LESSONS TO LEARN FROM SOUTHWEST’S CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS

Andy Kutcher
Digital Supervisor
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No company ever wants to deal with a crisis, let alone a fatal one. However, the sad reality is that certain industries and sectors are high-risk and fatalities are just one of the many crises that could potentially arise.

Unfortunately for Southwest Airlines, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, they dealt with their first in-flight death when an engine failure caused an object to fly through a window above one of the wings. While we certainly would never wish this kind of tragedy on any company, Southwest’s swift action is something to learn from. Let’s take a quick look:

The Company Responded Quickly

One of the most challenging things about a crisis is that innate reaction most of us have to deflect responsibility. None of us wants to be responsible for poor service, a defective product or, in this case, the death of a customer. Southwest, however, took swift action and immediately took responsibility.

The company issued a press release on their website at 12:04 pm, 41 minutes after Flight 1380 made the emergency landing in Philadelphia, PA. That response time is impressive.

Southwest Airline Press Release regarding Flight 1380

The Company Used Social Media to Respond

Following the press release, the company updated their social media profiles. On Twitter, they shared a video message in the form of a tweet that was pinned to the top of their profile and then updated their bio to reflect the information:

Southwest Airlines Twitter Response in Crisis

They also shared the video and response on Facebook in the form of a pinned post:

Southwest Airlines Facebook response to crisis

And they shared it on Instagram:

In addition to taking responsibility so quickly, Southwest Airlines also very quickly updated their social media profiles to reflect the severity of the situation. They changed their profile picture and cover photos to be more somber, while still maintaining their brand identity, as well as their bios to direct people to the press release.

Additionally, they ceased posting to their social media with the exception of responses and customer service (which we’re about to get into) allowing for the news of the crisis to maintain top position of their feeds. Many times in a crisis, brands are tempted to bury a negative story by overcompensating with  positive ones. In this particular instance, Southwest refrained, which further enforces the seriousness of the issue to them.

southwest airlines adjusted their branding following the crisis

They Adapted Their Social Media Strategy 

Even in the face of an unimaginable crisis like the one Southwest is dealing with, regular life continues to occur. In a service industry, people will always need support no matter what issues you’re dealing with. Sometimes, our natural response during a crisis is to cease all communication, of any kind, until things have blown over. Unfortunately, that isn’t always something you can do.

Southwest handled the situation well by ceasing their regular social media posting and focusing their narrative on the tragedy and the steps they are taking as a company to ensure it never happens again. That said, they did continue to respond to any customer service requests. This is incredibly important because it helped to maintain the reputation that they have for top-level customer service and care. Even while handling what I can only imagine is one of the worst crises in the history of the company, they managed to make all customers feel valued and heard. That’s hard to do.

Southwest's continued customer service in the face of a very serious crisis

Additionally, they came up with clear messaging for instances where people specifically addressed the engine failure and fatality. They didn’t shy away from the crisis, they confronted it head-on, another thing that can be intimidating and difficult to do.

They Continued to Update the Public  

Two days later, Southwest continued to provide updates to the public regarding the incident. This is another tactic that people tend to shy away from; it’s bad enough to admit you have failed let alone continue to talk about it.

As a whole, we give major kudos to Southwest Airlines for how quickly, honestly and sincerely they addressed the tragic fatality experienced on one of their flights. And, while we all hope for the best we know that is smart to learn from their experience and prepare for the worst.

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