoing partnership with travel loyalty program TopGuest. Via TopGuest's platform, "Elevate" members can earn rewards when checking into numerous airports and hotels via Foursquare, Facebook Places, Gowalla, or Twitter. So geo-socially-minded travelers in Terminal 2 can participate in the leaderboard games while also earning potential rewards with their check-ins.

"We are trying to reward people for real-world check-ins," Fletcher explained. "We have a tech-savvy customer base, and we're in Silicon Valley. We definitely have a higher-than-usual proportion of people using mobile apps like Foursquare and Facebook Places."

Virgin America started testing geo-social platforms last year, most notably running a two-for-one, airfare-to-Mexico offer on Loopt. The "Tickets & Tacos" effort garnered the fifth-best revenue day in the airline's three-year history, as thousands of people checked in at designated taco trucks in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Fletcher said her company was committed to exploring emerging mobile platforms rather than watching other brands test out the ideas. While Virgin America didn't run its initial geo-social promotion until late August 2010, she said it saw 12,000 check-ins across platforms last year.

"We like to be the first to innovate in these areas," Fletcher said. "We really want to encourage people to engage with us on a geo-social level. We are experimenting as much as we can. More and more people have smartphones and want to connect in that way."

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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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