How Southwest Airlines wrangled four social media crises

By being on top of crises as they happen, answering them with a human voice, creating brand ambassadors and having plans at the ready, the airline has weathered some big storms.

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With a number of customers that big, “the potential for things to go awry is always there,” airline spokesman Paul Flaningan told an audience at Ragan Communications’ Social Media for PR and Corporate Communications Conference at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Things have gone awry, sometimes in a big way. Yet Southwest has avoided any major wounds to its reputation through quick action, smart responses, active customer ambassadors on social media, and planning. Flaningan ran through four of the biggest crises the airline has faced in recent years and how the communications team dealt with them.

The fare sale

To celebrate acquiring its 3 millionth Facebook “like,” Southwest offered a fare sale with some significant deals, exclusively through Facebook. It proved to be a smash hit.

In fact, it was a little too popular. The system flooded and a technical mishap led people to be billed multiple times, as many as 50.

Southwest quickly corrected the erroneous charges, but many customers were understandably unhappy. Other customers, however, stepped in to say Southwest didn’t overcharge on purpose and emphasized that the airline was fixing the mishap.

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