I prepared this case study on Southwest Airlines corporate blog for a lecture I'm giving tomorrow to a group of MBA students at Fairleigh Dickinson University. This group has a special interest in Corporate & Organizational  Communications. What other questions should I put to the students?

P.S. I will report back after the class. [Update: See mini interviews with two students.]

Update: see additional questions about the SW blog below.

Case Study for Student Discussion

Southwest Airlines' Nuts About You Blog and its role in crisis communications:

Situation

March 14, 2008: Southwest Airlines, a discount airline that serves almost 100 million customers annually, many of them fanatically devoted, has maintained a spotless safety record since the company was started in 1971.

Southwest was recently charged with violating Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding airline inspections on 46 Boeing 737s.

The FAA is fining Southwest $10.2 million, the biggest fine ever imposed on any U.S. airline. The airline’s response has been to initiate an internal investigation and put three employees on administrative leave. It also temporarily grounded 44 planes.

Southwest has 30 days to decide if it will challenge the FAA's findings or the penalty.

Response

You are Southwest’s Director of Corporate Communications.

You’ve been responding to dozens of press requests for interviews. The story has been front-page news in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and on the networks. 

Southwest_comments2 You are also responsible for the corporate blog: Nuts About Southwest. The blog, the first one started by an airline, is one of the more popular and active corporate blogs with new postings almost daily. It was started in April 2006 and sold to upper management as “just another communications tool.”

Readers have left thousands of comments on topics relating to SW’s business practices, service and culture. All comments are screened before being posted. Negative comments are allowed.

The blog is staffed by two editors, Paula Berg and Brian Lusk (known as Blog Girl and Blog Boy), and is regarded as a success within the company. Internally it is seen as a virtual focus group, offering instant feedback from customers.

Questions

Questions for Student Role Play as Director of Corporate Communications

What is the role of SW’s corporate blog during this crisis?

Should the blog be breaking news about how SW is handling the crisis?

Or should it lag behind traditional media outreach (press conferences, press releases, etc.)

What do you think of SW's decision to paste into the blog two press releases about the progress of the internal investigation (here with 66 reader comments and here with 69 comments.)?

SW got 167 comments in reaction to the first post about the crisis: We Take Safety Seriously. The entry is signed by Paula Berg, one of their chief bloggers. Do you think this entry was reviewed by SW's lawyers before she posted it?

What do you think about the fact that most of the 167 comments are negative, starting with the first one: "I don't believe you" and signed by "Jack"?

What do you expect to be your biggest headache in terms of overseeing the blog during this crisis?

SW has other established social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube). How should they be used in conjunction with the blog during this crisis?

How does corporate culture play into the success (or lack thereof) of a corporate blog?

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Previous Comments

Larissa Fair said on March 14, 2008 at 01:28 PM

What could SW have done differently in utilizing their blog during this crisis?

For example, they were very late in posting a response, it hit long after the story was posted on CNN and other news sources. They should have been prepared.

Also I think it’s worth raising the question of why their recent posts are simply regurgitated press releases and appearances. That’s not very social media friendly or interactive. It fails to show an effort to really connect with their community/consumers.

Jeff Davis said on March 14, 2008 at 02:57 PM

How do you respond if the CEO/management says it’s time to take the blog down?

Alison Byrne Fields said on March 14, 2008 at 06:49 PM

Why not ask the students to think about the protocol that Southwest should follow in terms of commenting on other blogs that are talking about the FAA’s findings?  Should they comment and, if so, in what situations?  Who should comment?  What should they say to bloggers who are criticizing them?  What about bloggers who might be coming to their defense?  Is there something else they can be asking these “defenders” to do via commenting?

I’m not sure if this falls into your jurisdiction, but what about their search strategy?  If they got with paid search, what terms should they be buying?

That’s all I have.  I hope you report back on how the class goes.

Debbie Weil said on March 14, 2008 at 08:03 PM

Jeff,

Great question about the CEO.

Matt Keegan said on March 24, 2008 at 04:59 PM

Southwest definitely has a stellar record, but one of their planes did skid off a runway and into traffic, killing a small boy in 2005:

http://blogs.usatoday.com/sky/2005/12/witnesses_in_ch.html

Therefore, there is one spot on their safety record.


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I’ve been writing about corporate and CEO blogging and business use of social media for over a decade. I welcome your Comments if they are on topic. I delete them if inappropriate or spammy.

 

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