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.: October 2006 --> How Social Media Works

How Social Media Works

» Yesterday I posted a link to a former United Airlines employee's outline of the criteria for upgrading customers to First Class. That post got me to thinking about social media, and how it really works.

I posted the link because it was interesting to me, and I thought it would be of interest to some of my readers. My source for the information was, one of the very early weblogs. Rafe Colburn, the editor of, is a programmer, and he's been posting his views on programming, politics, and American culture since I started reading blogs. I think Rafe is smart, and I enjoy reading his thoughtful views on politics (which I would describe as "left-leaning moderate") as a reality check to many of the more "party line" views I find on other blogs. He frequently posts tidbits like this one. I just ignore his posts on programming.

Here's what Rafe said about that Flyertalk thread:

This post must be worth a million dollars to United Airlines. In one fell swoop, he disabuses airline customers of the notion that being a nuisance at the gate will help you get upgrades, and more importantly, that the handing out of these upgrades is completely arbitrary. Instead he confirms that the best way to get free service from the airline is to be a loyal customer who gives the airline lots of cash. The airlines make all their money on loyal customers who give them lots of cash, so this is the best kind of publicity they can get.
No marketing information on all of the airline web sites in the world could convince me of the value of attaining an elite status and then sticking with that airline as well as this one forum posting has. Such is the power of the Internet, where one authentic voice can outdo all of the marketing dollars a company can spend.

For those who are interested in figuring out how social media can help them affect their service or product, that point by itself is worth pondering.

But, I'd like to point something else out. When I saw that post, I instantly posted the link to my own blog. Based on my Technorati rank, I have a larger audience than most bloggers do, but it is still very small compared to the most popular blogs, and teeny compared to mass media audiences. From tracking my statistics, I can predict that about 500 people will see that post today; about 1500-2000 people will see it over the course of a week; and a miniscule proportion of all of those people will click through to read the forum. Depending on how interested my readers are I would expect that 20-30 people will click through today, and that by Monday morning about 60-80 will have clicked through to read the thread. (I could be way off: approximately 3 people click through any given article I post about torture—go figure.)

I don't know how many readers Rafe has, but I would guess that his readership is roughly the size of mine, though he probably has many more programmers reading his site than I have reading mine. Let's pretend that 150 of the people who read my site also read his. Together, Rafe and I, with our modest audiences, have put that link in front of some 3000 people, and generated about 120 clickthroughs from interested readers.

One or two other bloggers may have picked up the link from Rafe, and one or two may pick it up from me, and their (likely smaller) audiences have also generated a small percentage of click-throughs. Some readers may email it to their friends. Incrementally, the word about this site, and this specific forum, will spread.

Also note that sometime yesterday, Google and Yahoo! and many others indexed my site, and Rafe's site, and from now on I'll receive visits from people who are on the Web searching for information on upgrades. The vast majority of my site traffic is not to my blog—it's to archived posts and essays, and the lists of resources I've put together on various subjects. That traffic comes primarily from search engines. People referred by search engines are (I would judge) highly likely to click through links, because they are actively looking for information on a specific topic.

This is a long post about a simple blog entry, but I really think the journey from the Flyertalk forum (mavens!) to (maven/connector—and a trusted source to his readers), to my site (maven/connector/trusted source) and then into the Google database (connector) vividly demonstrates the way social media spreads information and gets it in front of the people who are likely to be most interested in receiving it.

 [ 10.06.06 ]


thanks a lot for this.... the first thing i noticed was a tonal difference in your writng style, very direct, mature, maybe because it is longer than usual, maybe becasue it was really you talking, as a person more tha a blogger, i dont know, but i like it.... and the details are very interesting, having read you for five years... and other blogs... i still dont know how the whole game works... came to you via, something long gone, but i remember.... on dial-up, surfing is a great luxury, so am not so blogliterate as i might like to be.... the good ones, and there are many, are great, but no time, so thanks for doing my work for me

oh, it is the typeface as well!! read it on the syndicate page, what a difference, my god, im learning a lot today..... lol

On upgrading customers. When I did a bunch of international flying on the Friendly Skys my company sprang for full fair business class. I got enough miles to fly my wife to Honolulu coach. I switched my KIX to SFO ride to KIX to HNL and HNL to SFO using the same flight on the return leg as my wife had. We had a nice vacation. On our return checkin I asked about putting the wife with me in business class. “Ask in the boarding area.”

At the boarding area I saw we were flying in a 747-200. I asked about putting the wife in business class with me. “Let me see the cost code on your ticket.” That request told me that we were in. When the ticket agent changed my wife’s seat I noticed she was in the downstairs cabin and I was in the upper cabin. As if I did not know I asked if our two seats were in the same cabin. She was reassigned to the upper cabin.



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