Social Media Savvy: Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines is one of the most successful airline companies in the world. Many people attribute this success due to their ability to adapt to the new trends and needs of the customer. Most recently they have adapted to consumers use of technology, specifically social media. Southwest Airlines utilizes the most popular forms. Its most successful social media applications are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. These four are the only ones promoted on their website, but they do a great job of using others such as Pinterest and LinkedIn, too.
Southwest Airlines does a good job of not wasting time with social media platforms that don’t have a far reach for airline users. The platforms stated above do the best job of promoting the brand image and messages Southwest wants to get to it potential customers. Nearly ¾ of Americans use Facebook, so this is a key platform to use. Over 5 millions users have liked their page. There are many different things found on the Southwest Airlines Facebook page. Promoted most recently was the new Boeing Aircraft in which could be joining their fleet sometime next year. Southwest understands that text and data alone is not the best way to get the most views for this post. Along with the info about the new plane, they shared a few photos of it along with a video of the aircraft landing in Dallas. Along with posts about business, Southwest personalizes the content to relate to customers through stories of people riding Southwest. A recent example is a picture of a young man with special needs and how the airline company helped him with his goal of independence.
A significant part of Southwest’s brand image is that it is an airline that truly cares about its customers. It utilizes Pinterest in great ways that emphasize this. The most recent posts are about the new seats that will be available on their planes. They posted a picture of the seats and put a caption that gave you enough information to understand what the post is about, but not enough to see the features of the seats. It encourages a person reading it to click the link. Facebook has a huge following of both men and women, where as Pinterest has a larger base of women on the site. This reaches a significant part of Southwest’s female customers. Articles with images receive 94% more views (Entrepreneur 2015), and Southwest understands this. On a platform like Pinterest, pictures are the main source of content. In this post mentioned above about seats, there are 5 pictures with which you can scroll through. With each picture, there are a couple sentences about what the new seats will include/ their benefit. This is better than writing a long article with one picture, especially on a platform like Pinterest.
Another great tool Southwest uses is Social Media campaigns to promote its brand and gain visibility. Currently the company is promoting its #WannaGetAway Island Contest on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. In this contest, people post a video or tell a story of an embarrassing moment in their lives, and the best one can win a getaway to an island provided by Southwest. The airline understands that this contest will promote consumer participation and bring media coverage and awareness to their brand. So yes, they may be giving away an expensive trip to a customer, but they get much more out of it with consumers promoting Southwest on their own Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts.
What is most interesting to me about how Southwest uses Social Media is how it adapts to each platform and the content it posts. For example, the airline knows people on LinkedIn aren’t looking for big pictures and personal stories about customers that have used the airline like their twitter and Instagram followers. People that check out their page on LinkedIn are looking at more of the business aspect of the company. Some people want to be employed by Southwest, so their LinkedIn posts are about what makes the company so great to work for.
On the other hand, Southwest understands that followers on Twitter aren’t on the page (as much as LinkedIn) looking for job postings. On this platform, the airline posts are no more than 20 words and typically feature a picture and a short caption that links to a more in depth article. They post stories about people who have had marriage proposals on their flight, or how they helped a child with special needs conquer his dreams. They understand to be likeable; you have to connect with your customer base. They aren’t just posting ticket prices or other business related articles. They utilize Twitter quite frequently because 23% of online adults use the medium. Another important note is that this group has an annual income of $50,000 or more annually (Pew Research Center). This group is more likely to be able to purchase a plane ticket to go on vacation more so than a lower income family, so it could be another reason they use the medium so well.
The primary audience Southwest Airlines target is the “everyday” citizen. These people look for a comfortable flight with polite employees, and a ticket price that is within their budget. They are looking for an airline that looks beyond the money and actually cares about them. I think Southwest does a great job appealing to this target market. These people don’t want to think they are talking to a robot or automated responses on social media. This is why, for example, when responding to customers on Facebook Southwest employees sign their names at the end of each response. Southwest also tries to share real content that customers are actually thinking about (Social Media Today 2011). Along with this, Southwest also localizes its posts (to a certain point). Its Instagram is filled with pictures of the company’s planes flying over cities around the United States to connect with flyers from that area.
As stated before, many people Southwest targets are groups that aren’t extremely wealthy. They want an affordable plane tickets that wont break the bank. This being said they also want a comfortable flight. Southwest promoted it’s new coach (affordable) seats that they will be featuring on their new planes. I found this post on both Pinterest and Twitter. This shows they understand their target audience and what they are looking for in an airline.
Southwest is one of the best companies at responding to customer/follower complaints and comments. Platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest are platforms made for photo sharing and not typically meant for back and forth conversations, so the airline utilizes Facebook and Twitter primarily for this. When Southwest flyers have a flight delay, or the company has lost a bag of a passenger, they take to Twitter or Facebook to let them know about the inconvenience. Here, Southwest employees respond extremely fast, typically within an hour. They apologize for the inconvenience and ask for a flight number so they can check up on the issue. It lets people know that the company cares about their passengers well being and is constantly trying to make there experience better. They do not have automated responses either, which makes the experience more personal for the customer. At the end of each response, the employee will give his or her name. In controversial situations, the company asks the customer to direct message them on Twitter or Facebook. These keep the conversations more private and can help from making the airline look bad.
The content Southwest best utilizes are personal stories and videos. They connect with their desired audience with stories with people that have flown with them, and share how Southwest has helped them. These stories are much more interesting than business articles. They also post videos on a majority of their social media platforms. On YouTube they are promoting their #WannaGetAway Contest. On Twitter they recently posted a video of a man who proposed to his wife on a flight. These stories appeal to the emotions of the targeted audience. Unfortunately, after going through many of these social media platforms there were some big components to their social media campaign that were missing. There are certain types of content that gets shared and more views than others. The highest share rate belongs to Lists and Why-Posts (Hub Spot). I saw one List content post on all the social media platforms I looked through; it was a list of countries that customers didn’t they could fly to on Southwest. Other than that I did not find another list type content post. The same goes with Why-Posts. The company could bring up traffic and shares with these types of posts, and need to do a better job of doing so.