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November 22, 2006
Blogging: The New Communications Frontier

They wanted to do a blog. “Great,” I said. “Um, what’s a blog?”

A few short courses later, and I have become the most senior cheerleader for this venue of social communication. A blog, I learned, is a web log, or an online diary of sorts. When the public relations team approached me about starting one of the few corporate blogs out there, I had some trepidation but knew it would be a vehicle that fits in well with Southwest’s laid-back style and transparent nature.

Some wondered if the nation’s largest airline in terms of domestic Customers carried would have the bravery to “lay it all out there” in a blog, airing on a daily basis the good, the bad, and sometimes, the ugly. But, then, I’ve always been proud of “my” maverick airline. This plucky carrier, which grew from a tiny Texas airline in the 1970s into an industry juggernaut, definitely had the heart and soul for an online diary.

So, with the help of RD2 and blogging guru Andy Lark, we designed “Nuts About Southwest” and launched it in April of this year. We have volunteer bloggers from all job functions within Southwest — folks who enjoy writing; have a natural, self-deprecating sense of humor; and don’t mind having one more thing on their “to-do” lists!

Since the blog’s launch, it has been lauded in the blogosphere as being “real,” educational, and entertaining. We have pilots who blog about how they navigate weather; we put up a special tribute on the 5-year anniversary of the tragic 9-11 attacks that included video snippets of our people recollecting those days when the skies were quiet, along with the Herculean task it took to get the nation flying again; and we’ve had college football smack-downs with heavy doses of ribbing for all.

I love hearing from our Customers; the blog gives me a snapshot into what’s on their minds, and they aren’t bashful if they have an opinion about a timely topic, like, say, during our recent testing of assigned seating. The blog lit up with commentary from Customers voicing their thoughts, opinions, and fabulous suggestions—some of which will be investigated as our research continues.

“Nuts About Southwest,” much like our “Airline” documentary series on the A&E Television Network, allows us to showcase the wonderful personalities of our Employees (I always capitalize Employee and Customer — they are that important to me!). They are an extension of our brand; we realize that anyone can fly airplanes, but it’s how our Employees genuinely care for our Customers that makes the positive difference. The blog gives us another medium to help travelers fall in love with the People of Southwest Airlines.

On our blog, we have a resident corny joke-teller from marketing; we have someone in our schedule planning department who shared a recent colonoscopy experience (I’m not kidding); and a mechanic who retold the story of the beekeeper who needed to pay a visit to extract a hive of bees that had taken up residency in one of our Boeing 737s that was in for repairs. There is no end to the adventures we have each day; our blog allows us to share them with you online in an informal way…kind of like conversing with you in your living room.

Each week, new functions are being added to the blog, including Flikr for posting photos (we get so many from Customers each week), video through YouTube, and links to new blogs that talk about travel. As president of Southwest Airlines, all facets of communications — from internal communications, to public relations, to marketing — all report to me. I fancy myself a “manic communicator,” and I applaud the vision of each of these teams to diligently seek and discover the next best way for our communications efforts to evolve.

To all communicators and brand warriors: take intelligent risks for your brands. Your management entrusted you to bring the brand to life. Find creative ways to do it.

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Colleen C. Barrett is currently President and Corporate Secretary for Southwest Airlines Co. Colleen has served as Secretary of the corporation since March 1978 and served as Vice President Administration from 1986 to 1990, Executive Vice President Customers from 1990 to 2001, and President from 2001 to present. She graduated with highest honors from Becker Junior College in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1964.
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