Despite showing a great diagram recently to ensure everyone reading takes just about anything written on social media with a healthy dose of skepticism, it isn’t enough to stop me occassionally writing on the topic. Today I’m inspired into action by the recent announcement by American Airlines that they will soon be launching a new social network aimed at African American travellers called Black Atlas. Best commentary on this subject comes from Steven Frischling who compares it to an earlier failed attempt to market to this demographic by AA.

I need to be very wary of passing judgement before the event for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve got about as much credibility on the black demographic as I do in passing judgement on a gay social media initive from an airline. When an airline announces they are setting up a social network targetting white married male expat business travellers then I might be able to better predict whether or not it has personal appeal, so for now I’ll stick to broader themes. The second reason I tread carefully on this is that not being an American, let alone not being African Amercian, I’ve got to be careful of doing something in a light hearted or amusing style that whilst being well intentioned is interpreted differently by someone in a different country – let’s call it the Harry Connick Jr conundrum.

As a general theme, I’m not confident of success for a travel social network that is too demographically segmented; for an airline to succeed in this area they need to build something that will result in user generated content from a wider group, especially when the fact that it is frequent traveller related means you are cutting out a lot of potential members/contributors to begin with, and this is death for most social networks. Backpacker segmentation may be an exception to this rule, but WAYN might suggest otherwise even on this point. Advertising to various well defined market segments is a completely different story, as it undoubtedly works – just looks at the controversial success big tobacco have had doing this. But actively engaging in a social network is a very different behaviour to passively consuming a marketing message. And this is probably my biggest concern for airlines investing in this space; carriers thinking that market segmentation applies equally to both the advertising message and a travel social media strategy are almost certainly on a one way road to disappointment; even more so when the demographic chosen is race.

And whilst on the topic of travel social media strategies, I’m absolutely certain this Jetstar employee’s use of Facebook was not envisaged when airline executives in Melbourne would have been pondering weeks or months ago how to be more relevant to their younger customers using all of the wonderful new tools Web 2.0 has to offer. Getting social media right – so much harder than it first appears.

Finally, following on from yesterday’s post, take a look at this memo to staff at Air New Zealand from CEO Rob Fyfe.

In my 30-year working career, I am struggling to recall a time where I have seen a supplier so slow to react to a catastrophic system failure such as this and so unwilling to accept responsibility and apologise to its client and its client’s customers… We were left high and dry and this is simply unacceptable. My expectations of IBM were far higher than the amateur results that were delivered yesterday, and I have been left with no option but to ask the IT team to review the full range of options available to us to ensure we have an IT supplier whom we have confidence in and one who understands and is fully committed to our business and the needs of our customers.