Friday, August 21, 2009

Social media breaks backs

YouTube scares me. And it should scare you, too. Because once negative information about your company makes the Internet, trying to contain the damage is akin to attempting to stamp out a California wildfire with a wool blanket.

It can’t be done.

One in a long line of YouTube corporate victims is United Airlines, which became the unwilling lyrical topic of a disgruntled singer/band member after his valuable guitar was smashed by careless airline luggage handlers in the spring of 2008.

After months of unrequited phone calls and letters to United, asking for reimbursement for his $3,500 Taylor guitar damaged on the tarmac during a Chicago connection enroute to my home state of Nebraska, Dave Carroll of the band Sons of Maxwell took to the i-waves and aired his frustration in verse.

“United Breaks Guitars” is a catchy song with an even catchier music video that debuted in early July. The ditty is a scathing, yet amusing, recap of Carroll’s attempts to receive compensation for the pricey instrument. Within a day of its release, “Breaks Guitars” had been viewed by thousands. To date, more than 5 million people have heard the song and seen the video.

On Monday, Carroll came out with part two -- “United Breaks Guitars Song 2” -- fulfilling an earlier promise that he would record three songs railing against the airline’s antipathy.

“Song 2” has received nearly 80,000 views so far. But what is more significant is that Carroll didn’t need to record it.

Shortly after the release of the first song, United contacted Carroll, making nice and offering to pay for the guitar. Carroll’s response, though amicable, was a publicly aired “No Way, Jose.” In a viral version of a press conference, Carroll made it clear that, while he would happily have that $3,500 reimbursal sent to a charity, nothing would stop him from recording three songs.

So, for United, it’s two down and one to go. How much havoc will ultimately be wreaked for the airline, which already has endured much-publicized financial woes? Only time will tell, but in the meantime Carroll’s tell-all has no immediate end in sight.

What’s the lesson? Watch your back, and you might want to have a film production crew in your pocket. You never know when a retaliatory music video might be in order.

Somehow missed “United Breaks Guitars”? Follow these links to the background story and the two performances. Leave yourself plenty of viewing time; they’re not short.

-- Katherine Field


Anonymous said...

Social Media should not scare you and depending on what business you are in, you need to embrace it because it's not going away any time soon...

Many companies are using social media daily to engage in meaningful direct dialog with their customers. Search Twitter and you'll find brands who openly engage and address customer service for all to see.

Social Media is a tool for both consumer and brands to gain valuable feedback that previously didn't exist or got lost in translation. In the case of the smashed Guitar, perhaps United should have addressed this in the first place properly and left a satisfied customer or they might have learned something from this episode.

It would have been interesting to see what happened if they restored his guitar or replaced it - I'm sure Dave Carroll would have sung a different tune for others to hear...

Yasaswi I. Pulavarti said...

Gone are the days a company can control negative publicity. However, the question for United is, did they see dip in sales or profit because of this incident? I think the companies need to come up with a way to analyze what if scenarios for future social media enabled negative publicity.

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