Corporate Blogging Survey 2005

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April 27, 2006

The New Southwest Airlines Blog Can Take More Risks

I just read the user guidelines on the Southwest Airlines blog, and the blog had me thinking as to why as a customer or potential customer would I communicate with Southwest airlines on their blog, here are some reasons (ha, I wrote this list before I read Robert Scoble's list):

-Details about their routes

Interested in hearing about the scheduled movie program on one of my flights

-How much space does my seat receive on my flight

-What food options are on the flight?

-Tips for avoiding thrombosis

-Ideas for hotels and places to visit in from people who have stayed in the hotel or eaten at a restaurant in the cities I am flying too.

-A place to raise issues, ideas, complaints and service feedback

Southwest Airlines states the following in their blog guidelines:

"The Southwest Blog is not the forum to address personal Customer Service issues. All of us have "day jobs," and we simply don't have the resources through this blog to resolve individual concerns."

In the Backbone Media Corporate blogging survey from July of 2005 I wrote about the benefits of following a thought leadership strategy with a content strategy for a blog. We suggested a model for successful corporate blogging, and that by being open and allowing feedback from customers on products and services a company can gain even more benefits from blogging. Here's a quote from the study, "By developing a corporate culture around openness and transparency, and focusing on their customers' ideas and feedback, a company can gain even more from their customers." We even have a nifty diagram in the corporate blogging study that illustrates that by taking more risks a company can gain particular marketing and search engine optimization benefits over time. I think the Southwest Airlines Blog can be placed in our model on the left hand side of the bridge.

Southwest Airlines.GIF

And this model was foreshadowed by the cluetrain manifesto where the authors recommended companies open up their companies to a wider director conversation between employees and customers.

I commend Southwest Airlines for entering the blogosphere and engaging their customers with an online dialogue. I know that many of the companies that started blogging did not start off by being entirely open about product feedback from their customers, but over time the companies saw the benefits of transparency. Macromedia was one such example, and I describe that progression in the Macromedia case study on the company in the corporate blogging survey. To Southwest Airlines I hope the company can provide enough resources to answer many of the comments positive and negative you are surely going to receive on the blog. I am glad the Southwest Airlines blog is allowing negative comments on their blog already. I saw this comment from a passenger on your post, "The business side of Southwest."

"What exactly does a business traveler look like? Business suits and a briefcase? Hardly."

I'd like to tell you what this business traveler looks like: I'm a plus-sized woman, who fears flying on SouthWest simply because Southwest has a public track record of singling out large men and women for public ridicule and intimidation, and targeted for extra revenue generation through SouthWest's fuzzy policy of picking random fat men and women to be subject to an extra seat surcharge.

Your "maybe you need another seat, maybe you don't" approach to your policy is extremely unfriendly to fat people. The very least you can do is set a clear and distinct policy instead of allowing your employees' personal biases to set your policy for you

Thank you for listening, and I sincerely hope that you reconsider this policy and how it truly treats and serves your passengers.

I don't see any return comments or posts from the blog authors to this post or others on the blog, the writers might be polishing their pencils or sticking to their user guide policy of not answering complaints. My suggestion from the blog is that you do seriously think about answering audience comments in the comment section or with another post.

I also think that your user guide is another example of synthetic transparency, a term coined by Dr. Walter Carl, "Synthetic transparency involves using blogs to give the impression of openness, honesty, and transparency but without really doing so."

The General Motors Fastlane blog has some similar issues. I interviewed several GM blog readers who were disappointed by the lack of response and were surprised that their comment was not answered. A solution I suggested to General Motors in the post was to put a message on the comment section of their blog that every comment will not be answered. In doing so General Motors would be transparent about their level of openness. General Motors has not yet made this change to their blog.

The designers of the Southwest Airlines blog might copy the statement, "The Southwest Blog is not the forum to address personal Customer Service issues. All of us have "day jobs," and we simply don't have the resources through this blog to resolve individual concerns," and move it to the comment section, where blog readers who comment will be able to see the blog's guidelines easily and their expectations will be set about how the Southwest Airlines blog answers comments and questions.

Lastly, please have some ordinary workers write some posts on the site. The site has only just started and the Southwest Blog is promising more people from airline staff will blog. So I think the community has to give them a chance, Shel Israel was disappointed about this aspect of the site as well. Overall I really love the design of the site, but blogging is about dialogue and I hope the Southwest Airlines blog can encourage dialogue on their blog by having a conversation with employees customers are most likely wanting to start a dialogue with over time, otherwise I don't believe the blog will reach its full potential.

Thanks Josh

Posted by johncass at April 27, 2006 2:16 PM

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Thanks for an excellent addition to the conversation. It seems to me that anyone trying to speak for a company who does not have time or bandwidth for customer complaints or concerns is making a huge mistake.

Posted by: Shel Israel at April 27, 2006 3:49 PM

I think you've done a great job of illustrating Southwest's entry into the blogosphere. There seems to be much criticism about the blog, but I do have to say that at least they're making an attempt to communicate with their customers. I'm certainly looking forward to reading what the "real workers" will say on the blog.

Posted by: Maria Palma at April 27, 2006 8:42 PM

I agree with the fact that Southwest's entry into the blog medium is a good one - and congratulatable. I also think you make excellent points about it needing to be backed up with additional interaction. Seems the culture of SW has always been honest, humurous, open and engaging - and they've reaped the rewards of the "this is what we are and what we do for this price" approach. It'll hopefully only be a short amount of time before those key culture owners within SW make their way to their blog medium of communication and start coming out. Of course, that will take longer if the owners of the blog keep pitching it internally to SW Ecexs as a hobby, and not someone's "day job".

Posted by: Chris Dedmon at April 28, 2006 11:26 AM

I think the Southwest blog is good for many reasons; I thought the design was cool and I especially liked the fact Southwest is open about letting people comment on the blog.

Most of the constructive suggestions people have made in the blogosphere have come from experts and long time bloggers like Shel and Robert Scoble. Who both praise Southwest Airlines for blog launch but also hope to explain the power of blogging by illustrating where there's room for improvement.

I've been a toastmaster in the past and toastmasters help people to practice their speaking skills and provide a forum for constructive criticism of speeches. Speaking is an acquired skill, and constructive criticism is also a skill that requires practice. Giving generous yet helpful criticism is difficult. Yet that's what happens at a toastmasters meeting, when you stand up to give a speech you say that you are willing to be judged on the merits of your speech, content and presentation. The same is true anytime you start a blog; I know this blog has failings. No picture of me, no direct email address and several other issues that I' am sure we could improve upon.

The Southwest Airlines blog only just started so I am looking forward to seeing what happens next on the blog. However, the constructive criticism provided by a the blogosphere of the blog does illustrate that blogging allows a dialogue between a company and a blogger. That's one reason why I encourage the authors of the blog to engage in a dialogue with their readers who comment. And here I specifically don't mean about personal complaints on the part of customers, but that questions and comments about a specific blog post should be encouraged. From the user guide we know Southwest is setting the expectation that the company will not answer them on the blog.

Blogging is at its best when that dialogue occurs between a corporate blogger and reader.
A company will answer questions and impart knowledge. While the very process of dialogue demonstrates what sort of company a customer is dealing with by how and if an employee responds to a reader comment.

Posted by: John Cass at April 28, 2006 2:48 PM

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