Friday, 29 May 2009

Southwest Airlines gets that social vibe

It has been a long week, reading trite soundbites from really negative people slating social media sites like Twitter as smokescreens with no relevance to the business world. I'm all for exchanging conflicting views and opening up the debate but recently there has been a bit of vitriol from'experts' denouncing us new media darlings are being oh so naive and a bit too eager to jump on board.

So imagine my delight when I discovered perhaps the best story I've read about how a major brand has embraced social media into its company culture and empowered its employees to use it to engage with the wider world. I stumbled upon this story in Hubspot's internet marketing blog.

Southwest Airlines appointed a Manager of Emerging Media, Paula Bergs, who is responsible for driving their social media plans. They have an interesting model whereby each social channel is owned by a different person and that person decides how the company's message can best be communicated via that channel. The communication is not regulated by a central legal or brand department, instead employees are empowered to positively represent the company.

I really like this approach. It does not involve one person banging the drum whilst others do as they are told. It is participative, it builds trust and encourages people to take ownership and have a personal attachment to the social media channel they are working with. It also means that each person will build up a strong understanding of the customers they are engaging with which will then benefit the overall social media strategy. Listen to Paula talk and you can clearly see that she is both passionate and excited about what Southwest is doing - that sort of passion is infectious and will rub off on her team.

But what got me most excited was the video of David Holmes, a cabin crew employee, who has become a legend for rapping the inflight safety instructions to liven up the flight for his passengers. The rap was filmed by a passenger and put onto YouTube. Southwest Airlines got hold of this and, instead of criticising David for deviating from company policy, embraced what he had done and started to promote it themselves. He has now appeared on major TV networks (Leno, Oprah etc) and been interviewed online and for radio. He has become somewhat of a celebrity off the back of his own spontaneity and individuality.

What's more the top boys & girls at Southwest have encourage this and it has been absorbed as part of the company's attitude to encouraging its employees to engage with and delight their customers. What a truly refreshing attitude.

What do you think? Does this put a smile on your face as well?


Paula Berg - Southwest Airlines said...

Howdy, James – Thanks so much for the nice write up! We’ve had a blast figuring all this stuff out over the last several years. We’ve made some mistakes, and we’ve had some white knuckle moments, but we obviously value it enough to keep saddling up for more...we're all in!

Since you enjoyed David’s rap, I thought you’d enjoy this one as well…

Our CEO invited David to our annual shareholder’s meeting a couple of weeks ago to do a rap about Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) – verbiage that we are required to share at the beginning of the meeting.

By the looks on the faces of the shareholder's, I'm not sure they knew what to make of it, but it was a fun spin on an otherwise dull topic!

Thanks again for the kind words!

Paula Berg
Southwest Airlines

James Gurd said...

Hi Paula,
Thanks for dropping by and posting a comment. Glad you liked the PR!! I loved reading about your story.
We do a lot of work with Clients talking to them about how they could/should be engaging with social media and getting their business excited about it.
Would you be prepared to do a quick Q&A for me to write up another blog post.
I post these links to my Twitter account and across other social networks.
If you're available, I would want to send you 3 or 4 questions by email for your answers - not War & Peace but something to add value to people who read my blog.
ps any tips on how to drive blog subscription - it is something I now need to work on - people click & read but nobody seems to subscribe