It’s a tale of airline chiefs with a radically different approach to building brands.

Malaysia-based AirAsia Bhd’s chief executive officer Tony Fernandes makes all key announcements about his proposed airline, AirAsia India, on Twitter.

He even tweets about press conferences and asks reporters to get in touch with his investor relations executives for interviews. His airline, AirAsia, also uses Twitter extensively to launch promotional fares.

Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group Ltd, the parent of Virgin Atlantic Airways, attracts attention with brazen publicity stunts. In April, billionaire Branson promoted his airline’s expansion into Scotland by lifting up his kilt to the watching crowd in London to reveal underpants sporting the slogan “stiff competition". His other stunts include riding atop a Mumbai taxi.

Last year, Branson said he performed such crazy stunts to get front-page coverage for his business expansion.

Both executives have public relations agencies and a strong presence in India. Aziz Laikar, the communications chief at AirAsia, says many journalists contact Fernandes directly and he does things, sometimes, that are not planned.

“It is not that these are just one-off stunts. This is how they (Branson and Fernandes) have always built their brand. Being always fun, sometimes crazy and consumer-driven," says Saurabh Parmar, founder and chief executive officer at marketing and branding firm Brandlogist Communications Consultancy.

Parmar says social media is making interaction more real and fun than traditional public relations and communications.

“I think airline chief executive officers interacting with press and passengers alike on Twitter is a win-win. Consumers always prefer a human face to the brand that they are consuming and having the chief executive officer speak on behalf of the brand adds authenticity as well. Dave Barger from JetBlue is also on Twitter," says Vishal Mehra, who is a digital strategist at London-based marketing service agency Bite Digital Communications Pvt. Ltd.

Mehra says interaction on social media gives passengers first-hand insights into the brand, helps a company build trust with customers and increases customer engagement.

“With over 1.5 billion users across social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google +, it makes perfect sense for airlines to be active and interactive on social media," Mehra says.

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