Monday, September 7, 2009

Threat or Opportunity? The Southwest Emerging Media Model

I read a post in about the success of Southwest Airlines’ social media efforts. It sparked a question: is this a threat to the growing revenue potential that agencies see in social media?

SW started a blog in 2006 called “Its Nuts About Southwest” to bring customers and the airline closer together. The success of the blog broadened the company’s social media efforts and they named a Manager of Emerging Media, Paula Berg, to oversee their efforts.

But here are the paragraphs that sparked my question:

“As the blog evolved, so did the roles of Berg and her colleagues. When Berg started working on the site she was part of the company’s public relations team. Her co-manager, Brian Lusk, was a corporate editor in the company’s executive office. Soon after the airline began experimenting with Twitter and other social media tools, it moved Berg and three of her colleagues into a new Emerging Media department.

There Berg’s six-person team (two new employees joined it last November) maintains a Twitter feed, Facebook fan site, Flickr group and YouTube channel. Each tool is overseen by a single team member and geared to reach a slightly different audience. “

I wonder, is the emerging (read social) media department separate from the public relations department? It sounds that way. Could this be a trend in other corporations where conversations and connections with the consumer or end user are critical to sales and reputation? And, if so, will it require PR agencies to build new relationships not only with public relations, marketing, top management and finance, but also with social media departments who might logically hire (if they need to) social media agencies and let the PR department deal with the PR agency?

Or, does this signal another reason why it is so important for the traditional PR firm to reinvent itself, and why positioning and marketing an agency will be even more critical in the future?