Southwest Sees Rewards from Social Media

According to most frequent flyers I know, Southwest is the only major airline that "gets it right." Seems air travel isn’t the only concept the company understands, as it receives kudos for its social media efforts from Ragan. Here’s an excerpt, but I’d recommend you read the entire piece to see if your company can benefit from Southwest’s approach: 

On social media, behave like regular people.

Too often, brands appear stiff on social media sites. Not the case with Southwest—its tweets and status updates are brimming with personality. To that end, Moffat stresses the importance of being real on social media.

"You should sound like you’re talking to a person," she says.

One way Southwest manages to sound human is by tapping its employees to be voices for the airlines. After Southwest redesigned its blog about a year ago, it recruited employees to tell stories on the blog. The social media team chose 30 people-flight attendants, pilots, mechanics and more-armed them with Flip cams, and let the authors use their voices to tell stories.

Southwest also lets employees create local Facebook pages to connect with their communities. The company trains employees interested in managing a local site and allows them to be creative in their approach. It does check in on them to help determine which strategies work.

Moffat says it’s important for companies to foster the unique qualities of their employees when tapping their voices. The approach has paid off for Southwest. "Customers embrace our quirkiness," she says.

Understand that transparency isn’t just a buzzword.

If there’s a situation that Southwest feels its audience should know about, the company will "send out a statement and post it on Twitter and Facebook so people know we’re handling it," Moffat says. "It’s better to be proactive than reactive."

She adds that Southwest strives to respond to as many customers as possible via social media, especially when a customer has a problem or question.


Bump in the Night and Day on Airlines

It’s not exactly 2+2=4, but I think it still qualifies as a basic math equation. The breakdown:

Airlines reduce the number of flights as well as the sizes of planes (fewer seats) + business travelers and others returning to the airways following the worst of the recession (more people looking to fly)  = a likely record year for bumped passengers.

I told you it was pretty basic. In the first quarter alone, nearly 220,000 passengers bought tickets but were unable to get on the flights. We’re not going to get into a detailed discussion of overbooking, but those numbers are a problem (they are 25% ahead of a year earlier). Since we’re into the straighforward talk, I’ll share the comment of a Florida airline economic professor, who said, "If you go to a concert and there are 1,000 tickets, they don’t sell 1,100 tickets. They sell 1,000."

Some more numbers to keep in mind:

  • After a 6.9% reduction in capacity among the six biggest U.S. airlines in 2009 (the biggest cut since 1942), another 2.8% was slashed early this year
  • Southwest, probably the top dog in the business whether judging by results or personal experience, typically sells 140 to 142 tickets on a flight with 137 seats. The reasoning: empty seats mean lost revenue, raising the prices even more for future flights
  • Despite nearly 89% of the first-quarter bumpings being voluntary (travelers accepting vouchers or other incentives to switch flights), the involuntary rate of 1.73 for every 10,000 passengers was a 37% increase. The 2009 rate of 1.19 was a 13-year high

In my infrequent travels, the search for those willing to give up their seats has seemingly been on the increase. I rarely have the flexibility to participate. For business travelers, being bumped can have costly consequences.

Airlines are struggling and this is part of their attempt at a solution (along with those nasty baggage fees; I’ll save that for another day). OK to overbook or do we need a no-bump game plan? You make the call.