Communication teams looking to build out an organization’s social media presence sometimes face pushback from a skeptical C-suite. That’s not entirely unreasonable, because the “soft” benefits of customer engagement can be hard to quantify. Interestingly, companies with aggressive social media programs, such as Southwest Airlines, sometimes find that their presence online provides tangible operational benefits.
In a Q&A session following her spirited presentation at the 2016 National Summit on Strategic Communications in Arlington, VA, Katie Coldwell, Southwest’s Director of Communications, explained that the company has found sometimes unexpected value in its social media presence.
“We have a social media listening center,” Coldwell said, in response to a question from an Strategic Summit attendee. “We’re monitoring Facebook, we’re monitoring Twitter for customers who are reaching out to say: ‘Hey Southwest, you lost my bag!’ In that listening center, we’ve got a variety of tools that help us filter through the conversations, so we’re constantly looking to see what’s taking place.”
1) Recognize superior customer service, on the fly.
Much of Southwest’s reputation for customer service is driven by its focus on identifying and celebrating employees who go above and beyond. The company’s social media platform provides an easy additional option for timely customer feedback.
“You could pick up the phone and call us, you can tweet us or you can send us a Facebook message,” Coldwell explained. “We’ll make sure that the employee you’re commending gets a copy. We’ll also make sure you get a response, and also make sure that the employee’s supervisor gets a copy.”
2) Gain operational accountability in real time.
“Twenty-four hours a day we’re monitoring all of our social channels,” explained Coldwell. ” So, I can see if a plane lands in Chicago and it’s 45 minutes until it gets to the gate. By that time, you’ve probably tweeted, ‘I’m sitting at the gate, it’s 45 minutes, why aren’t we there yet?’ In the listening center they can have a conversation with our Network Operations Center (NOC) and we’ll get it taken care of.”
3) Earn a hedge against imponderables.
Many of the situations your organization will face can be planned for, but others can’t. When your daily operations run up against unpredictable, unforeseeable events, monitoring social media can provide you with a critical advantage.
“Several years ago there was a situation where there was an active shooter in the airport at Los Angeles,” Coldwell recalled. “We actually learned about that from tweets. Our social center called over to the NOC and said, ‘Hey, we’re seeing word of an active shooter. We may need to consider diverting some planes and lock down the terminal, to make sure our customers at the terminal are secure.’ It’s a way our current customers can inform our operational decisions.”
Ultimately, Coldwell said, going all-in on social media boils down to one simple decision. “Your customers and your employees are talking about your brand. So it’s really your choice if you want to be a part of that conversation or if you want to let them have that conversation without you.”
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The 8th National Summit on Strategic Communications is May 9-10, 2017 in Arlington, VA.