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Southwest Loses Its Social Media Guru, All Eyes on the Transition

Anyone in the social media space who deals with the airline industry knows Paula Berg. For the last few years, Paula has been the social media guru (or, uh Manager of Emerging Media) for Southwest Airlines (LUV), an unqualified leader in the social media space. Paula has now left for greener pastures (literally - she's trading the dusty brown Dallas landscape for the picturesque Rocky Mountains), and that means we have a very interesting case study on our hands. How will they survive the transition and what does this mean for companies that have very visible social media faces?

The first time I emailed with Paula was in 2007. We met at the BlogWorld Expo that year, and according to Gmail, we've had 163 email conversations since that time. I could count on Paula sending me important information the second she could. I also knew that if I sent Paula an email at any time of the day or night, I would get a response within 5 minutes, even if it simply said she would follow up. While I've had interactions with others at Southwest on the PR team, I never thought twice about where to go first. Paula really developed the relationship with me and countless other bloggers. Now, she's leaving and it's a big loss.

This isn't just an issue for Southwest. The higher touch, more interactive social media relationship means that any participants in the social media world will face the loss of their "face" at one point or another. Building bench strength is important, and Southwest has done that, but managing those very personal relationship will require some re-learning.

Paula knew what interested me and wouldn't bother spamming me with info that she knew I wouldn't want. Those are the types of knowledge that are difficult to transfer. So who will I now contact? Well, Paula sent out an email with our new list. There are certainly some familiar faces. I met Christi Day at the same time I met Paula, and she has been their Twitter persona for quite awhile now. But Paula has set a very high bar and I imagine it will be tough for anyone to surpass it.

Watching how Southwest handles the transition will be important for many companies. Replacing a good, visible social media manager is not going to be an easy task for anyone.

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