When Michael Krause got on his flight from Burbank, it’s probably safe to say he didn’t envision a trip that included a fight, a flight attendant being crushed at the bottom of a dogpile, and a culprit in jail.

But that’s precisely what occurred on Southwest flight 2530.

In light of recent airline scandals, it’s not surprising that the inevitable video detailing the fight would attract some attention. Zignal tracked the story as it picked up steam across the media spectrum.

Here’s what we found.

Social Intelligence Analysis

The fight first surfaces as an issue on Southwest’s Twitter Word Cloud late in the afternoon on May 9th as the tweet containing the video finally reached a point of critical mass. By 5:30, local news stations began reporting on the story, while national news stories got in on the action by midnight.

social intelligence word cloud for southwest fight

May 9th, 4:45 pm

social intelligence popular tweets for southwest fight

May 9th, 5:30 pm






The Modern Day News Cycle

the trajectory of a typical news story

This is a perfect example of how a story spreads through the media. Analysis from Zignal Labs has shown that the average news story takes the following path: social media –> local news –> national news.

Historical media mentions for Southwest

News often originates on social in the form of videos detailing events as they happen. Stories – especially negative ones – spread through a mixture of shares, retweets, likes and comments. The narrative in this stage can be all over the place. Once a story reaches a certain threshold of visibility or notoriety, local news stations will begin their coverage. Stations craft a narrative around stories based on the social conversation, a more defined story that helps set the tone of the discussion moving forward. These local reports become the primary content shared on social media from this point forward, frequently serving as a jumping-off point for national news coverage.

When a story hits that level, the narrative becomes set. Changing the topic of the conversation and the sentiment around a story becomes an almost impossible task. For brands, a first response at this stage means a reactive approach.

But Southwest handled it early and well. The company responded to the story in the local news stage, seizing the opportunity to steer the narrative in a direction that positively reflected on the cabin crew and, by extension, the company. Had Southwest failed to respond, the incident could have been a much larger story.

We all know that social media has accelerated the spread of news. Stories can easily escalate from one stage to another within a matter of hours instead of days. These potential PR nightmares also occur far more frequently as social media acts as a public forum for disgruntled passengers to air their grievances.

Southwest interjected at precisely the right moment to limit the damage. As chaotic as a PR crisis may seem, stories tend to follow a similar pattern. Identifying stories — and potential PR crises — at the earliest possible stage helps crisis teams alter the narrative and protect their brand’s reputation.

If you would like to know more about how social intelligence can help in a crisis, download our eBook – “10 Ways Big Data will Modernize your Crisis Communications Plan”