A Peek Inside Southwest’s Social Response to Its Tech Glitch

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Former Green Bay Packers head coach, the legendary Vince Lombardi, once said, “It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.” Southwest Airlines put that dictum to the test when a technical glitch delayed some 800 of 3,400 scheduled flights on Sunday.

Admired for its social media prowess, Southwest has a considerable following on various platforms, and its flock is vocal. Accordingly, the airline’s communications and social business teams were faced with a flood of displeased customers Sunday morning.

On Oct. 5, we published a review of how well Southwest did, tweeting nonstop to individual customers, using its various social channels to keep the public informed and even bringing pizza to frustrated travelers who were standing on huge lines Sunday at LAX airport (being that it was L.A., we’re hoping at least some of those pizzas were gluten free). While Southwest couldn’t assuage all the ill feelings of Sunday’s fiasco, it clearly got up after being knocked down. We asked Linda Rutherford, the airline’s VP, communication & outreach, to take us inside the collective mind of her team as it battled the social onslaught and helped bring a bit of light to an otherwise difficult day for the airline. Her response is below:

“The communication and social business teams awoke Sunday, October 11, 2015, to find that Southwest Airlines passengers were taking to Twitter and Facebook to complain about flight delays and an inability to access certain customer service platforms. Team members sprang into action immediately.

The teams relied on contingency plans already in place to begin a response cadence. The airline initiated a Potential Operational Problem (POP) call at 8:15 a.m. Central Time, with dozens of departments represented. Once the facts and current status were known, the communications and social business teams worked together to create media statements, internal communications and social posts to keep all stakeholders informed.

All day, team members participated on POP calls (there were four on Sunday and one on Monday). Team members wrote drafts, drove approvals, posted content, monitored our media web site and social platforms and responded to media calls. They also worked with Social Care to understand the volume of customers needing help via Facebook and Twitter. Our measurement and analytics team compiled “flash reports” of volume, sentiment and trends for our company leaders.

Early reads are that the updates the teams distributed internally and externally were timely. PR News and several PR trades early last week said our teams get high marks for being responsive and transparent. One thing we did this time that we have not done before is a quick communications/social teleconference call after each POP call, which served the teams well to be sure everyone understood the same information and assignments were clear on who would draft, drive, post and respond."

[Find out more about this story in Monday’s edition of PR News.]

Follow Linda Rutherford at: @SWAfollower

Follow Seth Arenstein at: @skarenstein