Around 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, a tweet came through our mentions. The tone was urgent, and the message contained a very specific request: Would it be possible for us to fly a dress from Houston to Costa Rica?
Now there’s an interesting proposition.
Would it be possible? Perhaps that would be the first order of business. But our first reaction was that, yes, we wanted to make this happen. After all, the purpose of Southwest Airlines is to connect people to what’s important in their lives.
Before making some phone calls, we needed more details. We followed up with the original tweeter, and learned more about the situation. You see, her friend had flown from Houston to Liberia, Costa Rica the day before, for a wedding in which she was to be a bridesmaid that Saturday. The bridesmaid had mistakenly left her dress at the alteration shop at her home in Houston, and was running out of ideas on how to get that extremely important article of clothing to Costa Rica in time for the wedding. That’s when her friend reached out on social media.
We learned that we had parties on either end of the flight that were willing to coordinate dropoff and pickup of the dress from the respective airports. All we had to do was figure out how to get it on the plane.
The objective was simple: Rescue the Dress.
At this point in the story, all we’ve done is hear the Customer. We’ve absorbed the information the Customer has presented to us. Now here comes the fun part: doing something amazing with that information.
Browsing the Company directory, it took a couple tries to get in touch with the Station Manager on duty in Houston. After a bit of explaining, and discussing, she agreed to help us make this happen. We were going to get the dress on the only nonstop flight to Liberia, Costa Rica the following morning, and it would be there in time for the ceremony on Saturday. Within two hours of the tweet being posted, we had gathered all the necessary information about the situation, we had been in touch with the right personnel, and had developed a gameplan for addressing the customer’s request.
We quickly realized that the story was all but written, but we have a mantra here when it comes to real-time listening and storytelling: If a story is happening now, the best time to tell it is NOW.
It started with a simple quote tweet of the original request, just a few hours after it had originally crossed the wire. The copy was simple, and the message was enticing: “Alright, let’s do it!”
That tweet marinated overnight to the tune of several thousand engagements. By Friday morning, before even giving a single update, we already had garnered some social buzz, and even traditional media pickup, as a local Houston affiliate was setting up a live shot of the dress being delivered to the airport.
We were in close communication with our team at the airport, who sent photos and videos back to Headquarters for use on social media. Soon, we had visual evidence of the dress being dropped off at the ticket counter, which was the first addition to our Twitter thread.
When people began to see that the dress was, in fact, going to Costa Rica as promised the night before, the conversation around the story grew rapidly. Within an hour, we were trending on Twitter, and the story was a featured Moment on the Twitter homepage.
We continued to provide updates via Twitter thread throughout the journey. A photo of the dress in a bag being loaded onto the plane, a snapshot of our flight tracking system, along with a link to track the flight in real time (which over four thousand people did).
The qualitative response to the thread was universal in tone. One Customer posted a GIF of someone eating popcorn and watching a movie, a direct reflection of everyone’s excitement to watch this story unfold before them.
Our successful mission was commemorated with two final updates: one of the bridesmaid receiving the dress at the Liberia airport, and one of her and the bride, smiling ear to ear at the wedding reception.
By Monday morning, traditional and digital publications alike had picked up on our story, with an estimated potential reach that would surpass one billion impressions.
An unintended, but welcome, positive result of the story was that the overall buzz helped lift the brand image at a time when we were beginning to see negative sentiment due to a labor dispute with one of our workgroups.
The impact of our story goes beyond just improving brand affinity in the short term. Real-time listening and real-time response done right can tell an impactful story, one that has the potential to transcend the limited attention span of social. A memorable moment is timeless, and when you give your audience the chance to feel like they’re a part of that moment, that can change the perception of your brand for a long, long time.
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