Paula Berg of Southwest Airlines shared some really great stories of online outreach through Social Media and community building.
Several years back SWA A&E gave Southwest their own show – Airline – about their employees and culture . Airline (‘we all have our baggage’) was great, but nerve wracking – they had no control over the content and had to trust their employees to do the right thing. Aired on Monday nights and on Tuesdays job applications skyrocketed – AND revenue rose on 9% on Tuesdays too! After show went off air, they wanted to keep the momentum going and looked to the Blogosphere.
There are 30 employee Bloggers with only 3 rules to guide them: 1. Write what you’re passionate about 2. Write when you feel like it 3. Be passionate
The focus of the blog has shifted from culture oriented to very news-focused. In 2008 launched a new Social Media-focused blog site — great user generated Flickr feed, podcasts, photo galleries, blog posts and lots of personalization and sharing options. A great investment – visits up 25%, page view up 40% and visits last way longer.
Southwest Air believe in going where their customers are – not just on the Blog but in ALL places possible that they can connect with customers. There are dedicated team members that spend time on just a single network to understand the rhythms and nuances of these channels. There are TONS of aviation travel Blogs and forums (ie: Cranky Flier, Sky Talk, Today in the Sky, etc.).
Bloggers are credible and intelligent people – they are treated as friends, customers and traditional media all at once.
Some great case studies
Open Season on Assigned Seating
Their CEO wrote a Blog post on ‘Open Season on Assigned Seating’ and received 700 comments – most defending the policy. These comments influenced executives and sparked internal debate — it was a virtual focus group that helped greatly change the internal debate. Immediate and passionate feedback at no cost – Blogs were now
A Story with Legs
A customer was asked to alter her attire after receiving customer complaints on some things that were showing — appeared in San Diego Tribune and the customer then appeared on the Today Show. It blew up! With the Blog post, they received a flood of negative comments that were all posted (which added credibility). The conversation kept going and going and Southwest was too slow to respond and missed opportunities
Too Pretty to Fly
Two girls were acting out on a Southwest flight, customers were livid and the attendants called the police upon landing and refused them boarding for threatening behavior. The girls claimed it was because they were ‘too pretty fly’ and mainstream media covered only their version of the story.
Southwest took these steps:
- Online spokespeople were sent out to the Blogosphere – leaving comments on BLogs on the topic stating their stance and opinions. The response to these candid comments were tremendously great. Now these ‘micro interactions’ have helped to build strong supporters in the online world.
- Had a spokesperson from Southwest sit down without a script to record a response and post on YouTube – currently has 250,000 views (not groundbreaking – but great!)
There are many ‘white knuckle’ moments, especially when a company puts themselves out in the Blogosphere. But Paula finds that those moments – as terrifying as they were – have been the most rewarding by far. Beware of timing to launch Social Media tools – NEVER do it during a time of crisis. Build your community base first and get credibility beforehand.
SWA gets crazy innovative with as many mediums as possible – their YouTube channel is well trafficked, but has no real strategy. They are just trying things out, having a good time and watching what people like and don’t like. They focus the majority of their energy on the positive by engaging and building relationships with customers, but they also monitor negative conversations and engage when appropriate.
Paula says to avoid the ‘faux personal’, make it ACTUALLY personal – be friendly and fun. Tomorrow is too late – work on your problems immediately. Don’t focus on the numbers alone, a lot of Social Media projects are slow growth. Keep an eye on trends and move from there. Live and breathe Social Media – you have to be gutsy or find someone internally that can be. Social Media is not a burden, rather it’s a gift.