But the interesting thing about this trend is it's not just customers who are using social networks and other Web 2.0 tools to protest shoddy airline service and questionable fees. Some airlines are leveraging the angst and their own Web 2.0 arsenals to engage customers and snub rivals. For instance, on the British Airways protest page described above, we noticed a reference to a post on Virgin Atlantic's own fan page, which read:
"With BA's more expensive seating, passengers now have the option to choose a better value-for-money airline like Virgin Atlantic. We do not charge for pre-assigned seats and have no plans to do so."
This statement has attracted 115 "likes" and 70 comments, many of which praise Virgin and/or criticize BA. The statement appeared on Virgin America's official Facebook fan page, which currently has 19,847 fans. The airline has also built up an impressive 34,123 Twitter followers. This compares with BA's 4,352 Facebook fans and 6,969 Twitter followers.
Social networking is clearly going to be a part of the business landscape going forward. That's not because it's a cool fad, but rather because it's where customers are spending more and more of their time. For those airlines which embrace and leverage these networks, there are many opportunities to engage customers in positive ways. But for those airlines that prefer to stick with their Web 1.0 scripts -- "weekly special" emails, canned responses to customer enquiries, and service-based websites -- there's a real risk that they'll be left behind.
TravelWeekly.co.uk, SmartBrief.com, Facebook, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways Facebook and Twitter pages.