How would you feel if we broke your guitar?

ImageIt would’ve been fun to have been a fly on the wall the day that United Airlines found out about the video from Dave Carroll that ended up going viral. I’m sure reactions were not positive but did United take the video seriously at first? I don’t know the answer to that. I doubt United thought it would spiral out of control like it did and this being the first of its kind, I doubt they had a plan in place.

If I had been the United Airlines Online Reputation Manager at the time, I would’ve taken swift action. From all that I’ve read, it doesn’t seem like United acted very quickly. It took several days for the mainstream media to pick up on the video and that is when the video spiraled out of control with views and social media activity. In that time I would gotten out in front of the story and tried to put the fire out.

My tactic would’ve been to be compassionate towards Dave Carroll and present a message that was on his level. Corporate speak during this type of situation isn’t going to work, no matter how prestigious the brand. With any communication taking place, it would be important to remember that you’re speaking to a person. I would’ve used a tone that made people realize that United is putting themselves in Dave’s shoes.

An apology and reaction to the video would’ve been issued and circulated though all forms of media. It doesn’t seem that United did much on social media in terms of approaching the subject or responding to any comments. Social media and blogs is how the video went viral, so it is important for United to utilize those outlets when spreading its message.

While I know I wouldn’t have been able to respond to everyone, statements can be made generally to address the comments being made. While the main stream media would be running with the topic, they also could’ve presented United’s thoughts had there been some.

A formal press release would be posted to the company website and kept in place until the attention died down. I wouldn’t want people coming to United’s website and not see any reference. People shouldn’t have to find the response from United on any other site. If the company had a blog, I would’ve had someone write about how the situation could’ve gone differently and ultimately give Dave Carroll credit for new customer service policies that would be put into place.

Dave Carroll ended up producing multiple videos and United was prepared. It ended up responding with a statement an hour after the second video and even using a pretty laid back message as its response.


11 thoughts on “How would you feel if we broke your guitar?

  1. Thanks Stacy. How about borrowing a technique from KLM? As soon as Dave’s song went viral, what if United had turned up at his home with a new guitar and videoed the cold call? Does social media drive us to think this creatively in our responses?

    1. United would’ve come out a lot better in the situation if they thought creatively. I really like your idea of surprise attack. Wish I would’ve thought of this sooner, but what if United created their own music video as a response. Then the story would’ve turned from look at how great this customer video is to how United was handling the situation.

  2. I think this is more of a public relations misstep that just so happened to be on social. Let me explain.

    With any issue – whether in this case or any other crisis communications – the side who gets in front of the story first can control the narrative and drive the conversation. It’s that simple.

    Being reactionary is not the position anyone in communications wants to be in during a crisis. If a brand/organization is focusing on reacting, there is no way they can proactively correct the problem or issue in a timely manner.

    And with social, that “timely manner” window is so slight that minutes count.

    Looking at the graphic associated with your post one can see the lag time between when the airline took notice and big media took notice. It was a lot of time but it was long enough to take control of the story. As it turned out, the media took control of the story and it then spread like a wildfire.

    There was nothing the airline could do BUT be reactionary at that point. Looking at the fallout years later, United Airlines is an example of what not to do in public relations. Especially on social.

    1. You’re definitely right Dave. PR nightmare that wasn’t handled very well on social media. They had very little presence online during this whole situation, yet that is where the message was spreading the fastest. Yes they need to talk to reporters who will write the stories but they also needed to be active on the sites where the message was getting out of control the most.

  3. I agree with Dave that United had the chance to regain some control of the situation by reacting on social media in a timely manner and they just did not. The musical Dave had already gotten control of the narrative and was basically having his way with the YouTube audience, media and United so the airline was stuck with damage control from the start.

    I think the place United has to look first is at the way their employees handled the situation behind the scenes. What was so wrong with the way their traditional customer service operated that a complaint was allowed to escalate to this level. You have to assume there was A LOT of yelling on the phone prior to this videos creation.

    Also, being a fly on the wall when the PR department saw this would be glorious.

    1. Timing is everything. It probably still would’ve gone viral but I doubt to the extent that it did if United had reacted differently and faster. If they’d taken a unique approach to their response they could’ve had their piece go viral too.

  4. Hi Stacy,

    Thank you for sharing the graph. It really illustrates how rapidly content can go viral, and why an organization needs to be prepared and respond quickly to customer complaints. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to point out all of the ways that United could have handled the situation better. That being said, I agree with you that at the time this happened, it was the first of its kind and United was in uncharted territory. Maybe I should have cut them more of a break in my response to how I would have handled the situation differently!

    Your graph shows that United did have a couple of days before the mainstream media took notice to prepare and issue a response. They could have had a press release ready to go and distributed on their website and all of their social networks. Since the video went viral on YouTube, I would have made a response on YouTube. Maybe this would have prevented some of the backlash.

    1. I too was shocked when I saw this graph and how long it took the mainstream media to catch on. Was United hoping no one would notice? I can’t understand what was going on with them during that time and what it was like when it blew up out of control. I like your thinking with United creating their own YouTube response. They barely touched social media with their responses. How could they just ignore it?

  5. Wow great conversation going on in this thread! I agree with some parts and disagree with others. I agree with the idea that a quick social media response was necessary and that it should emphasize listening and being concerned. What I don’t agree with is the idea that United’s response needs to be creative. The problem is, it will never be creative enough. Once the story goes viral, no one will want to side with United even if they had Mickey Mouse show up to the guys house playing a guitar singing an apology song. I just don’t think it would work. All you can do is the professional thing and hope the story “blows over.” I just paid $500 to fly from Florida or Vermont on coach, I think airlines will be alright for a little while. And I also think that is why the consumer will never side with United, we KNOW they’re screwing us over every chance they get so this guitar is no different.

    1. This obviously didn’t have too big of an impact on United. They are still doing just fine even with this video still tied to their name. Their response never would’ve matched the level of viral reach that the guitar video did but they definitely would have to do something more than text responses on social media to capture anyone’s attention and show that they are making a response.

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