One day last year I received an email with quite the provocative title: “How can you improve air travel?” At first, I thought it was a joke, but the sender seemed reputable — Finland’s flagship air carrier, Finnair and the Helsinki Airport. They were launching a worldwide search for airline best practices called Quality Hunters.
The application form wasn’t complicated, and it encouraged you to share your best airline and airport experience in one of several categories — business class, shopping, food, airports, entertainment, and socialising. The seven people with the best ideas would win a seven week journey around the world to find the best travel ideas on earth! This sounded like my kind of fun!
Stupidly, I never realised that votes for your idea were key for selection and with only one day to go in the contest, I still managed to get in the top 10. A good effort, but not good enough to be selected. I was actually disappointed.
The birth of a community
The airline’s “Quality Hunters” project had a blog (qualityhunters2.com) and a Twitter account (@qualityhunters), and a vibrant social media community actually began to form around this key idea of improving air travel. Participants were invited to attend online chats about a variety of travel-related topics. Such chats could last all day and were attended by hundreds of people!
Even though we had not won the prize, the team behind the Twitter account was determined to keep all of us connected to the project by tweeting the adventures of those lucky seven winners.
Of course this was quite compelling Twitter content — it was great to know where they were, what they were up to and so on. But what kept me interested were the daily twitter chats and knowing that we could still suggest topics for improvement. The Twitter chats covered everything from cocktails, to airline alliances. After a while, strong connections and friendships began to form in this community.
A week before the epic seven week journey was scheduled to end, the community received a surprise – an eighth Quality Hunter was to be selected, to join this adventure for the last week, and the winner was going to be chosen by the community! This time around, I wasn’t disappointed because one of my new Twitter community friends, @arjantupan, was selected.
A return on the social media investment
When they returned from their trip, the hard work began. The Quality Hunters submitted their best ideas to the judging panel (made up by Finnair and Helsinki Airport execs) and the most feasible ones were shared with the entire QH community.
One of the easiest ideas to implement was an airport Book Swap lounge. Simple, straight to the point, and obviously useful. Using Pinterest, we were encouraged to submit design and branding ideas and it was incredible to see how many of us, almost six months later, were still interested. I certainly was. My suggestion was that each book should have a sticker sharing the Quality Hunters story and allow those using the book swap lounge to record where each book has traveled. Here is a picture of how my idea was implemented:
It was nice to be recognized by the airline but being part of this company’s social network meant more to me than they would ever know. You see, by participating, I was constantly encouraged and inspired to start my own travel blog and create my online alter-ego @mrsoaroundworld. I made some valuable business connections and authentic friendships. The people in the Quality Hunters community were the first ones to read my new blog and spread the word. It rapidly became a very popular site for tales of luxury travel.
Finnair’s social media effort was effective, helpful and sincere. It was a win-win for the company, the Quality Hunter community, and certainly any one traveling through the Helsinki Airport.
And I have to admit … every time I walk past a Finnair check-in desk … I smile. I am even thinking about a trip to Finland. After all, I really have to see that book-swap lounge, right?
What do you think about this case study?