The story of Dave Carroll and how his guitar was broken by United Airlines has spawned a hit YouTube song, but it also holds a lesson for how best to carry out customer service in the world of social media.
Dave Carroll, a Canadian musician, flew with United Airlines last year and saw his guitar broken as staff threw luggage around. Failing to get a satisfactory response from United, he finally recorded a song and stuck it on YouTube. The catchy tune, amusing staging and power of the underlying story quickly turned it into a YouTube hit. This in turn triggered widespread traditional media coverage, with the result that not only has the song been watched all the way through to the end three million times, but in addition millions have read, seen or heard media reports about the story.
That will have caused considerable damage to United’s reputation and makes it an excellent case study of how, in the world of social media, one angry customer can combine with a bit of user generated content and the willingness of the media to report online stories to produce large amounts of negative coverage for a firm.
It also illustrates the importance in the social media world of responding in the medium if you wish to make yourself heard. United responded relatively quickly to the song getting wide attention, but because United didn’t use its own online presence effectively to get over its response, many (indeed most) of those finding out about and commenting on the issue online even after United’s response came out were not aware that United had responded at all.
The two tricks which United in particular missed were on YouTube and on Twitter. On YouTube, United Airlines could have recorded a response from a senior figure and then submitted it to appear as a “response” under the Dave Carroll song on the YouTube website. This would have been a very effective way to help ensure that those seeing the negative story also saw United’s response.
United Airlines has an established Twitter presence, with many thousands of followers. However, although it referred to the issue in a tweet the day after the song hit YouTube, this was done as an @ reply to another Twitter user. This means it won’t have been seen by many of their followers on Twitter (as, unless they were also following the person replied to, they won’t have seen the message in their normal stream of messages). Moreover, by not mentioning Dave Carroll’s name or the word guitars in the tweet, United ensured that it wouldn’t be found by people searching for tweets on the topic – again therefore missing out on an audience.
Since then United has upped its use of social media on the issue, including sending a pair of standard tweets, though again they missed out key terms that would be picked up by searches for news on the topic.
The lessons of all this? First, the benefits of having established social media presences so that, if bad news hits, you have the infrastructure ready to help deal with them. Second, the importance of getting the details right so that what you say via social media is seen by as many people as possible.
Do both and you are in a much stronger position to turn the issue round. Do neither and you are making a bad situation even harder to sort.