The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!

Special Project

Special Project
From the 12th Annual Shorty Awards

Southwest Airlines Search for the Next Great Storyteller

Bronze Honor in Contest or Promotion


In 2018, Southwest Airlines launched Southwest Storytellers, the first long-term social media ambassador program for any domestic airline carrier. The inaugural class of Storytellers generated nearly 30 million impressions and produced more than 1,100 pieces of content, which were published dozens of times on Southwest's owned channels, including the home page of Throughout the program, Southwest’s Instagram DMs, influencer email inbox, Customer Service phone lines, and even the CEO’s office were flooded with a singular question:

How can I become a Southwest Storyteller?!

Southwest channeled this enthusiasm into the 2019 contest: Southwest’s Search for the Next Great Storyteller

For the first time, Southwest made becoming a social ambassador for the LUV Airline open to everyone in a nationwide contest! This contest had three objectives:

  1. Build Awareness: Generate social media conversation and secure earned media around the Southwest Storytellers program.
  2. Curate UGC: Develop a robust library of travel-centric user-generated content for future use in owned channels
  3. Create a Talent Pipeline: Discover and secure 5 talented, influential, and passionate brand advocates to become the 2019 class of Southwest Storytellers

Strategy and Execution

Southwest Airlines understands how beneficial travel is to emerging content creators and influencers. This contest was about more than finding new influencers to partner with; it was about providing an opportunity for creators to take the trip they've always wanted to take and get the shot they've always wanted to capture.

Southwest's strategy was to empower creators to do what they do best by providing travel and experiences - and making it accessible for folks with as few as 2,500 followers.

Southwest took a unique and fresh approach to influencer marketing with this contest: they launched an entirely organic campaign to get the word out about the content and developed an internal scorecard to find creators and influencers who were not only talented and influential, but who were also true Southwest advocates.

Influencers, content creators, and general travel enthusiasts were encourage to enter the contest for a chance to win “free travel for a year” in the form of a grand prize of twelve round-trip tickets on Southwest Airlines. Working with HelloWorld, Southwest developed a microsite to house the  promotional materials, contest rules, and a live feed of entries.

Instead of relying on paid media to support this contest, Southwest allowed influencers to do what they do best – influence. Southwest created custom content using in-house resources, then provided that content to the 2018 Southwest Storytellers to publish in their channels. Leveraging the power of the Southwest Airlines brand and the budding recognition of the Southwest Storytellers program, the first class of Storytellers became the catalyst for the 2019 contest – and word spread quickly!

The contest consisted of three rounds:

  1. The first round asked participants to follow @SouthwestAir on Instagram and submit their best travel photo with an engaging caption on Instagram (tagging #SouthwestStorytellers of course) to demonstrate their content creation abilities.
  2. In the second round, 100 semifinalists were asked to complete a survey to measure brand affinity. Their answers needed to showcase their passion for travel and their alignment with Southwest's values: Servant’s Heart, Warrior Spirit, and Fun-LUVing Attitude. Questions included "What’s your favorite Southwest memory" and "Are you loyalty member with Southwest Airlines?"
  3. In the final round, ten finalists were chosen based on survey results, then ranked in order from one to ten by Southwest on a portfolio of content they submitted. While only one finalist was named Southwest’s Next Great Storyteller, all finalists received prizes including Southwest tickets, Southwest gift cards, and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points


During the contest period, Southwest received 6,800 unique entries by way of hashtag submission, resulting in more than 707,000,000 engagements.

The hashtag #SouthwestStorytellers was used more than 13,000 times during the contest period and trended in the Travel section of Instagram’s Explore Feed. Months later, the hashtag is still used by travel influencers and enthusiasts.

During the two-month contest, Southwest’s Instagram account gained 44,000 followers – 80% more growth than average – directly attributed to the contest’s call to action to follow @SouthwestAir.

Media coverage included more than 300 news mentions, reaching a potential viewership of 35,700,000 people across Travel & Leisure, Forbes, Thrillist, USA Today, Elite Daily, and more.

The contest resulted in the selection of the 2019 class of Southwest Storytellers, a group of Southwest loyalists, ranging from professional photographers to family travel gurus. This mix provides diverse interests, audiences, storytelling styles and aesthetics – all threaded together by their love for Southwest Airlines.

The 2019 Storytellers have taken dozens of trips, attended Southwest-sponsored events, and supported digital campaigns. The content produced by this class of Storytellers has already delivered nearly 1,000,000 organic social impressions and more than 75,000 engagements, resulting in an engagement rate of 7.5% - more than double the brand’s average engagement rate.

In the end, Southwest met its objectives:


Video for Southwest Airlines Search for the Next Great Storyteller

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Southwest Airlines

Entry Credits