Earlier today I had one of the more interesting lunches I’ve had in many weeks, and it has really got me thinking about so many issues; from branding to social media to monetization, and then how all of this might be effectively leveraged, managed and measured. And I’m not even thinking of an airline at this point, but in the true spirit of this blog I’ll be sure to try and find some link to something aviation related before the end.

The lunch was with a man we’ll call JohnnyG99X – mild mannered accountant by day, musician in smokey dens by night, and blues guitar teacher online with close to two million views on YouTube. Here he is showing you how to play an accountic version of Layla if you have a spare guitar lying around the house and fancy yourself as the next Eric Clapton. Two million views doesn’t quite get him into the Judson Laipply league of viral, but in the finest traditional of the long tail, niche is now, and JohhnyG99X appears to have carved out a very nice little niche indeed. Now he just needs to parlay that into solidifying and then monetizing his own personal brand – but one step at a time.

Here comes the airline question – Are smaller airlines sitting back and leaving social business initiatives to be owned by their larger competitors? Or are some smaller airlines playing to their strengths just like JohnnyG99X and setting up a genuine social media presence?

In many cases the smaller airlines underplay this card, but definitely not in all cases – just look at Martinair on Twitter or Volaris getting their message out; but I do think smaller airlines in general are way underutilizing the potential of what is available. Maybe I’m drawing a long bow with Volaris, but social business really is a mindset, and its no use slavishly embracing all the cool technology if it is not the key type of social interaction your target market is relying on. Take this great answer from the Mexican carrier:

Cranky Flier : Do you get most of your VFR [visiting friends and relatives] traffic from travel agents?

Volaris: No, most is online in the US and it’s growing in Mexico as well. It’s all word of mouth and targeted community involvement. We’re often at parties, fiestas, in the community but we don’t do widespread marketing.

That was about as social as you can get! And it illustrates how effective engagement via social channels really is so much more than just knowing which website is the latest buzzword.

Whereas a lot of what I’ve written on mobile has realistically been more aimed at the larger carriers, and likewise for some of the earlier stuff I was writing on proprietary social networks, having an effective presence in social media may actually be an area where smaller carriers have an advantage over the larger ones.

Smaller carriers should in theory be able to act more quickly, are more likely be be run in a collaborative rather than confrontational style, and the perceived distance between employee and passenger is less. I’m sure if I thought about it properly I could come up with at least another five or so advantages that would typically accrue to a smaller airline, and all of these play to the strengths of a company wanting to engage in a genuine social business model.

So in a sense, many smaller airlines find themselves in the same predicament as JohnnyG99X – they suspect they are sitting on a valuable and underutilized asset (their niche-ness), but they don’t really know how to play to this strength and make it work for them. Social media is a big part of the answer, but I know from talking to airlines frequently that fear of the unknown is holding back genuine participation and therefore in many cases little or nothing is happening.

If you can’t make it to Madrid to join JohnnyG99X and I for lunch, then grab me at an upcoming conference, call me, email me, contact me via carrier pigeon, or even ignore me completely and just absorb the message written above, but don’t sit back doing nothing. Motion creates emotion, and social business really is the ideal way of getting passengers more engaged with your small-airline brand.