I’ve written a few times about my skepticism regarding the hype around social networking, but if your airline hasn’t yet had its budget cut in this area (hurry up and spend it, as it will surely be cut), then you will find a great resource of stats here to help you justify any spending. Jeremiah Owyang is the social networking analyst for Forrester and of course you’d expect him to be an evangalist for his topic, but I actually find him much more balanced than most industry analysts/consultants.

“The key is to look at trend movements, don’t focus on the specific numbers but the changes to them over time. I put more weight on active unique users in the last 30 days vs overall registered, in fact, the actual active conversion rate will often range from 10-40% of actual users sticking around and using the social network, so don’t be fooled by puffed numbers.”   

So if you are still looking at investing in social networking, my recommendation would be to really ensure the content will be sticky enough to keep users. It is hard enough getting people to join in the first place, but how do you keep content relevant and current (without incurring the huge costs of manually doing everying yourself). Tripadvisor have mastered user generated content, but maybe part of the answer for the airline direct sales channels lies in better using the data you already have on a customer, and finding a way to share some of that on an opt in basis?

As my final prediction for 2009 shows, I am not a social networking athiest, but making money from it is incredibly difficult.