Southwest Airlines Averts PR Crisis via Social Media
News Travels Fast via Social Media
With social media functioning as an important platform where information is exchanged and
experiences are talked about, companies and marketers need to constantly stay alert and monitor
conversations pertaining to their brand. A recent incident involving the front man of a popular rock
band and a US-based airline shows just how fast news travels via social media and how crucial it is
for a brand to respond quickly to protect its image.
Southwest Airlines and Green Day’s Billie Joe; What Happened This Time Around
When Green Day singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong boarded Southwest Airlines, little did he know
his sagging pants would cost him a seat on the flight. Following an argument with the flight
attendant who asked him hike his pants higher, Armstrong and his traveling companion were asked
to get off the plane. The airlines‟ refusal to seat the singer translated into a PR nightmare, with
Armstrong immediately taking to Twitter to vent his displeasure. The message, “Just got kicked off
a southwest flight because my pants sagged too low! What the –? No joke!”, was posted on the
band‟s official website as well. Reminds you of an earlier episode? Not so long ago, Southwest
removed Hollywood director Kevin Smith from their flight because he was too large for one seat.
This was subsequently followed by Smith, like the guitarist, blowing off steam by tweeting about
the incident (an earlier analysis by Position² shows how this episode played out in social media).
For Southwest Airlines, this was nothing short of déjà vu.
How Southwest Responded
As previously, the airline did not waste too much
time before responding. The crisis management
team at Southwest acted quickly by apologizing
over Twitter and released a statement expressing
regret over what happened. “As soon as we
became aware of what had happened, we
reached out to apologize for this customer‟s experience,” the statement read. “He elected to take the next flight. We
followed up with this customer and involved employees to get more details and, in our latest conversations,
understand from the customer the situation was resolved to his satisfaction.”
The Social Media Buzz
The digital space was abuzz with conversations when Green Day fans caught a wind of what happened. Analysis by the
Brand Monitor team at Position² shows (for the time period between 9th August 2011 and 8th September 2011) shows
Top Media Breakdown
© Position2, Inc. 1
Twitter and news sites accounted for maximum conversation volumes at 29% each. While news sites reported
what happened, Twitter came alive with discussions involving fans.
This was followed by Facebook, which registered 25% volumes.
Twitter Sentiment Analysis
With Armstrong having used Twitter to voice his indignation, we analyzed the sentiment on the microblogging site to
find out how fans felt about the episode. According to our findings:
55% of the buzz was neutral in tonality. Most of the fans simply reported what happened, without any bias
toward the singer or the airlines.
The negative conversations, at 21%, were mostly retweets of the original message tweeted by Armstrong.
Also, someGreen Day fans were disappointed with the airlines for having such stringent standards.
24% of the conversations were positive, as some people felt that Southwest did the right thing by asking the
singer to disembark for dressing inappropriately.
Overall Sentiment and Conversation Volumes
Southwest Airlines, which had otherwise managed to maintain a healthy brand image, witnessed a massive
increase in negative sentiment across social media channels after the incident.
The highest negative conversations were registered on 2nd September at 1,084, closely followed by 1,073
mentions the next day.
This could also be because many fans were reminded of a previous episode involving Kevin Smith, which
reinforced the feeling that Southwest did not value their customers.
© Position2, Inc. 2
The incident involving Billie Joe Armstrong and Southwest Airlines indicates how social networking sites like Facebook
and Twitter have made news a participatory experience. Unlike earlier, when brands and marketers had ample time
to resolve a crisis situation, the real-time nature of social media calls for a quick response. In this case, Southwest‟s
response to the situation is a benchmark on how brands should monitor and manage a PR emergency. What worked in
favor of the airline is their 24/7 media monitoring and also the fact that they prioritized diffusing the situation over
adopting a defensive approach. Also, not blocking out the negative comments (a wise move, unlike Nestle) showed the
„human‟ side of Southwest. Fans and followers not only appreciated the transparency, but also how the airline openly
apologized via Twitter.
This episode also highlights the emergence of a rapidly growing trend; the use of Twitter as platform to share news
and information, especially in the case of famous personalities. Similar to Kevin Smith, Armstrong, with his + 174,000
strong fans, was certainly an influencer. With followers hanging on to every tweet posted by Armstrong, it was crucial
for Southwest to tread carefully. The gradual dip in conversation volumes shows that Southwest successfully managed
to prevent the situation from blowing out of proportion by remaining calm, reacting fast and responding with
We believe that timeliness is everything when dealing and defusing a crisis. This, along with a solid communications
plan, can help prepare a brand for that occasional social media mishap.
© Position2, Inc. 3
Position2 is a Search and Social Media Marketing firm that delivers continuous growth for our clients using our
proprietary “Surround and Intent” Marketing Methodology, delivered by our products. Our proprietary methodology is
a result of years of experience in working with diverse clients to deliver customer acquisition goals through search
engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing (SMM), and Pay Per Click (PPC) and online media advertising.
Position2 was founded in 2006 with funding from Accel Venture Partners, and has offices in Palo Alto, Bangalore and
Mumbai. Position2 is a certified agency with Google, Yahoo, Bing and is also part of the Google Adwords advisory
Position2's flagship product is Position2 Brand MonitorTM, a platform that allows users to listen, discover and engage
with social media conversations in real time. With a team of over 100 professionals, Position2 also provides expertise
in online marketing solutions: SEO, PPC, Media and Advertising.
Position2 works with leading global brands:
This article is also available on the Position2 Blog: http://blog.position2.com.
For more information, visit http://brandmonitor.position2.com or email email@example.com.
© Position2, Inc. 4