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Southwest Airlines finds out how an 'over-successful' campaign can backfire


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Southwest Airlines found out how a crazily successful campaign can also backfire. However, it handled the crisis supremely well.

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Southwest Airlines finds out how an 'over-successful' campaign can backfire

  1. 1. Southwest Airlines finds out whether a promotion can be too successful the hard way
  2. 2. 3 million fansOn the 27th of July, the American low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines became the firstairline to cross the 3 million likes mark on Facebook. A few days later, on the 3rd ofAugust, the airline kicked off the celebrations by offering fans a 50% discount on flightsand updating its cover image to the “Zuckerbird” depicted below. Image credit: Southwest Airlines
  3. 3. Too good not to go viralThe offer was announced through the usual channels which included, e-mails, Twitter,Facebook as well as a special press release celebrating the 3 million likes milestone.The offer and its promo-code quickly went viral with users sharing it on social mediaand news-outlets publishing the information contained in the press release.
  4. 4. DelaysThe promotion was hosted on a special section of the Southwest website where userscould search for flights after entering the promotion code. The response was hugeand the website soon started experiencing delays in processing the bookings.As it happens when you have 3 million followers on Facebook and 1.3 on Twitter,people immediately turned to social media to complain about the delays.
  5. 5. Fan-only but there’re 3 millions of them…When an airline has 3 million fans on Facebook, a “fan-only” sale can’t really bedefined as accessible to a limited number of people as Southwest soon found out. Thehigh number of incoming booking attempts “broke” the website. Further, a “glitch”caused people to be charged up to 35 times for the same flight.
  6. 6. Call-center collapseWhen the news of being overcharged (that too multiple times) spread, users startedchecking their accounts and thousands tried to get in touch with the airline via theircall center. Unfortunately, it was not able to handle such a high volume of incomingcalls and users faced huge delays.
  7. 7. Social media rescues call centerLuckily, thanks to its heavy social media presence, the airline was able to handle mostusers’ enquiries and complaints trough social media. The airline kept a close eye onboth Twitter and Facebook, publicly replying to each user with a solution and oftenasking them to send direct messages (DMs) to provide more personalized attention.
  8. 8. The proactive recoveryIncredibly, and largely thanks to its heavy social media presence, the airline was ableto regain control of the situation and ultimately managed the crisis exceptionally well.The airline also provided refunds not only for tickets, but also for the balanceoverdrafts and any other inconvenience that it might have caused.
  9. 9. Personal touchMost importantly, however, the airline was able to provide a personal response tomost users, thereby considerably limiting the brand damage. As a result, the airlinehas kept gaining followers and can now boast of 80,000 more fans that it had when thecrisis started (from 1.08 m on the 3rd of Aug to 1.16m on the 16th).For example, in this exchange of tweets, a Southwest Airline customer relationshipspecialist used her personal Southwest twitter handle to answer a problem via DM,adding a face to the otherwise anonymous customer service experience.
  10. 10. ConclusionOverall. both Southwest Airlines and its unlucky customers probably wished this neverhappened. However, it must be said that the airline demonstrated some exceptionalcrisis management skills when facing a crisis caused by an unexpected IT failure ontheir website.The cause of the problem was most likely the inability of the website to handle theheavy load of bookings that the special sale generated. However, it’s difficult toascertain whether this could have been prevented. We’re sure, however, thatSouthwest will be better prepared the next time.However, we do know that, at least from a marketing perspective, the use of discountsto say thanks to fans for their likes was a very sound idea. Moreover, the usage ofsocial media to recover from the crisis was one of the best we have seen so far.
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