Southwest Airlines is Riding the Blogosphere Like a Wild Horse!

'Southwest Airlines is riding the blogosphere like a wild horse,' read the program description of Paula Berg's talk at the 2009 Inbound Marketing Summit, which was held in Boston last week on October 7 - 8. Berg's presentation was titled 'Nuts About Online Communication' and she discussed how Southwest has learned to leverage social media tools with its award-winning blog, as well as tools including Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Berg opened her presentation by talking about the Southwest Airline TV show, where the camera followed passengers and crews around behind the scenes of the Airport. With the show, they were able to reach a totally different demographic than before, which was basically males involved in business with an interest in sports. The show was aired on a Monday night, and the following Tuesday two interesting things would happen; one the revenue would go up 9%, and two, they would receive a lot of job applications.

When the show finished, Southwest was looking for something to fill the void, so in April, 2006, they began their blog 'Nuts About Southwest '. The blog became very successful and served as a virtual focus group, a resource for employees, a place for Southwest to write news the way they wanted, a place to share expertise, a place to post breaking news, and a way to help increase their search engine rankings. They then handpicked 30 employees from all departments, including the flight crew, to blog, and gave them two guidelines; write what you are passionate about, and write when you feel like it. Berg says some of the bloggers are prolific and others hide from her in the hallway.

In May of 2008, Southwest Airlines relaunched their blog, to make it more web 2.0, by adding new elements such as videos and podcasts. Visits went up by 25%.

Berg presented case studies from the last three years which show how Southwest has effectively made, managed, and maintained successful online communities, and the lessons they have learned along the way. One case study was called 'Open Season on Assigned Seating'. Basically, the CEO announced on a blog that Southwest would change the open seating policy to assigned seating. His blog post received 700 comments from customers voicing their opinions, many of which opposed the change. Therefore, he decided to keep the open seating policy. Another thing that Southwest learned from this was that travelers were unhappy with their boarding process so Southwest was able to adopt a new process. Southwest declared on their website, "You Spoke and We Listened - Southwest Airlines Says Open Seating is Here to Stay!"

Another case study Berg discusses is called 'A Story With Legs'. This was a case where Southwest asked a passenger to cover up her outfit because she was scantily dressed. Six months later the story broke in the San Diego Tribune and on the Today Show. Many people were outraged and comments exploded online. Southwest finally apologized, but Berg admits they should have done it earlier.

The lesson they learned from that case served them well when the next crisis hit. This time it involved two girls, and the case was called 'Too Pretty to Fly'. In this case, the girls were behaving very unladylike on a flight, and were yelling profanities at other passengers. When the plane landed the girls were escorted off by four police officers. The girls, Nisreen Swedberg and Sarah Williams, claimed that they were banned from flying all Southwest airlines for being 'too pretty'. "I think they were just discriminating against us because we were young decent-looking girls. I mean, nobody else on the plane looked like us except us. The flight attendants were like older ladies. We were younger. Who knows they could have been just jealous of us because we were younger," said Williams. This time Southwest responded earlier by releasing a video which told their side of the story. The video received 250,000 views and was number 8 of the most viewed videos. This time Southwest received tremendous support from the public and other bloggers.

Southwest also employs other social media platforms including Twitter. They currently have 750,000 Twitter followers. They recently posted a 2-day fare sale which was driven by social media and had tremendous results.

Video also plays an important role for Southwest. Perhaps you have seen the Rapping Flight Attendant. This video has 525,126 views. A passenger took the video of flight attendant David Holmes and the video was featured on CNN. Berg isn't sure why, but another video about Engine Washing has received 91,900 views.

According to Berg, there are a few key members on their social media team including 3 primary listeners and spokespeople, 2 people doing video, and a writer.

Other travel blogs the Southwest team reads include the Cranky Flier, Gadling travel blog, FlyerTalk, Runaway Girl, Aviation week, and Rick Seany.

Berg gives some tips about using social media and says, "Make it personal, act fast, don't rely on numbers alone, don't be afraid to join the conversation, make it personal, educate employees, live and breath social media, and have fun - it's not a burden, it's a gift!"

If you would like to learn more about setting up a blog, please feel free to call us at 978-465-5955 or send an email to

O'Rourke Hospitality Marketing, 44 Merrimac Street, Newburyport MA 01950,

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