Social Media Lessons from Southwest Airlines

While most businesses can only dream of having the seven person staff (not to mention the much-admired brand) that Southwest Airlines has to manage social media efforts, every business can learn from Southwest’s approach and experience.

I recently heard Paula Berg, Southwest’s manager of emerging media, speak as part of the Small Business Informed and Inspired Speaker Series put on by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Despite the tremendous resources Southwest has when approaching social media, the key takeaways for me could (and should) be employed by any size business:

Set Realistic Goals – when Southwest first dipped its toe into social media, its goal was quite modest: communicate directly with customers, using their feedback as a form of informal focus group. While it has had videos, like the rapping flight attendant top 2.5 million views and its Facebook fan base top 95,000, Southwest’s focus was not on the numbers. (See Southwest’s Facebook fan page here.) It focused on what the company could learn.

Blogs are Central – As Berg put it, the blog is the anchor for all of Southwest’s social media efforts. In addition to the search engine benefits of fresh, relevant content, the blog allows Southwest to lead the conversation. And, while Southwest has some 30 employees who contribute to the Nuts about Southwest blog, it’s direction to them is a model for all potential bloggers: write about things you’re passionate about, make it personal and write when you want to.

Listen, Engage and Address – While Southwest is active in multiple social media (Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn) in addition to its own blog, the company’s social media policy is universal: listen to what people are saying about Southwest, engage the positive and address the negative. That is a simple, direct and effective policy.

This video provides some highlights from Berg’s speech in Nashville. In addition to the great content she provides, what comes across is the passion for the company, the recognition that she isn’t perfect (but is always trying to be better) and the contagious enthusiasm that you’ve likely seen embodied by countless Southwest employees over the years. When you’ve got that to work with, you’ll succeed in any media, social or otherwise.