Southwest, Blowing the Competition Out of the Water (or Sky)

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As a frequent flier, I am a loyal customer of Southwest Airlines. I started flying Southwest for their low fares, but now I stick around because I enjoy their advertising, marketing, and social media strategy.

While Southwest does not have a particular crisis to overcome at the moment, its competition is fierce and with Southwest’s prices and fees rising, they are at risk of losing customers. A typical complaint of a RapidRewards customer is that Southwest values them less than they once did. Not only is Southwest raising prices, but its reward program has fewer perks. While Southwest is still cheaper than its competition, it has to use this opportunity to reach out to their customers to make sure they stay and that more consumers join them.

Currently, the social media and marketing team are very strong. Southwest focuses its energy on many of the same social media outlets as other airlines, but in addition to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest among others, they also have a blog called Nuts About Southwest, that roughly 30 employees, from pilots to skycaps, contribute to.

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Southwest’s Twitter account has been successful, but it has not grown with the same speed that their Facebook page has. According to Southwest’s social media manager, Christi McNeil, both pages had about a million followers in June of 2011. Now, @SouthwestAir has about 1.5 million followers, while the Southwest Facebook page has over 4 million likes.

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Due to the immense size of their fan page, it will be the primary focus. While their Facebook likes are impressive by themselves, what is even more impressive is the fact that they were the first airline to claim 3 million likes on Facebook back in August of 2011. To put that into perspective, the United Airlines Facebook page barely has over 500,000 likes in October of 2013.

According to Facebook over 38,000 people alone have mentioned Southwest on Facebook in the past month. The most popular age group of Southwest fans is between 25 and 34 years old, and the most popular city to talk about Southwest on Facebook is Houston, Texas.

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On an average day, Southwest posts one to three things on their Facebook page, with a varying amount of likes, comments and shares. One thing Southwest should be commended for is their ability to stay relevant and relate to both pop culture and the time of year. While many of their posts relate to sales tactics and the announcement of low prices, not all of their posts are meant to generate revenue.

An example of their relevance, and references to the time of year and to pop culture came just today. In homage to Christopher Columbus, a flight from Orlando to Columbus this morning used the flight #1492. The post mentioned these facts and put a picture of Columbus on the side of one of their planes.

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This post was clever and a little whimsical, and was not directly promoting the airline itself. Thirteen hours after it had been shared, it had 2,341 likes, was shared 145 times, and had 62 comments.

While this post is relevant because of Columbus Day, you may be asking how it relates to pop culture. One of the most popular comments on the post, with 10 likes, said “What u guys need is a flight #915 every 9/22…” Having not watched the show, I googled what information I had and discovered that date and flight corresponded to “Lost.” Southwest however did not miss a beat and replied to the comment within an hour saying that they would leave that to Oceanic, the fictional airline said to have crashed on the show. Their reply got 17 likes of its own.

While they do not appear to reply to every comment, they do make an effort to reply to some. Interestingly enough, they seem to reply to positive comments more than negative ones. For instance, a few comments underneath the “Lost” comment was a remark about how Columbus should not be celebrated because he was “not a good guy.” That comment got 26 likes, yet no response from Southwest, along with many other comments similar to that that Southwest also appeared to ignore.

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Another example of their attempt to stay relevant came on September 13th, which happened to be National Peanut Day. As an airline that serves their customers free peanuts while in flight, this day was relevant to them, as well as peanut lovers anywhere. To celebrate the day, a video of peanuts playing a game against pretzels was put on the website. To relate the item and the holiday back to the airline, the video was shot on a Southwest airplane tray table. The popular post had over 1,000 likes and almost 100 shares and comments each. However, again, Southwest seemed to not reply to negative comments, most of which had to do with the airline serving something that could potential be fatal to those with peanut allergies.

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A final example of Southwest striving to relate to pop culture came with the season premiere of “Modern Family” on September 25. “Modern Family” is a popular, Emmy winning show, and in honor of their 5th season beginning, Southwest shared a picture of two of the show’s stars on a plane with Southwest flight attendants. This post had 2,623 likes, 39 shares, and 109 comments. Unlike the Columbus Day and National Peanut Day posts, this post did not seem to have much negative backlash. Yet, again however, there was minimal response coming from Southwest.

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Southwest continues to use holidays, seasons, and pop culture to relate to their fans in a way that does not directly promote sales, with contests for Halloween, posts about Hazelnut coffee creamer being back for the fall, and even World Smile Day.

They often use humor to generate feedback on their posts, a method that appears to be working for them. Their Facebook fans, and social media fans in general, seem to be increasing in numbers constantly. While not all of their posts seem to have gone as smoothly as possible, they overall appear to be successful.

Southwest should try to improve their response rate. For a company that receives thousands of comments and replies a day, a response to everyone may not be possible, but at least half of the feedback they receive should be responded to. Customers seem to be complaining about not being valued by the company, and responding to the majority of comments on social media would be a great way to improve those feelings.

Regardless of negative comments and their lack of response, Southwest is doing well, and social media is definitely having an impact. 2012 marked Southwest’s 40th consecutive year of profitability, an impressive feat for a company that has only existed for 43 years. According to Business Week, Southwest’s revenue and profitability has not only continued but steadily increased since 2009. From 2011 to 2012 alone, Southwest managed to increase revenue from $14.9 billion to $16.3 billion, with gross profit increasing from $3.4 billion to $3.7 billion.

When contacted for information regarding their return on investment for social media, Southwest did not respond, however, one can guess that there is a correlation between their increase in revenue, gross profit, and their social media strategy.

Many social media reviews like Social Media Explorerand Social Media Examiner have heralded Southwest as a company that really connects with its consumers over social media, and says that other marketers should take notice of their strategies.

Christi McNeil, the media specialist and spokesperson for Southwest, has said that her main goal is to make the company seem as authentic and transparent as it can be. The social media team strives for consistency, and it seems to be present in all of their social media outlets.

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Southwest uses Facebook particularly to stream live content, feature fare offers and promotions, and relate to their customers. Their current average of one to three posts a day seems to be an ideal number for their business. They receive more than a thousand likes on almost every post, which for an airline seems especially high. They generate comments on posts by sharing pictures and asking questions that are relevant to their customers.

While their specific business goals are unknown, they have increased their profits, year after year, while cultivating their online communities. The Southwest Facebook page is not only a space for posts by the company, but also by consumers and for consumers. They can interact and share information and experiences in a familiar format.  There is high engagement on their content, and user-generated content on every post.

They have had several mishaps with social media in the past, they have worked to remedy those situations, and those mishaps seem to be minimal.

Southwest does have a problem in that their prices are rising closer to those of their competitors, but they are still making higher profits every year, and their interactions with consumers on social media blow the competition, like United, out of the water (or sky). At this rate, Southwest’s growth does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Pinterest and Uncrate: The Best Places for Discovering and Collecting Content

Pinterest and Uncrate are my two favorites when it comes to discovering new things and collecting them in an organized manner.

Although it seems to be losing a little steam compared to this time last year, I see Pinterest as a top-notch platform for content discovery and collecting. 

While I can still check up on what my friends are into by looking at what they’ve recently pinned, the focus is on the consumer content rather than my friends themselves, which is quite the opposite of Facebook. 

I personally like Pinterest because it helps me gather my thoughts and ideas onto different boards. Pinterest sparks my creativity, and gives me something to do with my time both by being on the website and by bringing my pins to life. 

As a junior at Marquette, this is my first year not living in a dorm, and I can definitely say that Pinterest has shaped my apartment and lifestyle. Pinterest gave my roommates and I countless ideas for how to decorate our apartment, from things we could buy to DIY crafts. The wall art hanging over my bed may have never happened without Pinterest guiding me.

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Pinterest also supplies me with countless recipes for cooking and baking. I am gluten free and on a low sodium diet, which can restrict the things I eat quite a lot. I am always looking for new, flavorful recipes to try. With Pinterest, I am never at a loss for something new to make. 

Overall, Pinterest is a fun platform for content discovery and collecting. It sparks the imagination, prompts me to challenge myself in the kitchen and who knows-maybe it’ll help my dream wedding come true!

My second favorite content gathering site/app is Uncrate. While its content is geared toward men, there are still plenty of things for girls to get into. The website prides itself on being a digital magazine of what’s cool and new, and the app is an even sleeker version of the information. Men can use the app to buy clothes they see and like right then and there, and for me, I like looking at the cool things like highlighter pencils and books that teach the meaning behind rap lyrics. This is also a great site for women to gather gift ideas for anyone in their lives, especially dads, brothers, and boyfriends who can be tricky to buy for.

With an account on Uncrate, you have the opportunity to save items to your “stash” and you can even share that list with others via email or social media.  

Both Pinterest and Uncrate are great platforms for content discovery and collecting. I love using both and would recommend them to everyone!

Do You Value Facebook Memes?

When I first read the PR Daily Article Why Facebook Should Stop Judging Content Quality” I was a little upset by Facebook’s decision to devalue memes. The article got the response it was looking for in me when it said, “You are too stupid to recognize quality posts (Carter, paragraph 3).”

 

But then I stopped and really thought about it. Personally, I don’t like memes. I ignore them when they are on my newsfeed, and I would be happy to see even less of them. 

 

This weekend, I had the great opportunity to talk to someone who works at Facebook, and I mentioned this topic. Although he did not personally work on the code that assigns value to posts, he said there may have been several reasons for this. He said that it was true, Facebook did think memes were of lower content, for reasons that make sense. Memes are not completely original works, which may cause some problems with copyright law. And in a sense, they are actually quite similar to posts that beg for “likes.” They do not stir up much original conversation or earn many “shares,” instead they just gather “likes.” Therefore, they are of “lower quality.” 

 

My initial feelings did not last long. While I do not personally appreciate memes because they seem a bit like spam to me, I still do believe that we should have some say as to what appears on our newsfeed. In my settings, I should be able to say whether or not I would like memes to appear, even possibly going as far as to select which brand or company’s memes I would like to see. This would be the best of both worlds. People like me who like memes, but do not necessary appreciate businesses trying to use them, could decide for themselves just how important memes are. 

 

Above all, I believe that Facebook is trying to make improvements, and do what they think is both best and what their users want. Just because memes have been devalued now does not mean that they will be forever.

How Social Media Could Have Changed 9/11

It is hard to believe that this week marked the 12th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. I remember that day vividly. Sitting at my desk in third grade feeling like I understood everything and nothing at the same time. 

 

If those attacks happened now, in this day and age, I really believe that things would have been much different. 

 

Social media is so easy to use and so accessible now, and with cell phones always handy, more people would have gotten to talk to their loved ones. 

 

For those who were trapped in the World Trade Center and could not get out, social media may have been able to provide a platform for exchanges to take place. Cell towers were congested, but with wifi and phones and 3G and 4G service, there may have been more closure. For those who did get out, they could let their loved ones know immediately, instead of inducing a panic over “what-ifs.” 

 

Just like those trapped in the buildings, those trapped in the hijacked planes also could have gotten last minute messages out. 

 

Social media, especially Twitter, would be a place for love and memories. Often social media is now thought of with a slight negative connotation because some say it takes away from our actual relationships. If Twitter had existed then, it would have done the opposite. 

 

Social media also would have changed the way 9/11 was reported. I remember the news just being a constant loop of the first and second towers getting attacked. If the attacks happened now, I think social media would have constant reports of varying information. With technology so advanced, there would most likely be more breaking developments in the stories of the terrorist attacks, so the news would be constantly changing. Then, it seemed like time was standing still and people struggled to find out what was happening. 

 

Journalists would have been able to share articles immediately, instead of trying to post information on sites that kept crashing. 

 

In terms of swaying public opinion, I do not know if social media would have been that big of a factor. The news of that day was so shocking, that people were barely processing, let alone forming a strong opinion. Unlike many other major news events, different media outlets shared a similar opinion, and there was a sense of pride for our nation. I believe that that would still be true with social media.

 

With social media, there also may have been a shift from focusing on the horrifying news to focusing on what is and was good in the world. Instagram may have been a place for people to share pictures of people doing good deeds, and opening up their homes to people in need. Twitter would have broken news at lightning speed. Facebook would have allowed people to communicate. 

 

It has been 12 years since that fateful day, and it is not any less devastating. Thousands of people lost their lives that day, and even more lost people they loved. Had social media been what it is today, at least there may have been a way to say goodbye and spread the news.

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Does Age Matter?

Should every social media manager be under 25? Should they be 37.5 years or older? I think it is easy to forget, and in the articles regarding this topic, people seemed to forget a lot. The initial article and the follow-ups are almost angry, like the authors forgot that they all do the same job. The older social media managers claim that the young ones are irresponsible, and the younger ones claim that the older ones are out of the loop. 

 

Personally, I initially agreed with Cathryn Sloane’s article, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25.” As a college student a little younger than Ms. Sloane, I found myself in the same boat as her. I did grow up with Twitter, and Facebooking comes second nature to me. After reading her article, I was completely convinced that every social media manager should be under 25 years of age. As a college student, this article almost gave me hope that I could find a job upon graduation.  

 

Ms. Thomases of Inc.com on the other hand came off incredibly snarky. Her article title “Social Media: Don’t Put an Intern in Charge,” was frankly very rude. She opens her article by saying “Pardon the generalization,” which is like saying no offense before openly insulting someone. This summer, I was an intern at WXRT-FM, a radio station in Chicago that has been around for 40 years. That is twice my age. Yet even as a “lowly” intern, I was allowed to write articles and blog posts for their website, and post them myself. While I was not allowed to tweet from the account myself, I did write the tweets that accompanied my articles, and guess what? My articles and tweets brought traffic to the website, meaning I was not completely incompetent.

 

Maybe at 20 years old, I am not ready to manage social media for a company. But in three years, I might be. As Lauren Rothering put it in her article “Why Millennials Should Handle Your Social Media,” age does not directly translate to maturity. Just because I am in college does not mean that I am out doing kegstands Thursday through Sunday, or that I constantly abbreviate phrases to three or four letters. 

 

While I no longer agree that all social media managers should be under 25 years old, I do think that the majority of them should be, or at least under 30. From my personal and professional experiences, they seem to best handle social media. However there are exceptions. Brands are different. They target different people, and their social media managers may be a reflection of that. And that is something I am completely understanding of. There are 65 year olds who know much more about tweeting than I do, and they know what their audience wants to hear. And I am willing to give those 65 year olds a chance. I just wish Ms. Thomases was also willing to give us millennials a chance. Especially without her condescending tone.