David takes on Goliath: a social media lesson

My post on the evolution of social media has to wait a couple of days. So much is happening in the new communication landscape at such a feverish pace that we have to do a Usain Bolt sprint just to keep up! In my previous post, I had mentioned three recent events that demonstrated social media’s power, but last week I came across another instance of how social media empowers consumers to take on big companies. This incident is so hot and powerful that I couldn’t wait to share it with you.

In 2008, Dave Carroll, the rock star from Canada, alleged that United Airlines, by which he was travelling from Halifax to Nebraska, broke his $3500 ‘Taylor’ guitar when the airlines staff roughly handled his baggage at a stop-over at Chicago. Though United Airlines accepted that the incident had taken place, they put the blame on everybody and everything else other than themselves. For nine months Dave was made to go on a wild goose chase, running from one department to another, with the airline’s staff being utterly indifferent and unhelpful. No one from the company did anything to compensate him for his loss. So, as Dave writes in his website (http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/story/united-breaks-guitars), he “promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world.” The first song is up on Youtube, and in the past week or so, has had 3,219,613 (that’s almost 3.22 million!) views and 15,502 comments. “Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming, I promise”, writes a determined Dave Carroll.

“Now we have this giant megaphone called Web 2.0 saying how horrible your company is,” says Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, an analyst with Forrester Research, covering customer experience/service and social media. “Social media is here to stay and has a lot of power. If you spend millions on advertising your brand and someone spend five cents on a Youtube video, you’ve just wasted a lot of advertising dollars. There’s a consensus around the frustration customers feel with companies that act like monolithic monsters”, says Dr. Petouhoff.

From Youtube and Twitter the buzz has been picked up by leading television news channels like the CNN, Fox News and NBC. It was even on the extremely popular Oprah Winfrey Show. United Airlines now had a real PR crisis on its hands. After a week and millions of views, United Airlines finally reversed its decision. According to timesonline.co.uk, the company has “relented on Friday and donated $3,000 in Carroll’s name to support music education through the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.”

As an instance of how smart companies never miss an opportunity to get some quick and easy promotional mileage, here’s what ‘Taylors Guitar’, the makers of the brand of guitar that United airlines broke, did. Bob Taylor quickly put up a video on Youtube to show his support for Dave Carroll, give tips on traveling by air with a guitar, and promote his company and its guitar service center. That’s social media marketing at its smartest!

Enjoy these videos while I sprint to catch up with the latest in the world of social media.