Case study: Finnair puts social media community to work

By {grow} Community Member Ana Silva O’Reilly 

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 ( 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?

Ana Silva O’Reilly is UK-based social media enthusiast and luxury travel blogger.  Follow her on Twitter at @mrsoaroundworld.


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  • Mrs D

    Go Ana! Your story is really inspiring and what they are doing with the social media is really interesting. Maybe it will inspire other companies to do the same!

  • Thank you. It was a great experience, which is still “alive” today. Would love to know what their thoughts are on the experience!

  • Raquel la Feria

    Great!!! I’m proud of you! Continua a ter sucesso que nos deixa a todos orgulhosos! 😉 Mts parabens tb pela iniciativa do blog mrsoaroundtheworld que e’ o maximo e mt useful!

  • Such a great case study – a whole new perspective on airlines customer satisfaction, especially Finnair! Can’t recommend you enough! Congrats! 🙂

  • Rodrigo Ribeiro

    I think that you deserve to go to Finland.
    And I also think that Finnair deserves to take you there.
    Rodrigo Ribeiro

  • Now, that is a thought 🙂 I like that!

  • Thank you for the kind words Monica. I am very proud to have been part of this community. Very cleverly thought!

  • Thank you, very sweet of you. And as a fellow marketeer, I thought you’d really enjoy this. Glad you also like the travel blog!

  • Great blog what I like most is the fast that for Social Media to work at best it needs to be sincere, a lot of brands and businesses can learn a lot from just doing this. As for Finnair I expect them to send you to Finland to experience this first hand.

  • Hi Wayne, thank you for your kind words and taking the time to comment. Spot on – sincerety is key and they did this brilliantly. Very interesting how tone of voice was defined (or not!), but certainly how it came across. The @qualityhunters was really a person and that certainly brought is closer to the brand. I am looking forward to my invite 😉

  • Exactly my Mantra Social Media needs to have a real person with there own personality to build ‘real’ Valued connections which will generate real results perhaps not just right away but they will bring results and if the right connections are built this can generate long term businesses with the right strategy and person behind the social media. Thanks so much for sharing this blog which you wrote.

  • max

    A lot better than the poorly run first attempt- where Finnair boasted of 10,000 visitors per day which in the context of things is a rather small amount of readers.
    Where Finnair now needs to do is put their attention towards properly running their social media accounts which IMHO are poorly run in comparison to their competitors.

  • David James

    This works as it physically delivers on what it virtually promises…a win win, great article Ana…

  • Encouraging people to pay a little more for airport lounge access could have been a good idea as well. For example, I pay between £15 and £25 a time for my airport lounge access and it’s definitely worth it. I’m sure they’re trying to keep the riff raff out, but it’s more affordable than most people think.

  • Hi Max! Thank you for your comments. Very interesting insight – surely you would think they would apply best practice developed through this project for their own benefit? My interactions with Finnair are, as you can imagine, limited as I have never flown with them (yet)!

  • Thank you, David. You have seen the airport and have actually given me a different perspective. I am really curious to see it one day!

  • The focus on this exercise was to find best practice. Surely, all business class passengers have access to the lounges (which have pools, saunas etc – very different than the usual amenities) and they go hand in hand. Many airports allow passengers to pay – but these facilities are in place, I believe. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Adam, much appreciated!

  • Pleasure. If you are into travel, would love to welcome you to 🙂

  • That’s quite an interesting social media case study, one that can really open new ideias on how to use it and to what purposes. Congrats also on your great idea on the sitckers… Specially if they may be shared through the network themselves 🙂

    Keep on with your fantastic work and ideias, Ana!

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  • Great Article Ana

    Its a great credit to Finnair that they have convened a forum to seek genuine feedback from influencers and that they have embraced and built upon the community with intent to leverage the insights of others outside of the company.

    I take it as a sign of success that the forum continued beyond the “winning post” and that people continued to have a sense of engagement. Whilst this must be credited to the interactions of @qualityhunters in how they fostered the continued discussion – It also shows the intrinsic value people gain from being connected and being offer the chance to be involved. (Dont you think Winning is sometime a false positive)

    User Innovation is a huge source of value to corporates – but the first step is for teh convener to build that sense of inclusion that makes it a great place to share and co-create.

    A reassuring read that should be emulated by all businesses that care about what their clients want and need

    Thanks for sharing Ana


  • max

    I don’t want to come across as a naysayer on this nice piece that you have written about Finnair but when it comes to their SM accounts they have this “me too” attitude which companies get caught up in when they do not have a clear social strategy. Observe their accounts for yourself and you’ll see the errors in their ways.

  • Hi James, thank you for your insightful comments. Totally agree with them – the sense of belonging here as been key and also a very common goal in sight. At this stage, we are now looking forward to idea number 2 to be announced and implemented!

  • Thank you, Luis. I think there are indeed lessons to be learned from this exercise – but you are right about the stickers! Would love to see one. Maybe Mark Schaefer could donate a couple books and we test it? We will need a carrier to Helsinki.
    What doesn’t appear here is a photo of the Quality Hunters story, and a public thank you to the top 10 contributors and our Twitter handles – they never had to do it (and actually never told us),r:23,s:0,i:146

  • That is a very fair point and I will. This was a separate point. As far as airlines go, I follow BA, AA, Iberia and TAP and there are very interesting differences between all of them. My clear preference is the first, and get interesting interactions with them.

  • max

    That’s because unlike those other airlines BA invests in both manpower & financially on their accounts plus have a clearer social strategy-click on the link which tells you how they tweeted you 😉

  • And make me feel more than a passenger. Love it when they welcome me to a place when I land. Super cool 🙂 The downside is of course ones gets disappointed when they dont!

  • Great story Ana, would love to hear more about what the conclusion was to the 7 weeks; what were the top 10 travel ideas or air travel suggestions? Love your blog!

  • Hi Ana, thank you for stopping by. Interestingly, we don’t know what were all the ideas that are going forward. We voted on them, but not clear which ones will be implemented. Curious myself too! For more info

  • Hi Ana, thanks for the brilliant blog post! The reason for the Quality Hunters campaign was that 1) we want to improve our services and believe in learning from our customers and other travelers, 2) we believe in creating customer loyalty through conversation and engagement. You’re a great living example of how it works, but seldom do we hear people actually say what you just wrote. Thanks for sharing your story! Personally, I find it very inspiring and it’s nice to be reminded every once in a while about why we are doing this. 🙂

    We didn’t know what we were putting ourselves into when we started, but the whole community has grown into something so much more than a marketing campaign, that it perhaps was in someone’s initial thoughts. Community-powered service development is still something that we are learning, but it’s a lot of fun and we’re committed into it. We’ve also been overwhelmed by all the goodwill that the community has shown – we are so grateful to everyone involved and really want to live up to everone’s expectations.

    Ana, you’ve been such a wonderful part of the conversations. I love the stickers idea! Thank you for contributing and bringing others along, too!

    Aku Varamäki
    Social media manager, Finnair

    We’ve got some pretty cool things coming up in the autumn – invitation to follow! 🙂

  • Ana Capucho

    Great article Ana! Must think of something similar to grow traction on my projects!

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  • Pleasure, glad to bring this great case study to more people as credit is due here!

  • Aku, my pleasure. Thank you SO much for actually coming here and sharing your side of the story. More than anything, it has been fun and everything I have done was indeed by goodwill. Never to get anything in return and delighted, if anything, to be heard, something that you guys were always very good at. Looking forward to the surprises!

  • Amanda Litzow

    Nice work, Ana. It will be interesting to see how this exercise pays off for Finnair down the line, as I assume they are measuring this in some way …. Perhaps a follow on article in future from you?

  • Maybe I could be a quality hunter? See comments by Aku Varamäki above, very interesting. I am looking forward to hear about the other initiatives coming up. Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment 🙂

  • love hearing what inspired you to start blogging, and sounds like a great community to be a part of!

  • small world, huh! thank you for reading and stopping by!

  • Very cool. I have to take a closer look at Finnair next time I see them!

  • Do you know what is funny? When I see a plane or a check in counter (I have never flown with them), I feel like I know something that no one else does. A little secret. Love it! Thank you for stopping by 🙂

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  • A fascinating case study! The book swap lounge got me intrigued. 🙂

  • The concept is great, can’t wait to see it live 🙂 Or have one of those books come my way somehow!

  • The Quality Hunters Project is certainly one of the most outstanding social media exercises I’ve experienced — and the fact that it still retains an active community is what’s truly amazing about it.

    Getting social media right is not entirely difficult. Just like how you befriend people in the real world, it all comes down to those good ol’ manners and every-day social etiquette. Finnair has managed to create this virtual community, through the Quality Hunters Project, by offering an open invitation to people interested in their cause, and casually allowing everybody in the room to converse with one another. No pressure, and it was always good!

    Those companies who choose to treat social media as a way to market, sell their product, or use it as an additional means to offer customer support, are clearly doing it wrong.

  • Hi 🙂 Great to see you here. If it wasn’t for this project, we would have never exchanged around 3,000 tweets over the past year or so, let alone met in real life.

    In my opinion, social media is about being sociable, personable, in other words, human. Social Media is about people, and giving personalities to companies. Nonetheless, I don’t mind seeing it as an additional customer support channel, but that has to be separate from the “main” account. If anything, companies could consider having 2 accounts. I have seen that before, and it works.

    It is easy to point a finger and say x and y are doing it wrong, but to be honest, everyone is still starting getting their fingers wet in this fascinating new world. One thing we know, if that Finnair and Helsinki Airport approached this in a completely different way and they deserve recognition and this is my way to do so.

    In my opinion, it cannot end here – then this whole thing will be a failure! or just a marketing exercise.

  • Apologies for saying in my opinion twice!

  • Personality is definitely the key word here — you are absolutely right there!

    When I think about all the other companies out there that could make use of the social media engine, imagine how possibly different the landscape can become…

    Brave new world.

  • Wow, I never knew anything like Quality Hunters even existed. What a cool concept and congrats to you, Ana, on your contribution to the book swap!

  • Great to hear of such social media initiative which no doubt will contribute to an improvement in customer service in the long run.We will have to join the community ourselves. Good luck with the project

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  • This is a great opportunity for companies, who need to understand that social media isn’t just another selling channel. Of course people, as in consumers, also need to use it responsibly, which not everyone does!

  • Francesca hi! Thanks for stopping by! It was meant to be global, but kind of wasn’t, so not surprised. The exciting part is that this is only the first initiative. I am really looking forward to finding out what the others will be!

  • Which is one of the reasons why I detest using Facebook so much when it comes to these kinds of interactions — all that noise in the comments section gets too much, and ultimately people switch off.

    Interestingly, how people behave on social media, and how they do in real life, may not differ all that greatly. Food for thought when considering the human condition…

  • You have to – totally up your street 🙂 Follow @qualityhunters for a start, but I promise to keep you posted. Thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.

  • Facebook is for pictures 😉 it is a one-to-many channel and true engagement must be challenging.. or real engagement. The beauty of twitter is that is one to one, and that works for me, as a consumer.

    What I meant was people using it responsibly. Sometimes I feel like a voyeur reading people’s complaints on twitter and of course, that famous Kim Kardashian luggage incident. I have complained once or twice, but have given praise many more times. I think it goes both ways!

  • Facebook is for pictures 😉 it is a one-to-many channel and true
    engagement must be challenging.. or real engagement. The beauty of
    twitter is that is one to one, and that works for me, as a consumer.

    What I meant was people using it responsibly. Sometimes I feel like a
    voyeur reading people’s complaints on twitter and of course, that famous
    Kim Kardashian luggage incident. I have complained once or twice, but
    have given praise many more times. I think it goes both ways! “In my opinion”

  • Indeed, all things of this world are never perfect. I’m with you on how Twitter just works for us as individuals, while we are also able to select the noise that we choose to hear… (well, most of the times anyways!)

    Going back to Quality Hunters, I — like yourself — believe that this is only the beginning for them. Can’t wait to see what they have in store for the community this time round (*winks at Aku!*)


  • Crowdsourcing can be powerful when done with genuine interest in the ideas! Excellent story.

  • Delta’s Twitter presence is not only active but it actually solves problems very fast – a better user experience for me, a Diamond flyer!

  • Absolutely. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated 🙂

  • That is great. Do they have 1 or 2 accounts?

  • CaptainandClark

    What an incredible idea. I loved that they included a surprise 8th traveler. It seemed like a wonderful campaign that kept the community active and engaged. Where were we when all of this was going down? 😉

  • This took place in November/December last year.. and there is a rumour that there may be another one. But the other top 10 ideas are to be implemented shortly, so I will let you know. Follow @qualityhunters 😉

  • Simon O’Reilly

    Wow! Very inspring and a really great case study that demonstrates the power of social media. One just has to be impressed with the outcome.

  • It’s so cool that you had such a hand in this. I think it’s very inspiring that Finnair went to such great lengths to improve. You don’t see that everyday, especially in the airline industry. Great for all involved and for passengers flying the airline.

  • Thank you, Leah. It was a great experiment and as it is continuing, would love to get other travel lovers like you involved!

  • Jun

    This is a classic example of disconnected departments. The social media department works separately from the rest of the teams. I was trying to find information on Finnair reviews and carriers for a long haul trip to Europe and was unable to find much good reviews. I was so shocked by all the negative reviews of bad experiences on Finnair from several independent airline review websites as well as mixed reviews from my Scandinavian friends who took the airline so much that I am booking my ticket with the same airline I take again. I was not aware of this campaign although it sounded interesting, especially the used-book exchange part. However, Finnair needs to have more internal alignment with their PR, marketing, customer service, web teams and other departments in order to get a positive response and new customers. Just like any business, a campaign working in silos ignoring all the other customer touchpoints cannot be considered a success in whole.

  • travelingted

    A book swap lounge would be pretty awesome.

  • They all need to read The Tao of Twitter! : )

  • Yo. Don’t forget about me!

  • Not only a great story, but an awesome idea too. I wish there was a book swap lounge during my layovers this week!

  • max
  • lola

    i love this! twitter has changed so much in my life & i’m not at all surprised at the power & results it achieved in this case study. AND i’m so glad that this community encouraged you to start blogging, Ana. your blog & twitter is how we met – and for this i will be forever grateful!

  • Philip Beeching

    Great idea but couldn’t they have done better with the Book Swap design – it’s dull! Let’s not forget the role of creativity and inspirational design to make this idea really live

  • I so agree win-win. I applied for the second round, and thought my experience traveling both as business (management consultant) and now as a travel blogger would pay dividends, not to mention I have a few opinions. But I didn’t understand the voting process 🙁 Maybe round 3?

    Anyways, I am glad to see an idea implemented and also read how an airline takes quality seriously…too many airlines lost touch with the customer / passenger. I still think of flying as a joy, a treat and often dress up for it. It makes me sad when I see the direction air-travel is heading…

    stay adventurous, Craig

    ps – just started following @qualityhunters

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