CHAOS IN THE AIR, ON THE GROUND, BUT SOUTHWEST RECLAIMED ITS ONLINE REPUTATION
Lightbox Search study reveals the airline's search strategy worked
NEW YORK, Jan. 20, 2023 -- "Chaos in the Skies" dominated what Americans heard, read or searched online when Southwest Airlines suffered a catastrophic meltdown between Christmas and New Year's Day.
More than 100,000 stranded airline passengers irate at the carrier's flight cancellations, lack of responsiveness, runway returns to gates, and endless delays was the story that had no end – until it did. But by the time the airline was able to return to near-normal service, some 16,700 flights had been cancelled and the airline's bill for the calamity was estimated at more than $800 million – and counting.
But what began on Christmas Eve 2022, hit a turning point for the beleaguered carrier as it returned to normal service on Jan. 3, 2023, and was soon reflected in Google searches – one of the primary sources for travel information. While the news headlines were still horrible and images of seas of stranded luggage continued to circulate, searches started showing a changing story.
As the No. 1 most referenced and most trusted news source, according to the Pew Research Center, Google is more important than traditional news outlets because of its higher traffic with potentially slower news cycles. Clearly, the communications and search experts at Southwest and its agencies well knew that bad headlines on Google are worse than bad news media headlines alone, and readers fear them.
And Google's influence is further cemented by the rising power of its popular travel booking engine, Google Flights.
So how has Southwest started to bounce back online from its Christmas nightmare? As a new Lightbox Search study already underscores, Southwest is doing a very good job at reclaiming its reputation on the world's most important site: Google search.
Lumentus, powered by Lightbox Search, tracked Southwest's search results beginning Dec. 28, just four days after the airline's computer systems buckled under the strain of a fast return of air travelers following the Covid-induced drop-off. The situation appeared dire and it was reflected by the Lightbox Search proprietary score.
Lightbox Search is a technology platform providing search results intelligence for agencies and in-house communications teams. Lightbox Search scores are the equivalent of FICO scores for specific Google results, as they compute the relative sentiment and strength of what appears on screens large and small, desktop and mobile – with location-specific precision.
The headlines at that time were still horrendous for Southwest, but Jan. 3, 2023, proved to be a crucial turn-around in its Google Search results. Southwest could not control the headlines, but it did appear to try to remediate its Google search results.
Over the next two weeks, more Southwest-owned content, ranging from auxiliary websites for business travelers to a careers page, started appearing on page one of Google search results. And the scores rebounded quickly, lifting its online reputation out of the "red zone" within five days and even achieving respectable scores by Jan. 15.
"Southwest strengthening its Google search results was, and still is, a critical step as it tries to salvage its reputation," said Laurence Moskowitz, chief executive of Lumentus, a strategic communications agency that helped build Lightbox Search. "The airline certainly has a long way to go, but its rapidly improving Lightbox Search scores reveals the foundation for a comeback."
Jet Blue experienced a similar catastrophe during Valentine's Day, more than 15 years earlier. That airline bounced back, although it was very badly bruised at the time. It took many months for Jet Blue to restore a modicum of normal operations and customer service, let alone confidence and loyalty. But now, that February massacre is lost to the air travel history books.
"The Lightbox Search technology that underpins Lumentus services, is now available as a stand-alone offering," said Jesse Jacobs, chief technology officer. "Communications pros at companies, associations and agencies can now save countless hours – and substantially cut subscription costs – by automating the most labor-intensive elements of reputation management: monitoring search results, performing SEO audits, generating reports and even developing custom strategies on a single integrated platform."
Lumentus is a strategic communications firm based in New York that helps its clients manage their brands, protect their reputations and improve their perceptions across target and stakeholder audiences. The firm's principals are leading practitioners in the areas of corporate communications, public relations and public affairs, digital reputation management, social media, advertising and branding. Lightbox Search is a majority owned subsidiary of Lumentus.