From the desk of Kathryn Marshall…
Although the PR industry is more than 100 years old, the introduction of social media over the last few years has made it feel more like the wild west. Being so new, there are no hard rules (laws) to social media but there is “etiquette;” the rules/laws are still evolving. And just like the wild west, there’s a land grab going on to see who can be first to stake their claim and define the new law of the land.
I had the luxury of listening to one of social media’s pioneers yesterday – Southwest Airlines – when I attended the PRSA Colorado luncheon. Paula Berg, manager of emerging media at Southwest Airlines shared her trials and tribulations about riding the blogosphere "like a wild horse."
For more than three years, Southwest Airlines has navigated the uncharted territory of social media - first, with its award-winning corporate blog, Nuts About Southwest, later with tools such as Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Paula’s entertaining presentation was framed with real-life case studies that took us through Southwest’s journey of the highs and lows of using social media tools to reach an entirely new demographic, increase sales and create a valuable base of loyal Southwest followers.
One of the things I found interesting was her recommendation that companies start their foray into the social media world during ‘business as usual’ times so they can learn how the tools work and begin building/engaging with their audience. This sounds like a given but some of Southwest’s airline competitors have made the mistake of jumping into social media during a crisis only to find they were far behind the conversation that had started. They had no relationship with the people who were commenting and therefore, no credibility, and they had no practices in place for dealing in this type of environment.
Berg also talked about leveraging their online community for market research. In one instance, Southwest turned to its followers to launch a focus group on whether or not to move away from “open seating” on their flights, a signature differentiator for their airline. This is becoming a common practice among brands leveraging social media and proved extremely successful for Southwest – more than 700 people responded and ultimately convinced them not to change.
As far as additional tips for success when using social media, Berg recommended:
- Acting fact when working in online communications (no time for red tape)
- Engaging openly in conversation
- Taking the good and the tough feedback to build credibility
- Engaging an executive sponsor to champion the effort from the top down
- Building a strong team of social media people who inherently love to put themselves out there so you’re not pulling teeth to get content,
- Most importantly – show results that demonstrate the power of online communications
Social media may be new, it may feel scary because it is unfamiliar, but it’s only going to grow in importance. So saddle up...