Lessons of Social Meida from Southwest Airlines


Published on

For the monthly Austin AMA Power Lunch series, marketers from all over Austin converged on the Hilton to hear the lessons Southwest Airlines had learned from their social media experiences. The speaker of the hour was Paula Berg, the Manager of Emerging Media for Southwest Airlines. In Paula’s mostly Social Media presentation, she shared where they’ve been, where they’re going, their biggest successes, and their biggest failures.

Here are some of the key take-aways:

Social Media can help you reach a new demographic. The Nuts About Southwest blog started as a replacement for A&E’s Airline. The show allowed Southwest to reach a different demographic by giving customers an inside look at their culture. All you need to know is who you want to target and where they hang out.

It’s OK to not have a strategy as long as you have a strategy?!? Paula mentioned she didn’t have a strategy when they started the blog, but I think she was just being modest. The strategy, or maybe we should call it a goal, was to give customers an inside look at Southwest. What they didn’t anticipate was all the things the blog would become. Social Media is so new, don’t try and put too narrow a scope on your strategy. It’s very much like a box of chocolates…

It’s good to have a presence in Social Media before you have a crisis. Blogs in response to bad press are not seen as authentic. You need to create conversations using Social Media before it’s too late.

Immediate, passionate feedback exists at no cost. Southwest was able to avoid using too much ink when customers print boarding passes, and discovered the real reason people don’t like their open seating policy. Paula has been able to create an open relationship with customers where they offer feedback because they know they will be heard.

You need thick skin. Criticism, warranted or not, hurts. The lesson is to be prepared to take the good with the bad.

When the media won’t listen, take your message directly to the people. Paula and her team “fought fire with fire” when responding to a couple of young ladies claiming they were treated unfairly because of their good looks. Since the media was only interested in one side of the story, Southwest created a video response that went viral. The only videos viewed more that week were of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Listen. Some of the most valuable information Paula received was from listening to what people where saying- especially on Twitter. Southwest first discovered their “rapping flight attendant” through a twitter post. It’s amazing to think you might learn something about your own company reading your Twitter feed!

Never stop the conversation. When people comment on your blog posts, respond. This goes right along with listening. Social Media is a two way street. Don’t ignore people when they talk to you.

Social Media causes sleeplessness. Someone asked Paula what the ROI is for Southwest’s Social Media efforts. From Southwest’s point of view, it is huge. The only cost for them was paying Paula, and, over the past three years, she has worked many hours of free overtime. Social Media never sleeps, and neither does Paula. If you decide to immerse yourself this world, be ready with a case of red bull and a trusty mobile device.

Interested in more marketing programs and networking? Visit the Austin American Marketing Association website (www.austinama.org) for coming events and the AMA blog (www.austinama.org/blog) to be a part of the conversation.

Lessons of Social Meida from Southwest Airlines

  1. 1. SOUTHWEST AIRLINES NUTS ABOUT COMMUNICATION Online http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsQ8eLXUgs0
  2. 2. Leveraging Online tools <ul><li>A&E’s Airline </li></ul><ul><li>Blog - Nuts About Southwest </li></ul><ul><li>Youtube   </li></ul><ul><li>Twitter </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook </li></ul><ul><li>Flickr </li></ul><ul><li>LinkedIn </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Nuts About Southwest was originally launched as a means of giving our Customers a look inside the Culture and operations of Southwest Airlines and allowing them to interact and build personal relationships with our Employees. </li></ul><ul><li>Now serves as: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>a virtual focus group </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a place to make and break news </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a place to tell “the rest of the story” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>an incubator for new ideas </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a platform for our Employees to share industry knowledge and connect with Customers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a resource for SEO - “Google Juice” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>. </li></ul>Nuts About Southwest launched April 2006
  4. 4. 30+ EMPLOYEE BLOGGERS Nuts About Southwest features more than 30 Employee bloggers that represent a mix of Frontline and behind-the-scenes Employees including Mechanics, Customer Service Agents, Schedule Planners, Executives, Marketing Representatives, Flight Attendants, Pilots, and more. Each Employee blogger brings to the table a unique voice, perspective, and personality to share with our Customers. We know that our People are our greatest asset . The blog gives our Employees a platform to share their industry knowledge, exchange personal stories, and really connect our Customers to the Southwest Culture we live and experience everyday. Jeff Lamb Hollee Ford Gordon Guillory Fred Taylor Edward Shlelswell-White Dawn Foster David Evans, Jr. Christi Day Casey Welch Carole Adams Brian Lusk Bob Hurst Bill Owen Beverly Behrens Bert Stevens Ashley Rogers Angela Vargo Ana Schwager
  5. 5. STAYING AHEAD OF THE CURVE <ul><li>Our Customers are communicating </li></ul><ul><li>with us through a number of </li></ul><ul><li>different online channels. </li></ul><ul><li>Using these tools allows us to: </li></ul><ul><li>Stay on the cutting edge of technology and Communication </li></ul><ul><li>Communicate directly with our Customers in the formats they prefer </li></ul><ul><li>Reach a broader audience </li></ul>We currently have more than 10,000 Customer submitted photographs in our SWA Flickr account. Within weeks of establishing a Facebook account, more than 65,000 members became “friends” of SWA. We now have over 24,000 followers and we grow by an average of 100 new followers each day! Over the last year and a half, we have posted a new SWA video to YouTube almost every week, and more than 200,000,000 people have viewed our content. Southwest has more than 500 Employees listed on LinkedIn including our CEO. Where are our Customers? Not just on our blog.
  7. 7. <ul><li>Nearly six months in the making, Nuts About Southwest 2.0 launched in May 2008 with several new features including a video blog, podcast, poll, news feed, Customer Generated photo feed, official photo and video galleries, and other personalization options. </li></ul><ul><li>Within months of launching the new site: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Visits up 25% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Page Views up 40% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Visitors staying 26% longer </li></ul></ul><ul><li>  </li></ul><ul><li>In October, our site was named Best Blog for 2008 by PR News (second year in a row). </li></ul>Nuts About Southwest 2.0 launched May 2008
  8. 8. CASE STUDIES <ul><li>To Assign or Not To Assign </li></ul><ul><li>The Mini-Skirt Issue </li></ul><ul><li>Too Pretty to Fly </li></ul><ul><li>The FAA Allegations </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>Announced Assigned Seating test with CEO blog post </li></ul><ul><li>Received 700 comments </li></ul><ul><li>Most Customers said “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” “I love your open seating policy, please don’t change.” </li></ul><ul><li>Influenced executives and internal debate </li></ul><ul><li>VIRTUAL FOCUS GROUP </li></ul>CASE STUDY: Open Season on Assigned Seating
  10. 10. CASE STUDY: A Story with Legs <ul><li>Customer asked to cover up after Employees received complaints about her attire. </li></ul><ul><li>Six months later, her story appears in the San Diego Union Tribune and Customer appears on Today Show </li></ul><ul><li>Blog immediately flooded with around 1000 comments - 2/3 said we “screwed up” </li></ul><ul><li>The GOOD news </li></ul><ul><li>We were able to gauge public sentiment </li></ul><ul><li>By posting negative comments, our blog earned credibility/trust </li></ul><ul><li>The BAD news </li></ul><ul><li>Missed opportunity by not stating our position clearly and presenting the facts as we knew them </li></ul><ul><li>Let the conversation go on for far to long with out participating </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>Customers denied boarding for threatening behavior </li></ul><ul><li>Claim they were “banned for life” because they were “too pretty” </li></ul><ul><li>Mainstream media covering only one side of the story   </li></ul><ul><li>Joke or serious threat to reputation? </li></ul><ul><li>On the heels of the mini skirt debacle, couldn’t risk it… </li></ul><ul><li>Learned from our previous experience that we needed to communicate directly with our Customers via:  </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Online spokespeople </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Official Statement </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>YouTube video </li></ul></ul></ul>CASE STUDY: Too Pretty to Fly
  12. 12. RECEIVED TREMENDOUS SUPPORT FROM BLOGGERS From http://patterico.com/2008/02/24/beauty-and-the-luv-police/ 1.      Cool… a spokesperson who speaks like a person. Go figure… Comment by Leviticus — 2/25/2008 @ 12:35 pm 2.     Thanks for your response, Ms. Berg. I’ve posted most of the Southwest stories here. I notice them because my West Texas family regularly (and happily) flies Southwest Airlines, so I’m interested in what Southwest does. Comment by DRJ — 2/25/2008 @ 12:40 pm 3.     Ms. Berg, if I weren’t already a frequent flyer of Southwest, I would be now simply based on your informative and thoughtful response. Not many companies would take the time, nor feel the need to reassure customers. Kudos. Comment by Dana — 2/25/2008 @ 1:17 pm 4.     I must admit, I’m VERY impressed… Someone from SWA coming her to lay out their side?  Next time I have a flight to take, I’ll have to make sure to make at least part of the trip via your airlines… Comment by Scott Jacobs — 2/25/2008 @ 10:08 pm 5.     I too am impressed by SWA’s response. The lawyerly output of most corporations in response to potentially embarrassing events almost universally prevents this kind of interaction. When I say almost always, I think that this is the first and only time I’ve been witness to such a response. Amazing. Comment by j.pickens — 2/25/2008 @ 10:24 pm 6.     Paula, Patterico seems to have turned off trackbacks, but I wanted you to see my reaction to your participation in this comment thread. As someone who has dealt with blogs criticizing my own company, I was impressed with your response. Comment by Doc Rampage — 2/26/2008 @ 3:32 am
  13. 13. TOP VIEWED VIDEO Total views: 250,000   #8 most viewed video of the day #32 most discussed video of the day #86 most views of the week
  14. 14. CASE STUDY: FAA Fines SWA For Missed Inspections On March 6, 2008, the FAA levied a $10.2 million fine against Southwest Airlines for alleged missed aircraft inspections, sparking what was arguably the biggest threat to our airline and our reputation in our 37 year history. Over the following eight days, we posted a total of five posts : The posts generated approximately 450 cumulative comments , the majority of which were negative . 12 8:36am March 13, 2008 ABC’s Nightline Features Southwest Airlines 90 2:12pm March 12, 2008 Southwest Airlines Continues Internal Audit 73 3:27pm March 11, 2008 Southwest Airlines Responds To Preliminary Findings of Internal Investigation 68 11:33am March 7, 2008 Southwest Airlines’ CEO Appears on CNN 180 10:36pm March 6, 2008 We Take Safety Seriously Comments Time Date Title
  15. 15. <ul><li>“ You must need nerves of steel to work in Southwest Airlines Communication department right now. Once you mount the corporate-blogging horse there's no getting off it again. And Southwest is learning enough about what can then happen to write the ultimate book on the subject. Yesterday they finally decided there was no choice but to temporarily ground 44 of their Boeing 737s - including 38 taken straight off the line - affected by the safety allegations that have blown up around them. At time of writing they have 17 comments in response to the 260 they received on their earlier posts on the issue. The 17 are markedly more negative than positive - although the hard core of support is indicative of a degree of loyalty that many other companies would struggle to secure. Obviously this is not going to go away easily. So will Southwest have regrets over the blog? I'm pretty sure that they won't. On balance it's been a great tool for them in this horrendous situation. Most importantly of all, it's let their supporters declare their positive views in public - something that never really happens with conventional media coverage because nobody's out looking for those people. Barring new developments, this may be the nadir for Southwest in this saga, now it's going to be interesting to see how they use the blog to repair the inevitable damage.” </li></ul><ul><li> ---- </li></ul>CASE STUDY (cont.)
  16. 16. Bad PR Leaves One Reputation Grounded While Another One Soars BY Katie Paine So, when troubles with the FAA began, information was quickly posted on the blog, and all of Southwest founder Herb Kelleher’s statement to Congress was made available there as well. Customers weighed in—and many of them were not happy with the situation—but it was all out there for the world to see. In contrast, American Airlines launched its blog, AAConversation.com… but it is clearly designed to make sure that their side of the story got out there, and therein lies the difference. Southwest wanted to hear what its customers had to say, American wanted to tell its side of the story.
  17. 17. Twitter
  18. 18. Twitter-mania Twitter is changing the face of communication <ul><li>Southwest has been a member since July 07 </li></ul><ul><li>We currently have >24,000 followers (58 percent increase in 1Q09. </li></ul><ul><li>We are averaging 100 new followers a day </li></ul><ul><li>Many of our followers are bloggers and mainstream media reporters. </li></ul><ul><li>Twitter generated over 100 bookings on southwest.com , tracked by sourcecodes. </li></ul><ul><li>Twitter was instrumental in the recent coverage of US Airways Hudson River incident (see case study on next slide) </li></ul>PC Mag listed Southwest Airlines among 10 Corporate Twitter Accounts Worth Following .    According to Mashable.com's Top 40 list of Twitter brands , SWA is recognized for its ability to use the tool to communicate with its audience and disseminate information.
  19. 19. Twitter-mania @ jkrums There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy. Case Study: US Airways Incident Within 10 minutes of the aircraft touching the water, a witness generated photo and headline was circulating on Twitter People begin following the newly created US Airways twitter account. They currently have 217 followers. At the time, we had 8,500 followers. 5:20 USAirways creates its first Twitter account (@USAirways) 5:00 @SkyTalk (The Star-Telegram Twitter profile) Tweets the link to the flight log 4:59 Someone creates a Twitter profile titled “@Hudsoncrash” to share news 4:56 US Airways issues 2 nd statement 4:49 Twitterers are anticipating the US Airways Press Conference 4:40 Someone Tweets that Wikipedia has an entry on the crash before any information is available on usairways.com. 4:34 @SouthwestAir (Southwest’s Twitter profile) posts the following message: Our friends @ USAir and their Customers are in our thoughts this afternoon 4:30 9 of the 10 most discussed topics on Twitter are about the incident 4:15 US Airways issues 1 st statement 4:12 First person to Tweet the story is interviewed on MSNBC as witness 4:04 AP story begins to appears on blogs and websites 4:03 Story appears on Google News 4:00 A WSJ e-mail alert is issued to subscribers 3:52 WSJ Blog posts its first story: “US Airways Plane Crashes in New York’s Hudson River” 3:49 Airline Pilots Central Forum posts its first thread on the incident 3:46 FlyerTalk.com posts its first thread on the incident 3:41 Airliners.net posts its first thread on incident 3:36 10 minutes later, a passenger on the rescue ferry Twitters from his iPhone the first known photo of the incident.  34 minutes later, MSNBC interviews him as a witness. 3:36 Incident occurs 3:26
  20. 20. CASE STUDY: LOVES v. SUCKS We used the keywords “Southwest Airlines”, “Love” or “LUV”, and “Sucks” or “Sux” to determine the percentages of tweets expressing like and dislike for Southwest Airlines. While this doesn’t capture the complete sentiment of our Customers, it is a snapshot of the general tone of Tweets we receive daily. <ul><li>We try to focus the majority of our energy on the positive by engaging and building relationships with Customers. </li></ul><ul><li>We also monitor negative conversations and engage when appropriate. </li></ul>
  21. 21. CASE STUDY: THE NEW FACE OF FACEBOOK <ul><li>Most popular updates </li></ul><ul><li>(based on # of comments) </li></ul><ul><li>What seat do you prefer on the plane? (227 comments) </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook Vacation Giveaway…tell us where you wanna go! (203 comments) </li></ul><ul><li>Rapping Flight Attendant message w/ link (103 comments) </li></ul><ul><li>Travel Guide message w/ link (91 comments) </li></ul>Challenge: In 1Q Facebook redesigned their platform, opening the door for more engagement and personal interaction with “Fans” via real-time status updates. Response: We began updating our “status” regularly with a mix of Marketing messages, news updates, SWA FUN, and operational updates. Results: Facebook users were initially surprised – and some annoyed – with the change. Our numbers waivered as we boiled down to the brand champions that wanted to receive our messages. Initial loss of followers has now been replaced with growing audience. Approximately 100 new “Fans” join our Facebook group each day.
  22. 22. CASE STUDY: EVOLUTION OF A YOUTUBE VIDEO ( not the Rapping Flight Attendant) JANUARY 2009 - Video of our Flight Attendant singing a country song about “No Fees” is loaded onto YouTube. For three months, the video sits on YouTube with little traction. MARCH 2009 – Our “Rapping Flight Attendant” hits the big time, sending Customers searching for SWA Inflight entertainment online. After Customers watch the video of the Rapping Flight Attendant, many continue to search for similar material. Today, 54% of Country Flight Attendant views originate with Rapping Flight Attendant views. . APRIL 2009 – Our Country Flight Attendant is currently one of our top viewed videos with over 72,000 views!
  23. 23. Measurement & ROI <ul><li>Trying to make sense of it all </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Every Day </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Every Week </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Every Month </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Every Quarter </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Every Year </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Reading between the numbers - we try to tell the story, to bring the Numbers to life </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>ROI </li></ul><ul><li>Cost can be small </li></ul><ul><li>Baby steps mitigate risk </li></ul><ul><li>What’s the cost of not participating </li></ul>
  24. 24. Our efforts continue to be recognized as a model for Social Media success. “ SOUTHWEST AIRLINES IS TAKING OVER THE INTERNET” - Januted.com <ul><li>Members of our team have been included on a list of First Generation   “Social Media Pioneers” created by Online Communication Guru Jeremiah Owyang. </li></ul>PRWeek recently recognized Southwest airlines among five companies that “get social media.” For the second year in a row, Nuts About Southwest was named Best Blog by PR News.
  25. 25. <ul><li>Establish channels before a crisis </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Dabble: Blogs, YouTube, Facebook </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t rely on the numbers </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Build Relationships </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Don’t be afraid to join the conversation </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Be gracious, be honest, be real </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Speak the language of your audience </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Have a thick skin </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Act fast </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Doesn’t have to be perfect </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Set the tone for the conversation </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Harder to repair a damaged reputation than maintain a good one </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Build a strong team </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Social media takes time, passion, and guts </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Need Executive Sponsor </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t Look outside of your department for help </li></ul></ul></ul>TAKE AWAYS
  26. 26. <ul><li>ARE YOU NUTS? </li></ul><ul><li>Visit Nuts About Southwest </li></ul><ul><li>WWW.BLOGSOUTHWEST.COM </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>