Guest Blogger Eric Krell: Southwest Airlines' High-Flying Social Strategist

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When Christi McNeill describes her social strategist role at Southwest Airlines as the "cheerleader and advocate for social media," she may be embracing her organizational culture's flair for humor. McNeill's hard work and effort has helped lift Southwest's social media presence to the top of the class in the airlines industry.

When Christi McNeill describes her social strategist role at Southwest Airlines as the "cheerleader and advocate for social media," she may be embracing her organizational culture's flair for humor. McNeill's hard work and effort has helped lift Southwest's social media presence to the top of the class in the airlines industry.

McNeill describes her role's largest challenge as "Doing it all," which a quick look at her company's "Nuts about Southwest" blog confirms. In addition to writing posts and manages posts from colleagues, McNeil performs an entertaining version of the E! Channel's "The Soup" in the form of a Southwest blog highlight reel ("SWA Stew").
Southwest's social media strategy launched in 2006, shortly after the company was featured on the television series Airline. The reality show, which aired on the A&E channel, presented viewers with a behind-the-scenes view of Southwest's operations. Viewers and customers loved the transparency the show provided; McNeill reports that job applications soared each day after an episode aired. Intent on sustaining that dialogue and connection after the program concluded, Southwest Airlines launched its Nuts about Southwest blog (on which mechanics, flight attendants, pilots, and other employees posted updates on their working experiences). During the next three years, the company added channels like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube to its social media platform.

"There are so many opportunities out there for Southwest Airlines in the social media space and there is a huge expectation that we will continue to rock the world of corporate social media," McNeill says. "We must remain focused and utilize the channels and products that best fit Southwest Airlines."

McNeill recently touched down from her hectic schedule to chat with 1to1 Magazine via email.

1to1 Magazine: What is the role of a social strategist?
Christi McNeill: The role of a social strategist at Southwest Airlines is to be the cheerleader and advocate for social media. I'm responsible for keeping the airline cutting-edge and innovative in the social space.

Why is this role important?
At this point we expect all of our communications team to be savvy in social media and to consider how it can be used in any situation. However, just like any specific practice, such as employee communication, media relations, or labor relations, someone needs to be held accountable and responsible for the function.

What are some key components of your professional background?
Public relations is my background, specifically in travel.

What are your primary responsibilities?
To monitor the social media landscape and respond as necessary to our customers and fans who are interacting with us online.

Where is this position typically located in the organizational structure?
It varies at every company. At Southwest, that role is currently in the communications department. The way we manage social media is a very collaborative method that is based off the concept of convergence. Basically, we are seeing a huge overlap in customer relations, communications, and marketing. We've aligned ourselves so that each of those functions is a stakeholder in social media.

Who do you report to?
I report to a senior manager of communications.

What other parts of the organization do you partner with most frequently?
I work with pretty much every workgroup at Southwest including Customer relations, marketing, people department (HR), legal and more.

Is there any evidence of this role's growth?
This role has changed and grown over the past five years at Southwest. I think as we continue to grow and shape our social media function we'll continue to evolve the way we manage social media.

What types of industries and companies do you think are most likely to create this role?
All different types of organizations have created roles similar to mine. I believe companies that have a trust in their employees and have a culture of authenticity and openness are the ones who have created this role.

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About the Author: Journalist Eric Krell is a frequent contributor to 1to1 Magazine and Customer Strategist. His upcoming article on the emerging role of corporate social strategists features additional insight into McNeill and others' approaches to a new and rapidly evolving position within forward-thinking organizations.

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