Maybe Not So “Nuts About Southwest”: Case Study 2

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Intro

On my way back from my semester abroad in Australia, I booked my international flight from Sydney to L.A. separate from my domestic flight from L.A. to Chicago to save money. My layover wasn’t nearly enough time for me to go through Customs and baggage claim and then baggage check in a different terminal, but I didn’t figure that out until I was actually trying to complete the task. Panic started sinking in when I finally realized I wasn’t going to make it and the tears started flowing as I made a phone call home to ask what I should do. Twenty minutes and several back and forth calls later with my dad, my Southwest Airlines flight had been switched to the next day and I had a hotel room booked for that night, no problem. This is the story I think about when I think of Southwest Airlines. Southwest was able to smoothly take care of my mini-crisis. However, several months before this particular flight with Southwest occurred, actor and film-maker Kevin Smith had a very different, and very controversial, experience.

Southwest Airlines launched its blog, “Nuts About Southwest” in 2006 and since then has expanded to 7 social media channels, which are all displayed in the upper right-hand corner on its blog homepage (as seen below), to create its collaborative social media strategy.

Southwest clearly has all of the major bases covered when it comes to social media presence. The airline’s Twitter presence was especially important on Saturday, February 13, 2010 when the story of Kevin Smith hit the Twitter-sphere. Smith, an actor and film-maker with 1.6 million Twitter followers at the time of the incident, was kicked off a Southwest flight for being “too fat.” Smith expressed his displeasure via a series of Tweets which were not only seen by Smith’s followers, but were also picked up by major news sources including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and ABC.

Please keep in mind that this case study is meant to analyze the actions Southwest took via social media to fix the problem, not the actions which sparked the problem (which did not involve social media). Also, please keep in mind that this case study is a display of crisis management through social media, so opinions of how the situation was handled are mixed.

Analysis

The main website where Southwest lists all of its social media platforms is its blog, entitled, “Nuts About Southwest.” All social media statistics were noted on May 7, 2012.

Twitter:  8,913 Tweets, 10,134 ‘Following,’ 1,290,253 ‘Followers’

Facebook: 2,258,441 ‘Likes,’ 44,557 ‘Talking About This,’ 211,986 ‘Were Here’

Flickr: 1,627 Members

YouTube: 4,755 Subscribers, 8,463,719 Video Views

Foursquare: 14 ‘Check-Ins,’ 6 ‘Days Out,’ 2 ‘Things Done,’ 20 Friends

There is a Gowalla link on the blog, but it does not direct the viewer to a finished page.

The CEO, Gary Kelly also has his LinkedIn profile linked to the blog.

Campaign

This case study isn’t about a campaign, but I feel it’s important to look at crisis communication via social media because it’s becoming a very good way for companies to communicate with customers and fix problems faster than customers calling in and waiting for an operator.

Here is Smith’s story, as described in the Wall Street Journal Blog and Mashable.

For approximately 30 years, Southwest has implemented a policy that requires “passengers of size” to purchase an additional seat for any type of flight. Smith originally purchased two seats for his flight from Oakland, CA to Burbank, CA but then attempted to standby for an earlier flight. There was only one seat left on the earlier flight, but Smith was still permitted to switch flights. However, once he was seated on the plane, Southwest personnel removed him from the plane because of his size. Smith posted his displeasure via Twitter:

Dear @SouthwestAir – I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?

Wanna tell me I’m too wide for the sky? Totally cool. But fair warning, folks: IF YOU LOOK LIKE ME, YOU MAY BE EJECTED FROM @SOUTHWESTAIR.

Dear @SouthwestAir, I’m on another one of your planes, safely seated & buckled-in again, waiting to be dragged off in front of the normies.

Southwest replied:

@ThatKevinSmith hey Kevin! I’m so sorry for your experience tonight! Hopefully we can make things right, please follow so we may DM!

Hey folks – trust me, I saw the tweets from @ThatKevinSmith I’ll get all the details and handle accordingly! Thanks for your concerns!

I read every single tweet that comes into this account, and take every tweet seriously. We’ll handle @thatkevinsmith issue asap

I’ve read the tweets all night from @thatkevinsmith – He’ll be getting a call at home from our Customer Relations VP tonight.

@ThatKevinSmith Ok, I’ll be sure to check it out. Hopefully you received our voicemail earlier this evening.

@ThatKevinSmith Again, I’m very sorry for the experience you had tonight. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do.

@ThatKevinSmith We called you on the number you had on file in your reservation. If you prefer a different number, please DM me. Thanks!

Our apology to @ThatKevinSmith and more details regarding the events from last night – http://cot.ag/96KHC7 #Southwest

Conclusion

There are a lot of factors to take into consideration regarding this story. This is a very controversial issue that stirs up many different opinions. For some, the issue begins with the policy for “passengers of size” and whether or not that policy should even exist in the first place. However, Smith was obviously respecting the Southwest policy by originally purchasing two seats. The controversy comes in when Smith tried to switch his flight. Obviously, there was a communication problem. We could waste lots of time pointing the finger at one party or the other, but let’s bring our attention to the reaction of Southwest on Twitter.

I personally believe that despite the trip-ups that led to this crisis, Southwest was very positive and willing to help. Yes, it was a very reactive approach as opposed to a proactive approach, but it seems Southwest jumped in right away to get to the bottom of the problem. Southwest apologized, responded to the concerned tweets of other followers, and made it known it was taking a personal approach to solving the issue by calling Smith.

The fact that Southwest admitted there was a problem was the biggest indication that the team was handling the issue the right way. Southwest also didn’t stay silent, which is another ‘no no.’

Suggestions

Obviously, we would all retrace our steps back to the moment when Smith requested to switch flights. Concerning the social media approach though, I think that Southwest used social media to handle this situation in a very direct and professional manner.

Capturing the Moment in Social Media Policy: Kodak

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It’s interesting to me that there are so many different types of social media policies. Some companies get very specific about blogging guidelines and others focus on particular sites, such as Twitter or Facebook. The length also varies. Some companies, like Kodak, take the opportunity to help other companies, while other companies, such as FedEx, keep it short and to the point. Both methods have pros and cons to the length and details.

The fact that Kodak’s policy is very applicable to other companies makes it a great policy to examine. Kodak has created a separate document in order to elaborate on this policy.

Highlights

The Kodak policy is entitled “Social Media Tips,” which is very interesting because it’s not only a guide for its own employees, but also for other businesses. It starts with the very basic facts of the most popular social media platforms,  goes into tips for getting started and explains it’s own social media policies.

The document also provides specific stories of how Kodak has utilized social media as a listening and communicating tool and a platform to create buzz for events and tradeshows. These real examples are really cool ways to showcase how versatile social media is and how it can be extremely beneficial to a company when guidelines and policies are followed. But what happens when your efforts are not working? Kodak has even built in a few tips for problems too!

Even though aesthetics are not a top priority when it comes to social media policies, one of the strengths of Kodak’s policy is that it is very visually appealing. It provides screenshots of its social media platforms, many pictures throughout the document, and the overall layout is very appealing.

This policy is all about spreading the knowledge, which makes it stand out.

Weaknesses

It’s so long!! Sixteen pages! If you’re trying to look through it to find the policies that Kodak enforces, you have to scroll through all of the basic facts and tips. The facts about each social media platform are so thorough they’re almost unnecessary. Most people already know most of these facts.

Changes/Recommendations

It’s really hard to critique this policy because it is so thorough as well as helpful. My only suggestion would be to include a table of contents so the viewer can easily navigate to the page he or she is looking for instead of sifting through all the pages.

Opinion

I was surprised to find this blog entry written by Jeff Bullas, which states that only 29% of companies have a social media policy. That’s a shock to me seeing as many companies have profiles on Facebook and Twitter to promote their brand and therefore are most likely aware of the dangers that lie within social media.

However, on second thought, this statistic is spot on when I think back to my internship experience. Only one of the three internships I have had made me sign a social media policy. Another company didn’t have a social media policy for me to sign, but actually blocked sites including YouTube and Pandora (when I realized this, my hopes of listening to music at work immediately died), yet allowed other sites such as Facebook (for marketing purposes).

For two of my previous employers, this Mashable article and this Inc.com article provide tips on what to include in a social media policy. I definitely think it’s an important element to incorporate into the contract of an employee because many employers search applicants on the web (check out this infographic for statistics), so it only makes sense that they would want employees to be more conscious when it comes to social media. Employees are representatives of companies during and after work hours, so whatever they communicate through the web can be easily construed, resulting in bad PR for the company. Capture the moment and take action!

For Now, I’ll Pass on Project Glass

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This week in social media news, Google’s Project Glass is the hot topic. Yes, it is awesome. Yes, it is the stuff of the future. And yes, I am here to question it.

For those of you who have not seen the YouTube video that Google uploaded this past Wednesday, take a look…

This next video, a clip from Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!, shows that I am not the only skeptic…

Jokes like this are funny because they contain bits of truth. In this case, the truth is actually not funny at all. The image of the man falling down the stairs reminds me of the UK PSA video (Warning: the video is GRAPHIC) in which a teenage girl is texting while driving, which results in a car crash and the death of her two best friends who were in the car with her. The crash also results in the deaths of the other drivers involved. It doesn’t matter that the glasses do not require you to move your head or use your hands. It’s physically impossible for most people, if not all people, to focus their eyes and full attention on two things at once, such as reading a text and driving or reading sheet music and walking.

So obviously I do not fall into the category of consumers known as ‘early adopters’ or even the category of ‘influencers.’ This is apparent in many aspects of my life, but most noticeably in that fact that I still do not own a smart phone. I just don’t need one right now. Because I’m still in college, busting out my laptop anywhere on campus is completely normal, and there is free Wi-Fi all over campus, so I’ve been able to blend in for now. I know an iPhone will enter my life after graduation for work purposes, but there’s no rush.

The habits that I have noticed of people who do have smart phones are another source of my skepticism. One of them is being present. My friends always joke about how their parents tell them, “Can you just be here for once?” Once again, a joke with bits of truth. It’s hard to be fully present when your head is in the clouds flying around with the Twitter birds. I will admit that this habit has caused a small bitterness inside of me. But who can blame me when I’m put in the awkward position of deciding whether I should continue my story or pause and awkwardly look around for a minute while my friend finishes up a text or a post? Don’t believe me that this happens? Watch the original Project Glass video and notice that when the man wearing the glasses goes to the coffee truck with his friend, he says, “Hey, just a second” in order to ‘check in’ at the coffee truck. The video doesn’t show it, but I can bet that his friend had an awkward moment of looking around and pleasantly smiling at nothing in particular until the ‘checking in’ had concluded. With glasses like these on, how can anyone be fully present?

Yes, I’ll admit that because this is just a concept, and not a completed project (Google is encouraging comments and suggestions on the Project Glass Google+ page), it is a bit early to be hating so hard. These are just some thoughts that come to mind. It’ll be interesting to see the final product, but I’ll be expecting some pretty savvy safety features too.

A Great “Blend” of Social Media: Case Study 1

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Intro

As an avid smoothie-maker, barista and personal chef to my family when I’m not at school, I’m a big fan of blenders. What did people even do before blenders were invented? Try to hand-chop ice and mix it in a bowl with fruit and then go cry in the corner? Sometimes I feel like that’s basically what I’m doing when my blender gets stuck and I have to open the lid multiple times to stir the ingredients around to loosen them.

Clearly, Blendtec has heard the frustrated cries from people like me. Since 1975, Tom Dickson, the company’s founder, has been using engines to grind things up, beginning in the home wheat-milling industry. His inventions ultimately resulted in his famed Blendtec blender. In 2006, the first YouTube video showcasing Dickson and the power of his blenders was posted. This led to Blendtec’s YouTube channel, entitled, “Will It Blend?” Each episode features Dickson sticking an everyday item, such as a cell phone or a pack of marbles, into a Blendtec blender and grinding it up. The videos were the brainchild of George Wright, Marketing Director of Blendtec, who noticed Dickson blending 2 X 4’s to test the blender strength long before the YouTube channel was conceived. The videos were a hit and have been featured on popular blogs such as Mashable, newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, and TV shows such as The Tonight Show.

To get an idea of the madness “Will It Blend?” has created, here’s a sample (sorry for not being sorry, Bieber fans).

Analysis

Considering the fact that we’re talking about blenders here, the social media following that Dickson has created is very impressive. Here are the stats (as of 3/30/12):

Blendtec Facebook: 91,419 ‘Likes,’ 720 ‘Talking About This’

‘Will It Blend?’ Facebook: 21,295 ‘Likes,’ 489 ‘Talking About This’

Twitter: 3,233 Tweets, 1,287 ‘Following’, and 8,067 ‘Followers’

YouTube: 441,017 Subscribers, 190,764,744 Video Views

There is also a blog and two websites: one for the Blendtec company, and one for the “Will It Blend?” following.

Campaign

Obviously, the Blendtec YouTube channel attracts the most attention. Watching each video is like discovering a new magic trick every time. It’s the same concept, but with a new item for every video. As of January 2009, as Dickson states in this interview, sales had risen 700% since the launch of the first video in 2006.

This increase in sales was also due to the attention Blendtec received within pop culture. The Blendtec Commercial website creates a story-line of success through the ‘Company Promos and Media Appearances’ section of the site. In 2007, Dickson was the winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Engineering and Technology category. The campaign even reached overseas when it was featured on the Australian ABC show, The Gruen Transfer. Dickson and the Blenders were also featured on American talk shows including CBS Sunday Morning, CNBC’s On The Money, NBC’s The Today Show, and NBC’s The Tonight Show.

In  my opinion, one of the most mesmerizing publicity spots comes from Discovery Channel’s show Time Warp, a show in which events are filmed in slow motion and played back in order to understand the order of events that lead up to one thing or another. The Time Warp crew suggested an item that Dickson had never tried (for good reason because of the danger involved): butane lighters. I highly recommend watching the video, because as expected, it creates a fire that would probably burn down Dickson’s regular “Will It Blend?” studio. The best part for me though, is watching Dickson’s face while he views the playback. He looks like a kid in a candy store, marveling at the explosion in slow motion.

To date, the top two videos are the iPad and the iPhone, with 13,853,400 and 10,589,183 views, respectively. The unusual (not to mention often expensive) items that Dickson chooses to blend are the obvious appeal of the videos, but the shared curiosity with the viewer that Dickson emits (whether or not he has test-blended the objects before filming) is also a fun component.

As you can tell, the Blendtec campaign did not rely on commercials, but rather social media and word-of-mouth. Eventually the media picked it up and the publicity offers rolled in on their own. Everyone loves seeing things blown up and smashed to pieces, which is why the campaign has been so successful. Dickson’s cheesy jokes and reference to pop culture in his blending endeavors also ads to the appeal.

Conclusion

The lesson: keep your eyes and ears open for bits of company culture that may seem ‘normal’ to you, as an employee, but are probably considered unusual to people from the outside. Dickson’s practice of grinding crazy objects was not a new idea, but Wright’s suggestion to create a YouTube channel was a new idea. Ideas like that really showcase the true personality of the company and therefore result in success. For me, it’s kind of like the saying, ‘The fewer lies you tell, the less you will have to remember.’ For example, if a company has to force an idea, then is it really worth it? Eventually the ideas will run out because there is no ‘flow’ and the campaign will lose consumer appeal. But if an idea comes from within and builds upon an already-existing part of the company, the ideas are never-ending. There’s no reason to be fake!

Suggestions

There is no doubt that the Blendtec “Will it Blend?” campaign has been successful. There is also no doubt that Dickson and I share a common dislike for Justin Bieber (however I must state that I am not a Gene Simmons fan either). However, I do have several minor suggestions for other social media channels in order to ensure cohesiveness of the campaign.

1.) The “Will It Blend?” Website Aesthetics

It’s just not pretty. Take a look to the left. It’s a shame because the links could be displayed with so much more style instead of putting it in that dinky sidebar on the left. The links are great with topics including “Suggest Stuff To Blend,” a link to the Blendtec blog and things to try/not to try at home, but all of the links are pushed to the side. Yes, making room for the link to the Harlem Globetrotters is necessary, but it can be done in a fashion that is more pleasing to the eye.

2.) Develop the “Will It Blend?” Facebook Timeline 

I understand the desire to create two separate Facebook pages in order to separate fun from business, but the secondary Facebook page has been left in the dust. Currently, the Facebook page looks like it was forced to convert to Timeline and was not prepared to do so. Suggestions include:

  • Select a cover photo
  • Add milestones to the history
  • Update the Contest app
  • Expand the Picture Gallery
  • Create a new profile picture that fits within the thumbnail space

 3.) Add more links to the Twitter description

The only link that the Twitter page includes is a link to the main website. The page could also add links to the “Will It Blend?” site (as shown above), and the blog. The other sites include links to Twitter, so why not include the links of those websites on Twitter to  allow consumers to click around with greater ease?

Loco for Location

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Some people are loco for location-based social media, but personally, location-based social media is driving me loco. Once again, this could be due to the absence of a smartphone in my life, but even if I had one, and even when I get one, I’m convinced I’ll have the same opinion. My stance became even firmer after reading this quote from Paul Davison, the founder of one of the newest social networks, Highlight, in a Huffington Post article about SXSW:

“Davison describes reality as a boring, ‘bizarre version of Facebook where every profile is just a single photo’ and provides no information about its users. The information we put online about ourselves, Davison would like to attach to our physical selves.”

Come again? Did he say that reality is a ‘bizarre version’ of Facebook? Is he introducing a new box office hit that is a combination of The Social Network and Inception or is he really describing reality as boring?

I suppose it takes a guy like this to create Highlight, the app that constantly runs GPS in the background of your phone in order to detect other Highlight users nearby and alert you of who they are by sharing information they have chosen to share on their Highlight profile. At the end of the description of what the app is, the Highlight website states, “Highlight gives you a sixth sense about the world around you, showing you hidden connections and making your day more fun.” I would like to share how my brain reads this: Highlight gives you extra creeper powers, showing you fellow creepers and making your day more creepy.

Am I missing something here? What do other people think of this? I mean, I will admit that when I first heard of Facebook during my freshman year of high school I thought that was creepy, but have since gotten used to the notion of it. But I’m not sure how fast, if at all, I’ll warm up to the idea of Highlight. It’s taken creeping to a entirely new level! I guess only time will tell what different people will use it for so I’ll definitely be keeping my ears and eyes open. Keeping my mind open to this idea will take a bit more work, but despite my apprehension, I’m up for the challenge.

How Can You Plan A Trip Without Social Media?

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To answer the question in the title, I don’t have the slightest clue. After analyzing the social media of General Mitchell International Airport (GMIA) for our midterm assignment, I was especially interested to find this infographic about how social media affects travel on Mashable. Then I remembered a conversation I had with my mom a few weeks ago about her friend who travels a lot but doesn’t have internet in her home. I thought to myself, ‘HOW does she plan her trips?!’

Of course, by the time I was old enough to plan trips, travel sites were well-established. My mom’s friend just does it the way she has always done it: brochures and good old phone calls. It reminded me how common online travel sites have become and therefore how reliant the tourism industry is on social media. Thinking back to what I learned about how much GMIA can improve on its social media and combining it with what I have learned from this infographic, I am even more surprised by how much GMIA lacks when it comes to social media.

The best thing about this infographic is the categorization of ‘before,’ ‘during,’ and ‘after.’ It shows the entire sales process and how we use different social media platforms in the different stages of a trip. Personally, I use social media more for the planning stage because I read a lot of reviews and search for flight deals, but I don’t contribute much to the conversation. I’m more of an observer. Many people use social media during their vacation to post photos and ‘check-ins.’ Just having come back from spring break, my Facebook newsfeed is still blowing up with the spring break plans of my friends. The fact that my spring break ended a week ago and people are still posting things really proves the point of the ‘after traveling’ category. That’s definitely one of the many benefits social media has over brochures. Brochures are often biased towards the service or destination advertised because they are produced by the same company. Of course all of the testimonials on the brochure are going to be positive!

This infographic also reminded me of the Travel Wisconsin case we talked about in class. The Travel Wisconsin Facebook page is a great sounding board for travelers to share their experiences and to learn from others when determining their next getaway. Pages like this are a win-win for everyone because they not only let consumers communicate with and learn from each other, but the company can communicate with and learn from consumers and vice versa. Everyone gains something. When the conversation gets slow, a discussion question is posted, and people respond!

In the tourism and travel industries, social media is so important and useful for all parties. Traveling is often costly in time and money, so naturally we all want the biggest bang for our buck. As my mom’s friend has proved, you don’t need the internet to plan a trip, but it definitely adds value to your experience.

When Social Media Becomes Unsocial

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I came across this article a few weeks ago. At the time, we were discussing in one of my marketing classes body language and the benefits it can bring to a person who knows how to read non-verbal cues in a business transaction. How can social media compete with good old fashioned face-to-face conversation? Yeah, yeah, there’s Skype and other virtual conference call applications, but it’s not the same. This is why we, as young adults entering the workforce, must polish up on our communication skills on AND off the web.

“That’s why body language matters so much: It tells the truth, even when our words lie,” according to Albert Mehrabian, PhD, emeritus professor of psychology at UCLA and author of Silent Messages. What I think is even crazier is the statistic that up to 80% of what we communicate face-to-face is non-verbal! Even though this article focuses on face-to-face communication,  how much are we actually communicating via social media? OR, does social media have its own methods of non-verbal communication? Do pictures and emoticons or the type of link that is posted count as the ‘non-verbal’ of social media?

We had a guest speaker in one of my classes last semester who said something that opened up my eyes. He was giving us job search advice and one of his tips was to pick up the phone and follow up on the status of our applications. He said that too many people in our generation are more inclined to send an e-mail rather than make a phone call. I thought this was very interesting and the more I thought about it, the more I noticed it in myself. However, for networking, phone calls and coffee meetings are king. Texts, e-mails, tweets and posts are so easy to send and be done, but that’s no way to network for the job search. Even though my last post, Put Your Best Face Forward highlighted the awesome ways in which social media can get you noticed, it will only take you so far. Your positive non-verbal communication in your interview will take you the rest of the way.