Southwest’s revamped blog gives staffers a voice

Airline taps 30 employees companywide as regular writers and videographers to engage colleagues and customers alike.

What do a pilot, flight attendant, baggage handler, lost-and-found operator, marketing specialist, and financial analyst have in common?

At Southwest Airlines, they’re all bloggers.

“There’s kind of a negative connotation to most corporate blogs,” says Brooks Thomas, emerging media coordinator for Southwest. “Showing our users, our fans, our customers, and our friends and family that we don’t have to be rigid, we can be ourselves in the way we give that message out.”

The airline launched what Thomas calls a “refresh” of its Nuts About Southwest blog in the last week of January. Before that re-launch, managers spent about two months paging through writing samples, selecting bloggers and training them to join the team. They also rebuilt the blog to fully integrate social media and video.

Building the team

In November, blog managers took to Southwest’s internal blog to ask for a simple writing sample: “Tell us what makes your job so interesting.” They got “dozens and dozens of submissions,” says Thomas.

Thomas and the other managers took a little less than two months to review those submissions and settle on 30 bloggers, about 20 of whom had never written for Southwest’s blog. On Jan. 21, managers held an internal “blog conference.” They flew each new blogger in from his or her airport or office and laid down the ground rules.

“We sat them down, we ran them through the channels, gave them a rundown of what we’re about and what our expectations are of them,” Brooks says.

Those expectations? At least two blog posts a month and video. Brooks says the blog staff surprised each member of the new team with a Flip camera, along with the basics of how to use it.

The following Monday, Thomas sent the blog team an e-mail that included a story submission sheet. “We now have a story submission process and an editorial calendar,” he says. “We’ve got kind of some structure around our guest posters, our contributors.”

Previously, Thomas and other blog staffers watched the calendar to see what was coming up. “Either one of us wrote it up, or we identified who that message should come from, reached out to that department and tried to get it done,” he says. Nuts About Southwest will continue to use guest bloggers, Thomas says, but now there are go-to bloggers from each corner of the company.

The blog’s tone has always been fairly light, says Thomas, and with the addition of the stable of employee bloggers, he predicts it will only “get lighter and more interesting.” For example, the first post from one of the 30 new bloggers focuses on a farewell to a long-serving Southwest mustache.

Going social

Southwest last retooled the look and feel of its blog in late 2008, and two years can be a long time in the world of social media. Thomas says the blog staff simply thought it was time for a change.

“It was just a temperature check. It was just looking at the world around us, looking at the blog and seeing if we were adapting,” he says.

Managers quickly identified their goals for the blog update: to make it more interactive, more social and a real destination for users following links on Twitter and Facebook. “It’s kind of the backbone of all of our social media as far as company correspondence, external messaging and so forth,” says Thomas. “In laymen’s terms, it’s just the way that we can be ourselves.” It took about six months to pull the new blog together, he says.

One key way the redesign incorporates social media, Thomas says, is through the social stream in the upper right-hand corner. The stream shows all the company’s activity on Facebook and Twitter, as well as badges users earn through being members of Southwest’s online community.

Southwest also uses its own version of the Facebook “Like” button–the “Luv it!” button, which is attached to each post alongside buttons that enable users to share the post on Twitter or Facebook. “It provides a pretty valuable metric in addition to who’s tweeting and liking stuff,” Thomas said of Luv it.

To use the button or comment on posts, users must sign in through the Southwest community or through Facebook Connect.

Thomas says the blog now integrates YouTube videos, such as a weekly roundup of the top five posts on Nuts About Southwest, into each post. Previously, all the videos on the blog were posted in a separate video player, he says.

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