Southwest Strikes Back

I don’t know the whole story, but apparently, Kevin Smith (you might know him as Silent Bob) was booted off of a Southwest flight last night because he was too fat for one seat and didn’t purchase two.  He immediately took to Twitter to demonstrate his frustration to all 1.6 million of his followers by telling @southwestair to “go fuck themselves.”

Who knows what’s trued and what’s screenplay worthy.   Honestly, I don’t really even care.  But what I do care about is  a belligerent b-list celeb who wants to make a scene and try to take a brand down with him.  Southwest’s Twitter team immediately responded to the issue via a public tweet and “@reply” to Kevin Smith.  That’s how I learned of the whole thing.

But how should Southwest handled the situation?  They were really screwed either way:

  • If they publicly respond, then they show consumers and followers of each side that they are connected, listening and working on a solution.  BUT, they also bring more exposure to the situation and start take on more of a defensive stance.
  • They might have responded via direct message, but Kevin Smith wasn’t following them back.
  • They also followed up with a well-written blog post explaining the situation to anyone who is interested.

It’s was quite the conundrum, but I think Southwest handled it just about as well as they could have.  What’s to learn here?

  • Respond fast, but be confident in your policies – although Southwest came across as a little desperate in their initial tweets responding to the problem, they resolved all of that in the blog post.
  • Put customer service first and it usually works out – anyone who reads both sides of the story can’t fault Southwest for their willingness to make the situation right.  In almost every example, they apologized and asked for an opportunity to make it right.
  • Apologize for the experience, not the policy – Southwest worded it perfectly when they said sorry for the experience.  If they would have cowered and said sorry for deeming him too fat for one seat, then a huge firestorm would have erupted.
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Don’t use Twitter for Marketing and PR?

I ran across an interesting “tweet” a couple weeks ago. (For those of you not in to the whole Twitter thing, a “tweet” is a message posted on the micro-blogging website called Twitter.)

The tweet directed us to a website called howtousetwitterformarketingandpr.com. Being the curious marketer I am, I checked it out and found out that the website simply says “Don’t.”

I beg to differ.

There certainly is a way for companies and brands to use Twitter.  Southwest (@southwestair) and JetBlue (@jetblue) Airlines have successfully used Twitter to announce new routes, flight delays and have conversations with their consumers.  Comcast (@comcastcares) has used Twitter to help their customers troubleshoot technical issues and have a meaningful conversation in the process.  Whole Foods (@wholefoods) is using Twitter to answer product questions and have conversations with their customers.

See the trend here? The brands that are effectively using Twitter are the ones that are using it to have meaningful conversations. The ones that are using it to simply make announcements are Sturgeon fishing in Lake Michigan. It’s just not going to work. Having meaningful conversations with your customers or consumers doesn’t just apply to Twitter. Creating opportunities to have conversations should be the common thread in every marketing tactic.

Maybe that website’s URL should have been: http://www.howtoactivatemarketingprogramsthatdontallowconversationswithconsumers.com. THEN, the answer could be “Don’t” and I’d totally agree with it.

Zero Budget Public Relations – Part 1

First, if you are a PR agency or a brand with a PR agency, this stuff is way below you and you can just skip to the next blog.  BUT, if you manage the marketing for a brand with a microscopic PR budget (or no budget at all), keep reading.

Second, by no means have I figured out this whole “FREE PR” thing.  I can tell you that PR is a big component in my marketing plan and we work very hard on using it to spread the word about our brand.  And I can tell you that my yearly marketing budget is about $2500 and I try to spread that throughout the year.

Here are some things I have learned along the way that will hopefully help you get some good targeted exposure and avoid wasting some money:

  1. Your media relations contact list is never complete. It’s always a work in progress.  I would recommend that you devote a day per quarter toward going thru the list to update or delete contact info.
  2. Don’t waste your money on media tracking services. From time to time, you might get a call from a company that will track your media hits and package them up in a nice daily or weekly email that you can forward to your boss and make you feel good.  Don’t buy that stuff.  There is a company out there that does it for free.  Their name is Google.  You might have heard of them.
  3. Avoid the high priced wire services. I’ve gone down this road and it can get expensive in a hurry.  National distribution with a photo and you’re up to $1500 bucks before you know it.  Sure they can get your press release in the email box of writers around the country, but it’s never really resulted in anything more than a Google or Yahoo! listing for me.  The media sees this stuff as junk mail and rarely ever pays attention to it.
  4. Put one press release on the high priced wire once per year. Ok, total contradiction from point 3, but I do see some value in putting one press release on the wire once a year just so that your contact name is in the database, making it easier for a reporter to find you when they’re writing a story on your industry and need an “expert” to interview.
  5. Find some free online press release distribution site that you like. I found a list of websites that offer press release distribution services here.  Some actually are free, some aren’t.  Personally, I like prlog.org and clickpress.com.  Once you find some websites that you like, post your press releases there and measure the results.  I do this by changing one, small thing on the press release on each site so that I can keep track of which one worked best.

In part 2 of this blog post, I’ll talk more about the message, who to target and how to build a relationship with them.