Monday, August 24, 2009

United Breaks Guitars, or How the Internet is Transforming the Economy

Any readers who have not yet seen the United Breaks Guitars (+ associated statement) video and its follow-up on YouTube should do so. The artist, an amiable Canadian singer-songwriter called Dave Carroll, has also made skillful use of Facebook, and, for all I know, other Internet-based social media to attack United Airlines for its poor customer service after baggage handlers broke his guitar at O'Hare.
The episode is fascinating. Carroll's videos have been viewed well over 5 million times and have made it into countless blogs, Internet and TV news channels, and traditional print media. The man has reached a quite staggering number of potential United customers with a deeply embarrassing message, without the backing of large sums of money or a large PR organisation - in short, without any of the tools with which the corporate world is familiar. There is speculation that the recent drop in United's share price could be related to the campaign. although this strikes me at best as unscientific. In any case, United has apparently tasked one of its PR people to follow (and respond to) net chatter about the case, and is bracing itself for the promised 3rd and (they hope) final video in the series.
Carroll isn't your run-of-the-mill passenger, and United may feel unfortunate to have fallen foul of a man who, apart from appearing to be pleasant and reasonable, is clearly a reasonably talented musician. Worse, he just hasn't let go. The statement and Song 2 both express the view that United's efforts to "make this right" so far have been insufficient, thereby increasing the pressure on the company.
I am in no doubt that the PR departments of a great many high profile companies are watching this with intense interest, and preparing strategies for PR wars carried out over the Internet. Perhaps more importantly though, a great many CEOs and senior executives will hopefully be taking customer complaints about service much more seriously.
This may not be a completely unique phenomenon - ratings (of sellers, content, etc) have been around for a while - but it is the latest and most powerful expression of the new reality for businesses: the Internet has created tools for grass-roots-led commercial accountability of unprecedented power.

1 comment:

Maciek said...

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I have not heard about this guitarist before.... so it works!
I reply to your post on my blog!