How Southwest Airlines Preps Timely Content, Far in Advance

By: Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines

March 30, 2017

The internet gives but it can also take away.

The good news in today’s digital world is that companies are now in the content driver’s seat. Organizations have become their own mini media conglomerates, able to message, provide commentary and launch content at a moment’s notice and without traditional media gatekeepers as a governor.

That’s a good thing but it can be a bad thing as well.

Now, organizations have so many channels and platforms at their disposal and are struggling to be relevant on all of them, all the time. That is leading some to make poor decisions about content type, timing and topic.

Linda Rutherford Vice President Communication & Outreach Southwest Airlines

Linda Rutherford
vice president and CCO
Southwest Airlines

It’s important to be strategic on the type of content—words, images, videos, animations, infographics—you create. Choose the right one for the tone and intended audience, and play to a platform’s strengths. Consider what your audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., are looking for from your brand.

If your brand is on Twitter, for example, it can be tempting to get in the habit of re-tweeting topical content to look relevant. Sure, it checks the “utility” content box, but it’s not original and such a tactic misses an opportunity for the organization to have a “voice” on a particular topic or issue.

And while it might look timely, there are better ways of being “in the moment.”

Timely content is king. Your organization should seek to establish an editorial calendar of holidays, company milestones and applicable phenomena like “National Puppy Day.” Determine what content ties well to your brand or product and be ready when the timing works best.

Here are a couple of examples from the Southwest Airlines content calendar to illustrate the point.

We had a video ready to share on Veteran’s Day. Mr. Spain was a passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight who was invited to meet the pilot and sit in the flight deck—his first time in a flight deck since he flew during World War II. When he passed away, his family shared a story about the impact that meeting had on him. The rest of the story tells itself.

We could have shown this video at any time. But focusing on a holiday allowed us greater reach. We also learned to be flexible and put some money behind the post to amplify it once it was already performing well. Too many brands only focus on premeditated paid media, instead of relying on the audience to help guide them on what content is working.

Learn more from Linda Rutherford at The Social Shake-Up, which will be held May 22-24, 2017, in Atlanta. Brand communicators from Coca-Cola, Dunkin’ Donuts, the Atlanta Hawks, Arby’s and many more will speak on a breadth of topics from content marketing to measurement to Snapchat strategy.

Another example is our Navy Teammates video. It was meant to be an evergreen video, to show teamwork at work, but its subject matter was relevant in proximity to current events (which at the time was the Super Bowl) and that helped juice the Facebook viewership.

In both examples, we used our content calendar to focus on one platform and strike while the iron was hot in terms of timely, topical content. We then delivered the content in such a way that organic reach guided our paid efforts.


Linda Rutherford is vice president and chief communications officer for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. Her responsibilities include overseeing media relations, crisis communications, emergency response and business continuity planning, community relations and charitable giving, corporate community affairs, public relations, social business, multimedia and visual communication, and legislative communication/grassroots activities.

Connect with Linda: @SWAfollower

At The Social Shake-Up