Won’t you be my neighbor?

We’re all accustomed to choosing seats online when booking tickets for a concert or a flight.  But what about choosing your seatmates?  Airline KLM will launch a program later this year that will allow customers to choose their neighbors on flights.  The social seating tool, called “Meet and Seat,” will use social media sites to help travelers find seatmates with common interests and even relationship status.  (Interesting to note that 45% of travelers have admitted to flirting during a flight.) Passengers interested in using the program can link an edited version of their Facebook or LinkedIn profile to their account and browse other profiles to choose their seatmate. Customers who would prefer to keep their eyes glued to their Kindles can easily opt out of the program.

Already on Andersen Cooper’s Rediculist, this social experiment could go south pretty quickly. Sales pitches and one-liners could have you writhing in your seat in minutes. Beyond all the normal pitfalls of online dating services such as inaccurate profiles and stalkers, the real question is, do we want to be more connected on airplanes?  Is there no peace and quiet to be found even on an airplane?  Personally, I’m not so sure I want to eavesdrop on a first date for three hours.

Photo credit: Daquella Manera

What about the implications of this new seating option for performing arts organizations?  Putting operational logistics and financial barriers aside for the moment, would this be good for audiences? Perhaps a blessing in a blind-date situation, audiences can only talk at very select times, which could actually work to participants’ advantage.  If the conversation is going nowhere, no need to pull out headphones or a book – the performance will start shortly.  Of course, there still could be some awkwardness if one person is engaged while the other is feeling quite cold about the encounter.

Moving away from the speed dating idea, using a social seating tool to meet new friends with similar interests and backgrounds may be a better approach.  Arts organizations are getting better at segmenting their audience and can help shape specific questions to connect “social serenity seekers” or “cultural omnivores.”  Furthermore, it might be possible to utilize this personal information (with the appropriate permissions) to shape new programs and connect with audiences online.

Regarding feasibility, there would be some significant operational roadblocks.  Matching participants at different price points is clearly a challenge.  Would ticket buyers first choose where they want to sit and then choose a seatmate, or could they browse all program participants’ profiles and opt into a higher price point just to meet Ms. Interesting? Furthermore, matching subscribers and non-subscribers would be challenging as well, but this could become a value proposition.  Subscribers could choose who they sit next to over the course of the season, thereby developing new friendships in the community and strengthening their relationship to the arts organization.

The real question is – do we want to meet the person sitting next to us at an arts event?  My guess is specific audiences would enjoy exchanging niceties and hearing a little bit about neighbors’ post-event musings if given the opportunity.  Attending an arts performance is an inherently communal experience, and enabling those who desire to connect with others could be transformative for the industry.  Because audiences are attending for a common purpose – to hear or see a work of art – this idea is perhaps even more relevant for arts organizations than it is for airlines. Now, if we could choose who is sitting behind us to keep from overhearing candy wrappers and Aunt Susie’s back problems, we truly would be in business.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted March 28th, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Airlines have some of the worst customer satisfaction records out there. I’m not sure I would consider them a model for how to please customers…
    http://businesscenter.jdpower.com/news/pressrelease.aspx?id=2010092

    I have to wonder if we are simply making it too difficult for a patron to purchase a ticket. Between on-demand pricing, service charges, pre-sales, VIP clubs, senior/student rushes, and everything else that has come into the picture, simply saying “Yes, I’d like to go” is now an ordeal. The point-of-sale should be the simplest part of attending a show, but we are introducing more barriers in the name of progress.

  2. Posted March 29th, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I suppose–and forgive me if this sounds crazy–we could still talk to the people around us, even with out the mediation of LinkedIn?

  3. FCM
    Posted March 29th, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    So cranky!

    Look, whether you “like” it or not, on Facebook or in real life, LIVE events are not the norm for upcoming generations. In fact, sitting for 1.5-2.5 hours in a single inescapable seat is exactly what people hate about flying. Even the seat-size vs total-capacity relationship is analogous.

    People are just not used to the old-media way of submitting to the will of a large institution. This stubbornness is asking them to approach a concert they same way TV or newspapers were a one-way medium: sit down and take it! Updating this ritual with interaction and user choice can hardly be a bad thing.

    I guarantee that ticket-purchasing options are lower on the list of barriers-to-entry than the musty smell of ossified “traditions.”

  4. Posted March 29th, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    If performing arts organizations take this up, they need to do the inverse, and seat people together who have nothing in common and dislike one another so they won’t %$#!* talk to each other during the performance.

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