Introduction

Southwest Airlines (http://www.southwest.com/) knows about Social Media Marketing.  For proof, take a look at the depth and breadth of their social media saturation.  They have an active and vital presence in a variety of the most popular and widely used social media outlets.  In addition to their Blog, Southwest can be found on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. 

Southwest is deft at leveraging the enthusiasm and lightheartedness of its employees throughout all its channels. Visit any one of the Southwest social media sites, and the underlying constant between them is the inviting, but implicit “Learn about us” theme.  That theme is delivered in ways that somehow always manage to seem fresh and interesting.  Through the employees, we see Southwest not as a multi-million (billion?) dollar corporation, but as a collection of real, occasionally goofy, talented, spontaneous and dedicated workers.  The employees share their work, their interests, sometimes their aspirations, and their commitment to customer satisfaction with us.  They share with us their desire to know more about us, and in turn, ask for our stories.

From their website:

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

In fact, most of Southwest’s social media efforts are a reflection of the company’s culture and attitude “ . . . think of your customers first, second and last (the profits will follow).”

Southwest is a people oriented brand.  What better way to convey that essential, founding principle than through the faces/voices/involvement of all the people that are Southwest?

Southwest’s Social Media Marketing Goals

It seems fairly apparent to me that Southwest’s goals are to win over their target audience by providing a cost effective, hassle-free airline service that is also fun and easy to know, and easy to know gets you to, wait for it . . .  trustworthy!  If Southwest’s social media marketing can accomplish that, then they will by extension also be able to increase their market share and grow profits.  No small feat in today’s highly competitive domestic airline industry.

Southwest’s Customers’ Goals

Southwest’s customers’ goals, on the other hand, are to get the best price and the best service available for the flight(s) they need to make.  They also want to feel comfortable:  they’re about to entrust their belongings and their being to someone else (to a whole team of someone elses) with whom in all likelihood they probably have no personal connection of knowledge.  For many of us, that’s reason for pause.  So trust, and trustworthiness looms big in airline service – nearly as big as service (hassle-free service) does.

Nuts About Southwest

Southwest’s blog (http://www.blogsouthwest.com/) is bright, cheerful, and endearing.  Posts can be viewed by the most recent or the most active.  Customers can view videos that are both entertaining and informative.  You can meet the team:  bios are given for all 30 employee bloggers; access podcasts from Red Belly Radio; click on links to the Southwest website; get downloads for Nuts About Southwest wallpapers for computer, iPads, iPhones and other mobile devices.  But wait, there’s more:  no, no Ginzu cutting knives (TSA would probably not approve), there are Apps for your Android, Blackberry and iPhone, and a side bar called ‘Southwest Social Stream’ to keep you up to date.

Southwest on You Tube

Southwest offers informative and highly entertaining YouTube videos(http://www.youtube.com/user/NutsAboutSouthwest)  of all aspects of their operations.  For instance, there is a serial called “My Old Man in Maintenance” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpOSWn4Hpmg&feature=relmfu).  A young woman employee interviews her father about topics such as engine cleaning, aircraft flaps, hydraulic systems, and more.  Even Southwest is at times surprised what videos get the most views.  Recently, the video on engine cleaning was at the top of the list for ‘Most Viewed’.  Other videos range from a flight attendant delivering his flight safety instructions in rap; an impromptu concert by a country-western recording talent at 35,000 feet and shooting highly improbable hoops on the tarmac from, in and around a Southwest aircraft.

Southwest’s Facebook Page

Carrying the theme through, Southwest keeps things warm, friendly and relaxed on their Facebook page too (http://www.facebook.com/Southwest?int=GFOOTER-TOP-FACEBOOK).  The page is bright, colorful and pleasing.  Most recently, their Facebook page has featured the, novel, funny and slightly satiric device of having employees throw football penalty flags down on their competitors’ fees and practices.  Then, they invite the customer to throw his/her own flag, on a friend, just for fun of course.  To tie it all together, there’s an interactive penalty flag throwing game, sort of like a shooting gallery at a carnival game.

Southwest’s Twitter Account

On Twitter (http://twitter.com/?int=GFOOTER-TOP-TWITTER#!/SouthwestAir), Southwest informs customers about upcoming schedules, ticket scam alerts, and the occasional human interest item.  After a recent flight, a passenger tweeted that he was surprised to hear he and his bride being announced over the loudspeaker as newlyweds.  The flight attendants, immediately thereafter presented the stunned (maybe a little embarrassed?) new couple with a complementary bottle of champagne.  Is that good press, or what?

Southwest’s Flickr Account

The images on Flickr Southwest (http://www.flickr.com/groups/southwestairlines/?int=GFOOTER-TOP-FLICKR) are in constant supply, and consistently reinforce Southwest’s themes of warmth and friendly service.  Some of pictures are supplied by Southwest and its employees, and some of the pictures are sent in by Southwest customers and passengers.  The images range from in flight shots of sunsets, sunrises, long and low horizons, and people.  Among the people shots, some recent ones featured Southwest personnel pitching in on some community service projects.

Conclusion

Southwest is one of the earliest pioneers of social media for marketing purposes.  In 2006, they launched their first Blog, right after their participation in a cable TV reality show called “Airline”.  Southwest thought the Blog would be a great way to continue to capitalize on the interest cultivated by the reality show. Five years later, in 2011, Southwest has:

  • 12 million monthly visits to their website
  • 1 million Twitter followers
  • 1.3 million Facebook likes
  • 29,300 reviews on its Travelguide

The surprising thing about Southwest’s use of social media, is that they manage to cover all of this activity with only their in-house, Emerging Media Group . . . all five of them!

Unquestionably, Southwest demonstrates not only mastery of Social Media Marketing, but prowess.  Perhaps it’s instructive to draw an interesting, but probably not coincidental parallel to Zappos in one way:  Southwest, like Zappos, strongly encourages its’ employees to participate in its social media communications strategy:  across all channels.  Consider the 30 employee bloggers, consider the “My Old Man” YouTube serial, consider their employee participation on Twitter and Facebook. 

Finally, Southwest recently organized an internal social media conference to broaden employee involvement.  The conference provided overviews on training and social media content creation.   Southwest also sponsors a ‘Social Media Club’ within the company.  No wonder they’re good at it.