So one of the things that has happened to me after 3 years in Silicon Valley is that I spend a lot of time thinking about how to incorporate ‘social’ into traditional business models. After all, the power of social is the power to use technology to create human communications where none existed before. To this extent, I’m a firm believer that, the more we can bring people together with technology acting as a catalyst that grants us permission to interact, the more lively, safe and prosperous our communities will be.
The idea I’ve been pitching to people lately is the idea of the social airplane. The way it works is thus: when you buy a ticket, you decide whether or not you want to sit in the social part of the plane or the non-social part of the plane. In addition to credit card details and passport information, you volunteer information about your professional and personal interests to the airline (maybe you use your LinkedIn or Facebook Profile to supply the data for you). After the flight has sold out, or shortly before check-in opens, people are assigned seats based on their preferences and interests. Maybe in one set of rows you’ll find the technologists, in another the sports fans, in another the dog lovers. Taking the idea a step further, maybe the airline exposes the interests of the people passengers anonymously and you can determine who might be the most interest for you to meet. Maybe you then allow people to rate the individuals they spoke to/met on the plane so that you can avoid the salesman selling snake oil on the next flight. Check-ins, badges, etc., could all follow this social perestroika.
While some might think it a stretch to imagine airlines incorporating social media into their strategies, why not? After all, many are already media companies. Air Canada, for example, already fills its inflight entertainment with ads. If they had more information about each passenger along with a wifi connection, Air Canada could then leverage that information to deliver real-time highly tailored and targeted ads. If they can increase the amount of revenue they generate from media, that could in turn lead to cheaper flights for passengers (or, of course, airlines could decide to become profitable instead).
How likely is it that we see a social airline any time soon? It’s hard to say, but if I run into Sir Richard any time soon I’ll try running it by him and report back. Ultimately though what all of this points to is a blending of the offline and the online worlds to such an extent that we stop thinking of them as incompatible. In my mind, anything that brings us together can only be good.