Don’t fret, United: a social media opportunity is knocking!

In Social Media on September 3, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Recently, I noticed an interesting story about Dave Carroll, musician whose guitar was damaged by baggage handlers (literally before his eyes) as he awaited departure on a United flight from Halifax to Nebraska. Obviously, I don’t know the real details, but it appears that United turned a (tone)deaf ear to his complaints. In frustrated response, he promised a song trilogy about the matter, posted with video accompaniment to  YouTube. The second of the three has just been released. The songs are fun, and the videos offer a nicely “quirky” production value and humor. So, five million YouTube plays later….

Dave_head200401At t his point Carroll and his band (The Sons of Maxwell) are having too much fun and getting too much reaction to settle for a simple guitar repair. United’s belated efforts to make amends have been greeted with “thanks, but no thanks.”  And at this point, not much the airline can do but wait for those Internet wackos to have their fun and let the matter drop. Maybe issue a stuffy PR release whining about its attempts to make it right.

But this is a new day, United,  With the help of college students in a Writing for the Media class I am teaching, I’d like to suggest United take a different route – one that I believe will become increasingly important in years to come. Respond not only in kind, but with a hip, “knowing” attitude that will help quell the bad vibes and generate good ones, endearing you even to those people who are most enjoying your current discomfort. United could change itself from a stodgy, cold-hearted, money-clutching giant to a cool, tuned-in company that admits it made a mistake, but is now ready to atone for it–and have fun in the process!

It would have to be built around a serious effort to prevent repeat occurrences of this sort of thing, like new, improved baggage practices (to the extent that United, and not individual airports, control it). But once you have taken some concrete steps to fix the problem and legitimize your response, let the fun begin! How about…

  • Make peace with the musician, sponsoring the rest of his tour. (He’s a nice guy who seems amenable to carrying this as far as he can.)
  • A Special Issue “United” themed guitar given away at key tour stops
  • A YouTube video, perhaps along with Carroll, showing that peace had been made. (The guitar gets a first-class seat!)
  • Tweet “Dave’s Guitar is still fine” every ten minutes.
  • A “Dave’s Taylor Guitar” case (packed and padded oh so lovingly) revolving on the baggage carousel at every major city to “show” it had arrived safely.
  • A group of “United baggage handlers” singing a creative song promising to handle his guitar with care.
  • The viral and guerrilla possibilities are endless. We came up with pages full of them.

So, United, are you listening? Here’s your chance. Instead of losing your cool over this, you could generate more “cool” points than ever before! Instead of “United Breaks Guitars” the headline in the business section could be singing a different song: “United breaks with tradition, strums up witty  YouTube response to guitar guy!”

  1. Perhaps something that people would appeal to would be United buying guitars for those who can’t afford them, or sponsoring a program that does this. A “Spread the Music” type of campaign, maybe. Maybe even establish a music video contest for aspiring musicians/guitarists. People send in their YouTube videos with songs about how United can get out of this mess. They’ll pick 300 winners and give them brand new guitars and trips to see some music shows.

    • All good thoughts, although “guitars for the needy” might leave some people a little cold. Depends upon how you frame it, of course. Whatever I did, I’d hold it up against the standard of “how many social networking/viral tentacles will this response have?” Doing good “quietly” is obviously admirable, but in this particular case, wouldn’t address the problem, and wouldn’t directly address their negative, uh, baggage.

  2. All great ideas Mike, but the key thing is for businesses and individuals for that matter to learn how to take a negative and turn it to a positive. Ok you messed up, now go above and beyond to fix the situation. So now the slighted party can say yes they messed up but I was impressed by the way they rectified the situation. So hopefully in the end, they will tell the full story as a satisfied customer. The classic making lemonade with lemons (but don’t forget to sugar it up a bit).

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