How Southwest Airlines creates meaningful, memorable content

It’s all about capturing moments that matter. Read on for the airline’s tips to make your storytelling soar—even during turbulent times.

Waving flag with Southwest Airlines logo. Editorial 3D

Waving flag with Southwest Airlines logo. Editorial 3D

If you’re struggling to achieve meaningful social media liftoff, Southwest Airlines is a terrific source for storytelling fuel.

Derek K. Hubbard, spokesman for Southwest Airlines, shared timeless lessons and practical solutions for communicators eager to break through the noise at PR Daily’s Media Relations and Measurement Virtual Conference on Friday, May 15. According to Hubbard, it starts and ends with telling better stories.

“Storytelling is capturing moments that matter. It’s the heart of how we connect with our audiences,” he says.

For inspiration on what that might look like, Hubbard referenced Southwest’s emotion-packed, tear-jerking “Bringing Dad Home” video, which won a 2019 PR Daily award and earned widespread media coverage.

He also shared the airline’s viral Operation #RescuetheDress story, which tracked Southwest’s efforts to deliver a bridesmaid’s dress to Costa Rica. The delightful customer service caper trended on Twitter and earned widespread media coverage.

You might not have such dramatic fodder to work with, but you have all the tools and raw ingredients at your disposal. Great stories are honest and rooted in truth, Hubbard says, and they must also have fire, passion and human emotion. Stories should create instant, visceral and genuine connections. All you need is a smartphone and a willingness to dig.

Hubbard shared insight into Southwest’s approach to digital communication. He says the airline pours social media content into three buckets:

  • Transactional content is used to provoke customer action, such as fare sales.
  • Operational content communicates information or updates to customers.
  • Reputational content is meant to enhance brand perception and customer experience.

Measurement depends on your goals, but Hubbard says to prioritize reach and sentiment. In addition to engagements, closely track earned media.

Crises complicate communication matters, but Hubbard recommends six goals to strive for—with employees and customers alike:

  • Be honest.
  • Be transparent.
  • Be quick.
  • Be genuine.
  • Be progressive and willing to experiment or change.
  • Be omnichannel.

During a crisis, “Every channel is a customer service channel,” Hubbard says. Use every platform you own to be helpful, and prioritize internal collaboration to ensure your problem-solving customer service efforts are in sync instead of conflicting.

Of course, things won’t be like this forever (right?!). He recommends geo-targeting to gauge sentiment and test audiences’ reaction to certain content. If you get blowback, you can tweak messaging accordingly. As always, formulate content based on customer feedback, suggestions and insights. That’s the quickest, most reliable way to start capturing those crucial moments that matter.

“Recovery is delicate but necessary,” Hubbard says, so communicators should “ease back into regular cadence of content sharing.”


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