Southwest Airlines: Crisis Management in a Live Setting: The Southwest Airlines Way — Live from Member Meeting 41

Coverage of this session by Eli Benitez of Connect with him by following him on Twitter.

4:05 —'s Stephani Williams introduces Southwest Airlines' Director of Social Business, Lisa Anderson.

4:07 — Lisa: In late July, we had the worst technology meltdown in history, with no information for our customers.

4:09 — We had to react fast: Using our listening system, we posted a pre-approved post on Twitter. We had to determine how were going to handle this. We could not get information via email to our customer. All we knew was that our reuters didn't work.

4:11 — Lisa: What did we do:

  1. Honest
  2. Transparent
  3. Quick
  4. Genuine
  5. Progressive
  6. Omni-channel

4:13 — On the first day of the event, information was scarce as media inquiries poured in.

Who do you answer first?

We turned to Facebook Live to triage media inquiries while reaching customers at the same time. We used our chief communication officer to express our apology. It gave the news outlet the opportunity to get information through a live person.

4:14 — Lisa: Suddenly, we start receiving positive posts. We had positive sentiment. Our employees had their own comments, so it's something to look out for. They didn't go outside of our policy, but it wasn't good either.

4:16 — The next day:

Goal for the Second Stream:

  1. Lead with the most actionable information for active travelers — give them something. Don't just put them on hold and explain what we were doing. It gave people insight to what it's like to run an airline.
  2. Talk about the cause and what we did to fix it
  3. Explain the action being taken to bring back the operation and explain why it was taking so long despite a fix in place

Second Stream Takeaways – We did boost it with paid advertisement.

  1. We saw another boost in positive sentiment
  2. Customers appreciated the information, transparency, and humility
  3. We weren’t reaching enough people who were affected by the outage (we fixed that by amplifying the second stream)

4:18 — Lisa: At the same time, we launched The Southwest Airlines Community on July 20. It was meant to be soft launched (but the universe had different plans).

The Community ended up being the hub where we housed all of our assets from various channels, including user-generated content, which became crucial to our efforts.

We made sure to take care of our employees. Our internal employee channels were just as important as our customer channels.

4:20 — We blended paid, earned, shared, and owned spaces

  1. Social (paid, shared, and owned): Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, The Southwest Community,
  2. Internal channels: SWALife (Company intranet) and internal Facebook groups (shared)
  3. Traditional media: interviews (Gary during earnings), media alerts, pitching

4:22 — Lisa: Out of a terrible event, a new narrative began: Southwest’s prowess for communicating during a crisis, bolstered by Facebook Live.

4:24 — Lisa: What we learned?

  1. We have to start using Instagram. Wherever your customers are taking to you, you have to engage them.
  2. Recovery is a delicate but necessary step. Ease into a regular cadence with feel-good, universally appealing content. Experiment with geo-targeting to gauge sentiment and the environment of our audience.
  3. Create content for the masses. Solve problems for the individual.
    1. Listen to what customers are saying to generalize issues in order to customize content that aims at self-service and self-education. Utilize and empower your employees to solve more unique problems.


    Q: Was there any significant push pack in your culture?

    A: There was not push back. There is true transparency. There was some push back on Facebook live.

    Q: When you mention the policy in relation to employees how did you navigate that? Were there any perks for customer after this happened?

    A: We put out some gentle reminders after the system was back up. We also had some pre-training and had employees ready, but also reminded them to be mindful. We did not give any perks on responding to customers.

    Q: Can you go into more detail about what happened with the PR team, other executives, communication teams etc.?

    A: We have a headquarters for PR and executives. They came into the room with those plans. We had an open discussion in consideration for pros and cons. It came down to asking “what's the right thing to do?”.

    Q: Do you have lessons learned that could be applied to a  worldwide catastrophic problem?

    A: We found that when the systems went out we could not get in touch with our employees. We didn't have our employees' phone numbers. We need to know our employee phone numbers.

    Q: We had a strike earlier this year. Have you addressed not passing the blame onto the technology?

    A: It was all about being open and honest. It was what it was. Just be vulnerable with it. There's no one to blame.