Virgin America exec offers tips on consumer outreach, customer service

Using social media to fortify a brand

SAN FRANCISCO — Social networks can be valuable tools to build a business’s brand and keep track of customer needs, according to Porter Gale, vice president of marketing for airline Virgin America.

As illustrated by the meteoric rise of Google+ in recent weeks, "social media obviously is here to stay," Gale said during a presentation at the Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco last week.

The Virgin America brand is known for its endeavors to make flying more than just a routine experience. From its mood lighting to a safety video that features a bull sitting next to a bullfighter, people like that the airline takes "a different approach," Gale said. That approach has created "lots of social media buzz and engagement," she added.

Virgin America spent about $18 million in sales and marketing in the first quarter of this year. In a marketing department of 20, only two staffers are dedicated to social media, which Gale said is "a growing channel for us."