Only a small percentage of flights are booked using travel agents. The primary means for customers to purchase tickets is directly from the airline over the phone or online at the company's website http://www.southwest.com/. Using this method, customers have access to offers that are only available on the web.
Southwest's marketing campaign is based on setting itself apart through branding. For instance, Southwest uses a "cattle call" method of seating. Customers are not assigned seats, but board in three groups according to arrival time. This allows the airlines to board passengers more quickly. In addition to this key difference, Southwest allows passenger to change reservations without incurring any additional costs, as with other airlines. However, Southwest does not offer same-day standby on a different flight. This service is usually free on other airlines without upgrading.
Southwest is the bare bones carrier. They offer Snack Packs of prepacked goods instead of the full service meals served by other airlines. On shorter flights, they only offer snacks and a soft drink. Southwest offers free in-flight drinks, excluding alcohol. Southwest has no in-flight entertainment. However, Southwest employees often offer colorful entertainment themselves, spontaneously breaking out in song. They are known for more creative boarding announcements. These attributes are often received well by customers, but have been called offensive by a small contingency.
One of the most successful promotional programs by Southwest is their Rapid Rewards Program where passenger can receive credits for each flight. Southwest's program goes beyond frequent flyer miles. They also earn credits for using one of Southwest's partner services including car rental, hotels, and restaurants. Customers can earn even more points by using a Rapid Reward branded visa to purchase services. This program allows customers to build up reward points faster than competitor airlines. This program has no blackout dates for redeeming rewards points. This program has been a great success for Southwest and has become integrated into the Southwest brand.
Southwest is known for its lighthearted ad campaigns and attitudes among the employees. The idea is to make the customer's experience pleasant and to generate good feelings. Humor relieves stress, and this is the approach taken by Southwest in its ad campaigns. Customers who laugh are more likely to come away with a positive outlook on the experience than those who do not. Southwest's marketing strategy takes advantage of the positive effects of laughter. Some of their past slogans include, "Just Plane Smart, "The Somebody Else Up There Who Loves You" and "THE Low Fare Airline." Their current commercial centers on the slogan, "[ding] You are now free to move about the country," a parody of the in-flight announcement that "you are now free to move about the cabin." This advertising approach is what has allowed Southwest Air to establish its branding to set itself apart from its competitors.
Analysis of Southwest's Social Networking Usage
These attributes are what sets Southwest apart from other airlines. Their branding is key to their marketing strategy. The success of the branding and marketing strategy is in the numbers. Customers have come to enjoy the Southwest brand, as evidenced by the airline's top position among passengers. However, they could experience even greater growth potential by using social networking for the maximum benefit. We have explored how Southwest's competitors use social networking and the attributes of their campaign,. Now let us examine the key attributes of the use of social networking by Southwest Airlines.
The Twitter page for Southwest Airlines appears to be unmoderated real-time tweets from customers. If this is the case, Southwest appears to be doing something right, because the page contains nothing but positive comments. Even negative comments, such as long lines are turned into positives, by the fact that Southwest must be doing something right. Southwest customers post often and they post positive comments. This demonstrates that concept that the customer is king and that all of the advertising in the world cannot make up for a good product and good customer service. Social marketing via Twitter is working for Southwest because they stand behind their product. This is one of the things that they are doing right.
An examination of Southwest's Facebook page reveals a different strategy from their competitors. Southwest Airlines has two different Facebook Pages. It has Southwest Airlines Organization and Southwest Airlines Company. The Southwest Airlines Company page appears with top billing in the search results, while Southwest Airlines Organization appears second. This was an excellent strategic move, as the Organization page contains dry information about the company, its history, and business strategy. It has very few respondents and appears similar to the pages of Pan Am and Continental. This information is available if people wish to find it.
The Company page is customer oriented and has a high degree of customer interaction opportunities, much more so than the pages of Southwest's competitors. The graphics are whimsical, with hearts around one of Southwest's trademark airplane paint schemes. It has a contest to win a free trip to California, a link to send friends a postcard, Twitter links, and positive news about the company. This page is the first page that comes up on the Facebook page. However, other links are located at the top of the page such as the Wall, Info, Photos, Bags Fly Free, and Play California. The site has excellent graphics that are in line with the branding that Southwest has established. The customer interaction is excellent and helps customers feel that they are part of the action. This differs from television, radio, and print advertising that talks to the customer with no way for the customer to respond. This interaction is excellent use of social networking to establish as bond with the customer.
Recommendations for Improvement
Southwest Airlines demonstrates an innovative and active approach to the use of social networking. They interact with their customers in a manner that promotes excellent customer relationship management. When compared to their competitors, Southwest Airlines makes much better use of their social networking tools. However, there is always room for improvement, particularly in the highly competitive airline business. The following recommendations would help to take the social networking practices of Southwest Airlines to the next level.
The Twitter page of Southwest Airlines is a running dialogue of customer posts. This can work to one's advantage, but only if the company chooses to focus on building a good brand and offering an excellent product. In terms of expanding their efforts, the Twitter page could an even more effective tool by having a staff member to introduce advertised special, games, contests, and the occasional humor that has become a part of the Southwest brand.
The Twitter page could also be expanded into a place where Southwest marketing employees could engage in active participation with customers in a real-time environment. If any negative comments are posted, staff members could step in to see if they could intervene to make the customer's experience more satisfying. They could use Twitter to monitor the "temperature" of their clients and to allow them a place to make their concerns known. However, this must be done with extreme caution, as negative public comments can have a devastating effect on the marketing campaign. If most of the comments are positive and there is only an occasional negative comment, this would not be expected to be devastating for the company and it is expected that the overall positive comments would over ride the negative ones. Staff members need to take a more active role in the Twitter page in order to maximize its benefits.
Southwest's Facebook page is an excellent example of an interactive page that engages the customer. One of the key things that Southwest is doing right is that it appears as the first page in the search ranking. However, this needs to be actively monitored to make certain that this does not change. The Facebook page is an excellent use of social networking and stands as a prime example of the use of social networking for effective customer resource management. However, one this was obviously missing from the page. It needs to have a link where customers can go to instantaneously book flights via the main web page.
It appears as if Southwest Airlines has several different advertising media, none of which are linked together. The website advertising and television ads appear to be linked together. The Twitter page appears to stand-alone and the Facebook page appears to stand-alone. A much better use of these social networking tools would be to tie them into the main advertising campaign, No where on the Twitter page or the Facebook page did their current advertising slogan appear. The current advertising slogan needs to be integrated into the social media, just as it is in traditional advertising routes. The slogan, "You are free to move about the country, " should be on the Twitter and Facebook pages. Integration of the social media and traditional media would represent a more coordinated advertising effort and would help to…