American Airlines Uses Social Networking To Reach Alumni

American Airlines, looking to expand its college marketing program beyond students' graduation dates, has partnered with social networking company Affinity Circles to offer students and alumni discounted tickets and the chance to win free travel.

"This advertising opportunity allows us to leverage the power of trusted social networks to connect directly with our target audience and build an interactive, viral community around our brand," says Cheryl Batton, managing director of centralized account sales at American Airlines, in a statement.

American Airlines will sponsor a travel group within Affinity Circles. Chuck Taylor, vice president of marketing, Affinity Circles, says it approached American Airlines three months ago about the partnership. "We knew they already had an interest in targeting college alumni across the country, and thought this would be an attractive marketing vehicle to them."

Taylor says the program, which begins this week, will be advertised and marketed via e-mails sent to the population of alumni eligible to join each network community.

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"Affinity Circles sends out HTML e-mails with an organization's brand that comes from Affinity Circles on behalf of the alumni group or professional services organization it represents. We will add American Airlines branding and content discussing special offers to join a travel group within an alumni network and travel perks," he says.

The more members in each online community, the more chances there are to win, so members are encouraged to get their peers to join.

Affinity Circles aims to forge a partnership like this preferred program every quarter, Taylor says. In the fourth quarter of 2006, the company featured a promotion using Apple iPods "as a hook to bring people into the communities. We partnered with Apple in a less direct way in which we are working with American Airlines," Taylor explains. "They agreed to let us use their brand, but they weren't involved as much in the messaging of the promotion.

"American Airlines is the first partner that stepped up and joined us in developing the content of the promotion itself. We want to continue to work that way with promotion partners in the future where it's as much about their brand as it is about ours."

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