Virgin Blue tweeted 1000 $9 fares after 9pm by advance notice on its Twitter website this morning.

The news value in this: whether airlines, or other businesses, can or should use social media to slash the costs of advertising and distributing goods and services?

The answer may well be “Yes”. In which case it is another dagger sunk into the stumbling, staggering hide of legacy media. Advertising and distribution (the actual process of taking money, handing over a booking, and reconciling inventory) are two huge cost centres for any business.

Being able to combine them in a social media that is essentially free is the sort of thing airlines, and pizza delivery services, drool over.

Let’s cut to the end game here. You, on the marketing data base, get a deal pushed to you. You click to buy, your pre-approved details stored somewhere on the airline’s computers (one hopes not like the ones currently in episodic melt downs at Qantas) then deduct the money from your debit or credit card, and email you a scanable bar code (like the one about to be field tested by Jetstar) to lodge in your iPhone or Blackberry, and the transaction is completed.

Godfrey is probably more excited by this at the moment than Richard Branson surrounded by bikini babes one molecule short of a wardrobe malfuction at the latest Virgin Empire launch of whatever…!

And so would be Qantas, Jetstar, Tiger and the rest of the world. Those airlines that aren’t among the walking dead will do anything to save a dollar, because they have a culture of multiplying a dollar saved by the total number of passengers they expect to fly per year, arriving at a figure running into the millions. It is why they are likely survivors in the great airline extinction epoch that seems to have the industry by the throat in many parts of the world.

Is there however another issue of social equity at stake here? Does a data base marketing technique accessible only to twits, er, twitterers, unfairly discriminate against the non-digitatti, the elderly, maimed, unconnected, print newspaper reading, un-emailable minorities, or anyone trying to use a fraudband service beyond the edges of the cities?

Will Edna and Eric in Struggle Street be denied the pleasures of low cost air fares to bingo conventions, lawn bowls tournaments and 75th anniversary high school re-unions?

These are the questions left dangling in the air as Virgin Blue does Twitter, and from the sound of things, causes the equivalent of an electronic bird strike when 1000 seats meet a thick cloud of twit-erers, in cyberspace tonight.


See Crikey Blog Plane Talking with Ben Sandilands.

Peter Fray

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