Last year Finnair hosted an inflight Angry Birds tournament. Image via nycaviation.com

Last year Finnair partnered with Rovio for an inflight Angry Birds tournament. How important is it for airlines to forge partnerships with online brands? Is Finnair looking to forge similar partnerships in the future?

We are going to do a lot more than what we are currently doing. One benefit of online brands is that there’s a huge number of people who are already connected to the brand so it makes for a good communicating channel. We are currently looking at a few very interesting partnerships that we feel could bring some additional customers on board our flights.

We have a history of being a very design-oriented airline and we have some plans to create a whole new bunch of design elements, and that’s what we’ll introduce, so that the customers will experience something totally new on our flights in the very near future.

You also have a joint initiative with Helsinki Airport called Quality Hunters. What can you tell us about it?

We set up a social media campaign where we hired seven innovative quality oriented people to work for us for two months. We received a huge number of applications. We gave each of them a special focus area, for example, one was responsible for business strategy, one for entertainment. But the basic task we gave them had two dimensions.

The first was for them to acquire followers for their categories and start assimilating ideas from the people following their activities. The second was to travel around the world on Finnair flights and make observations about their experiences.

When they returned in December 2011 they presented their ideas, both the ones they discovered themselves and the ones suggested by their followers. They discovered many ideas for helping the airport and management, and they are ideas we will be implementing.

They provided a lot of unique ideas, having libraries at airports, for example. Then, we had a vote on our website and the most popular ideas were the ones we implemented.

Finnair puts a strong emphasis on its interactive relationship with its customers through social media. Why is that so important?

We want to position ourselves as a quality oriented and design airline that provides individual service.

But because we are so small, it’s not easy for us to send a message throughout the world that we are here and have a story. So we have to be creative in telling the story and spread it through those channels with the most potential customers.

Social media is far easier for marketing. It requires that we interact with the customers, and it provides a whole new window of opportunity to do marketing in a very interesting way. It’s a good place for resources. It’s needed in our case: There’s no other way to do things.

A defining characteristic of both the travelling public and the users in the online space is their varied cultural and linguistic backgrounds.  How do you broadcast Finnair’s message and interact through social media and online in general in a way that will be understood and accepted by such a varied group of people?

We do use local advertisements and we have a very global network that helps us localize our message.

But one of the ideas behind our messages is that they can travel. All of our ideas, like Quality Hunters, are global activities and everyone is invited. In that sense we don’t do any segmentation in our activities.

The things we do – they need to travel – they can’t be local or focused on certain segments. They have to be wide open.

Is it helpful that you have a focused idea of what your market is (vs. bigger airlines), making it easier to know what your customers want?

Social media enables us to communicate with a broader audience. We don’t have to worry about marketing to non-targeted customers – there’s no extra cost there – versus paying for advertisements in print, for example.

It is true that being a very small airline requires us to be more creative, and since we aren’t as known, we have to break the ice and help people recognize there’s an airline called Finnair in the first place.