Social media has altered the way consumers shop, research, and decide what to buy. Global consumers spent more than 5.5 hours on social networking sites in December 2009. Just a year prior, in December 2008, users were only spending about three hours on the same sites–an 82% rise year-over-year, according to The Nielsen Company. Recognizing this, American Airlines is among the major companies taking its connectivity to the next level with the launch of BlackAtlas.com, a social networking site for African American travelers. “We decided to create BlackAtlas.com as a first of its kind social networking travel site for people interested in experiencing black culture when traveling worldwide,” says Monte Ford, American Airlines’ senior vice president and chief information officer. BlackEnterprise.com talked with Ford about BlackAtlas and how social media is changing the way consumers travel.
BlackEnterprise.com: How has social media changed the travel experience for consumers?
Ford: Social media is allowing people to connect in an entirely different way than they did a decade ago. It’s allowing people to connect throughout the world compared to the more limited historical connections driven by geographic proximity. It has made the world a smaller place.
Why did American Airlines decide to create its own social networking site?
American Airlines understands the importance of enriching travel experiences and building memories and connections within the black community worldwide. That experience begins before the flight and continues even after our customers have returned home. Sometimes, for people of color, being able to share the experience is almost as important as the actual experience itself. BlackAtlas.com allows our customers to do that.
Discuss some of the site’s functionality.
BlackAtlas.com allows [users to create] user-built custom itineraries where they can pull user-generated content or content from contributors directly from the site and save it in their destination itinerary. Members can also find fares and search destinations for information by category (dining, nightlife, culture, points of interest, beauty and barber shops, places of worship, travel tips, events, etc).
Through video, commentary, photos, blogs and discussion boards, users are able to share travel stories and provide travel tips. People are also able to rate or make recommendations of popular destinations and businesses, connect with other travelers with similar interests, answer questions based on their personal travel experiences, and build travel itineraries based on user recommendations.
How does this strategy differ from that of competitors?
There is no comparison. No other airline has created content and social media like BlackAtlas.com. It is the airline industry’s first social networking travel site for people interested in experiencing black culture when traveling worldwide. It is innovative in the way it integrates social media and travel content that is relevant to the black traveler.
How has the site been integrated with other social media sites?
BlackAtlas.com interfaces with the Facebook login and Twitter. It allows American Airlines to interact with BlackAtlas.com members where they are interacting. We were able to use Twitter to tweet clues to the Where is Nelson George? contest and tweet clues for how to find Bevy Smith in Harlem. During those two days of contests, there were hundreds of tweets, re-tweets, and mentions of BlackAtlas.com.
What are the goals for BlackAtlas?
We’re focused on meeting our customers’ needs. Our research showed that it was difficult for sophisticated flyers to find travel information on black culture, beauty and barber shops, and places of worship. They often had to go to multiple sites to find this information, if they could find it at all. BlackAtlas.com is designed to fill a void in the online community for Black travelers, making it easier for them to connect with each other and share information. BlackAtlas.com connects black communities through travel, music, food, and black culture to venues and events located within the United States and around the world.