Analysis: Southwest’s outreach on Twitter

Known for its social media savvy, the airline tweets with its passengers, especially those with gripes. The author decided to take a close look.


Sometimes flying the skies is not so friendly.

Weather and mechanical delays can put a damper on your travel, not to mention losing your luggage or having that close talker sit next to you on a cross-country flight. Irritated passengers air their grievances on social media.

Though you might think the social media managers of an airline might prefer to ignore all those complaints, Southwest Airlines continues to engage their passengers on Twitter, creating a loyal following and lending a sympathetic ear to those having a bad travel day.

Often seen as one of the Twitter superstars, the company adopted the platform in 2007. As an avid flyer and fan of Southwest, I have tweeted a handful of complaints over the past five years, but I’ve never received a response.

This got me thinking, “Do you have to be a Twitter superstar yourself to get the attention of @SouthwestAir?” To answer that question, I analyzed each tweet that came from @SouthwestAir this past July and August and noted:

• Whether the tweet was sent to the entire follower base, a reply, or a retweet;

• Whether it was a reply, the amount of influence the recipient had based on the number of their followers;

• Whether the vibe of a tweet was positive, apologetic, promotional, informational, a question, or response to a crisis;

• When it was sent and whether an agent’s initials were appended.

To help visualize the data I used Infoactive, a startup specializing in interactive infographics. You can click around on the graphs and charts below to further slice and dice the data in a unique way, enabling you to discover your own insights. My observations of how Southwest used Twitter over those two months are at the bottom of the infographic.

The infographic gave me a glimpse into this social media rock star. Here’s what I found:

1. You don’t have to be an influencer to get an apology from Southwest; 48 of the 67 apologies were issued to users with fewer than 1,000 followers.

2. The airline seems to be more sympathetic to vacationers; most apologies were issued on Saturday and Sunday.

3. Southwest overwhelmingly favors positive interaction, with more than 75 percent of their tweets looking on the bright side.

4. Because multiple people have access to the Twitter account, it appears that Southwest employs the best practice of requiring the messaging agent to append their initials to the tweet; on a typical day only one or two people are replying to passengers.

5. However, even at Southwest there is frequent neglect in appending initials; there were 227 replies that did not have the sender’s initials.

6. At the end of August, someone got really @reply happy, which resulted in almost 30 percent of the total tweets over two months happening in the last 10 days of August.

What did you discover? Click around on the infographic, and please leave your observations in the comments below.

Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and has experience as a technical project manager in the cloud. Read his personal blog on restaurants and culture in San Antonio, or follow him on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and App Dot Net.

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