Southwest is an incredibly social company.
Its Twitter feed
, which abounds with “thank you” tweets and @mentions, has more than 1.2 million followers. Nearly 2 million people “like” the airline’s comment-packed Facebook page, and its blog Nuts About Southwest is an industry standard.
The airline soars to such social media heights because it fosters a culture of communication, says Laurel Moffat, a communications specialist at Southwest. The culture starts with Southwest’s popular intranet and its family vibe, and it extends to its customer service teams.
“We’re all communicators,” Moffat tells PR Daily
, adding that all members of the Southwest team embrace being “spokespeople” for the company.
Of course, good intentions alone won’t manage a massive social media following. For that, the three-person team uses social media management tools. Team members coordinate their efforts using CoTweet
for Twitter and Facebook. The tool enables them to assign tasks—for instance, they each have a shift to cover—and monitor key words and campaigns.
Team members also print reports to share with other departments. For example, if they’re unveiling a new product, team members will share mentions of the product with the marketing team.
Moffat says their go-to measurement tools are Radian6
Though these tools make the operation manageable, the company’s approach to social media is what drives its online popularity. Moffat offered some of the airline’s techniques for keeping the throngs of followers entertained and informed.
On social media, behave like regular people.
Too often, brands appear stiff on social media sites. Not the case with Southwest—its tweets and status updates are brimming with personality. To that end, Moffat stresses the importance of being real on social media.
“You should sound like you’re talking to a person,” she says.
One way Southwest manages to sound human is by tapping its employees to be voices for the airlines. After Southwest redesigned its blog about a year ago, it recruited employees to tell stories on the blog. The social media team chose 30 people—flight attendants, pilots, mechanics and more—armed them with Flip cams, and let the authors use their voices to tell stories.
Southwest also lets employees create local Facebook pages to connect with their communities. The company trains employees interested in managing a local site and allows them to be creative in their approach. It does check in on them to help determine which strategies work.
Moffat says it’s important for companies to foster the unique qualities of their employees when tapping their voices. The approach has paid off for Southwest. “Customers embrace our quirkiness,” she says.
Understand that transparency isn’t just a buzzword.
If there’s a situation that Southwest feels its audience should know about, the company will “send out a statement and post it on Twitter and Facebook so people know we’re handling it,” Moffat says. “It’s better to be proactive than reactive.”
She adds that Southwest strives to respond to as many customers as possible via social media, especially when a customer has a problem or question.
Embrace all forms of media.
Tweets and status updates from Southwest aren’t simply written messages. Instead, the company uses a number of different media platforms and tools to reach its audience.
The company literally gives customers and employees face time online, as happened during last year’s World Series, when its social media sites featured images of face-painted employees showing their team spirit.
Moffat says Southwest also posts photos with the question, “What airport was this picture posted at?” It’s a move that inspires engagement by its audience.
Southwest uses more than just photography. It employs an app called Vitrue to upload sound bites. At one point, the airline posted a sound bite of Herb, the co-founder of the airline, laughing, and then it asked customers to guess whose laugh it was.
The multimedia team also captured the action when Southwest brought a guitar player on board a flight to “surprise and delight” unsuspecting customers. That way, it could share the fun with people who weren’t on that flight.
Want to learn more about Southwest's social media strategy? Laurel Moffat is presenting at the 5th Annual Social Media for PR and Corporate Communications Conference, hosted by
PR Daily publisher Ragan Communications. Get more details about the event here.