Social Media PR Disasters: “United Airlines break Guitars”

Not sure where I sourced this from, I had written this a while ago. However, see here a case study of a social media DISASTER now well known as United Airlines break Guitars. It is the  story of an airline who just couldn’t bring themselves to handle the situation properly when it was a small problem – and from here it became a bad case of the ‘too little too late’s”.

Social media has given brands previously unmatched access to consumers, but some people still forget that the customers also have access to those same communication tools. Brands need to ensure that they respond in the right way, to avoid some serious public backlash like what United Airlines received after their less than professional handling of the “Sons of Maxwell” incident.

In 2008, the Sons of Maxwell, a rock group led by David Carroll, witnessed baggage handlers throwing their guitars on the tarmac whilst waiting to board a United Airlines flight to Chicago. On arrival, he found that his $3,500 Taylor guitar had been broken. Carroll, despite claiming that the guitar had lost some of its unique sound through the bad handling, was simply asking for $1,200 to repair his guitar. He pursued compensation from United Airlines for 9 months, but fault was denied and any assistance, compensation or even apology was rejected.

So what did Carroll do? To take matters further, he wrote a song about the incident and posted the music video on YouTube. After three days, it had received over 500,000 views and some serious iTunes popularity, and has now reached almost 12 million views on YouTube! Carroll then wrote two more modest hits about the incident and United Airlines.

Within the first day, United Airlines apologized through Twitter. However, no mention was made on Facebook or their public release Facebook tab. United Airlines also failed to respond to any negative comments on their YouTube channel, and as a result negative sentiment increased exponentially. Eventually, the airline made amends by donating $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute, as Carroll requested, however no resulting improvement was seen in luggage handling.

Carroll eventually began giving speeches on customer service to corporations around the country. He even flew United Airlines again, though the airline lost his luggage on a flight to Denver. Social Media Today concluded that “United Airlines did follow the first rule of crisis communications by apologizing and trying to make amends.  It’s their failure to leverage and integrate their online channels that is at issue.”

From this mess of a Social Media PR story, three lessons can be learnt. Firstly, using owned media could have saved the airline a large amount of negativity. They own the Facebook page and YouTube channel however failed to handle the situation at all on either of these sites.

Secondly, immediate response can stop the large outbreak of negativity before it even happens. How many millions of negative comments on YouTube need to be posted to get a company response? In the ideal world – only one. Immediate Response on all channels will let the community know that you have dealt with the issue. As a result, people will not retaliate as much against the initial scenario as a resolution has been reached.

Finally, it is important for companies to understand that sometimes change needs to be made. If this meant that United Airlines reviewed baggage handling procedure, then so be it. This change would have led to a much better outcome to the situation.

Good customer service doesn’t always stay with us, but bad customer service does.


Case Study: Brisbane Tickets


For three weeks in September, the Brisbane Festival spreads across the city catering for all audiences with a mix of music, theatre, dance, circus, comedy, opera and more. The Festival has had the same website since 2009, and whilst re-skinned every year the back end was virtually unchanged. Brisbane Festival engaged a hometown digital agency “Bigfish” to help with its digital strategy.

The objectives were clear. The website needed to represent fun, excitement and diversity appropriately, a uniting of these brands (to help represent what Brisbane Festival stands for) and increase multiple ticket purchases. Brisbane Festival also required a new app for 2012 for iPhone and Android, as the current version did not provide experience or any reason to download.

Bigfish decided to take a different approach to a typical arts marketing strategy, by making Brisbane Festival feel like Big Day Out or Splendour in the Grass, where people buy tickets for the whole Festival experience rather than specific artists. Whilst many large acts sold tickets on their own, the festival was made of a multitude of lesser-known acts that also deserve their place in the limelight; this format would allow the whole experience to be added into the price. The digital agency decided to build the website with this concept in mind: a poster listing all acts that users can share and create conversation about on social media. The app included more engaging features like QR codes, itinerary builders and a check in facility to enhance customer experience.

To execute this plan, Bigfish positioned catchy key words over transparent images to help create excitement about each of the acts. The agency also embedded easily accessible mini-video segments within the website layout to showcase the performances, made the homepage customisable for better user experience and responsive in layout to adapt its layout for a computer, phone or tablet.

The app was broken down in five functions, which all integrate with social media platforms. These features included photo tools, the festival feed, dynamic maps; check in functions and direct links to the mobile site to buy tickets.

Results were astounding. The website has helped deliver higher than expected ticket sales for the 2012 season. Visits increased by nearly 50% to more than 583,000 visits, and unique visitors increased by 42%, each visit lasted close to three minutes, with page views increasing to 1.5 million. There were 11,000 downloads, a 40% increase on the previous year and Facebook likes increased 170% and Twitter followers by 64%. Ticket sales also increased swiftly, with a 75% increase in pre-sale tickets and 15% more tickets sold than the previous year. Overall, more than 90 individual performances sold out, with ticket sales exceeding $1.25 million and more than 30,000 itineraries have been created via the itinerary builder, with 2666 tickets purchased as part of the multi-tix offer.

This shows how digital media and marketing can be used to reach business objectives. In this case, the Brisbane Festival was aiming to increase sales and adoption of the new ticketing option.

For more information and videos on this – check out the case studies section of Marketing Mag here. This case study has been summarized from the Marketing Mag website.

Game-changers talk breakthroughs | Marketing Week 2012

The panel for this session included: Sean Cummins, John McLaren, Peter Withy, Paul Unerkov & Sudeep Gohil.

A morning full of marketing and advertising heavyweights could not have played out better! This insightful discussion was themed around ‘how breakthrough campaigns change marketers thinking’. The discussion began with analysis of the sustainability of flash-mobs.

Continue reading at Game-changers talk breakthroughs | Marketing Week 2012.

Kevin Malloy gazes into future media evolution | Marketing Week 2012

Starcom Worldwide Coca-Cola Global Client Director Kevin Malloy talks about the changing digital landscape and what we can expect by 2020…

This is my recount of a presentation at Marketing Week – MICON

continue reading at Kevin Malloy gazes into future media evolution | Marketing Week 2012.

MICON Mobster: Josh – that’s me!

Hi all I’m Josh, one of the MICON Mobsters for the 2012 Marketing Week! For those twitter users, you can call me @JoshuaWhiteSM. Not only am I looking forward to hearing all the insights and trends from leading professionals at the event, but I’m also excited to get my Social Media on by bringing you all the updates via Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and of course this blog.

For those who are interested: I am a final year Bachelor of Commerce student at Adelaide University majoring in Marketing and Psychology. I started in just Psychological Science degree but then realized soon after that my passion lies in Marketing and Communications. Since my change in pathway I have worked in the Marketing Department for Adelaide City Council and started up my own business in Social Media called The Social Tree as a way to develop my skills and knowledge in the industry.

I am an avid blogger, social media-holic and marketing legend wannabe, who is extremely happy to be a part of the MICON Mob. The knowledge that I hope to gain from the range of different speakers will be invaluable to me progression into the industry – and I cant wait!

To see the Marketing Week blog – check out


Be whatever you want, anywhere in the world!

With the Olympics Games in London taking over everybody’s lives, it has become apparent to me through both the big event itself as well as the things that have happened as a result that show that great things happen from small things. This is a mindset that should very much be taken on by Marketers.

Great things are not only happening in the sports of the games, but also in the things have been inspired by the event. DJ Mark Ronson and Katy B have created the Coca-Cola song of the Games, which has been created by using many sounds which are made from the various sports of the games. Athletes training or performing have had sounds extracted from these activities by Mark Ronson and paired with the vocals of Katy B. There was an inspiring documentary that I was watching of all this on channel 9 which showed the making of the song and how the sounds were extracted.

I finally heard the song only as part of the clip which you can find on the Coca Cola Facebook page (clip attached). The song was paired with a clip of the song Live, which included the athletes making the noises live putting on a show next to one of the Olympic stadiums. I was inspired by the end product and it made me wonder where the idea came from.

A small little idea. A little thought, that then after being properly analysed was found to be a great idea. This great idea with the backing of people who believed it was great as well led to this compilation of sound becoming an inspirational idea.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is not the only scenario in which this concept can flourish. Marketer’s are always faced with scenarios requiring some creativity. Could such a small idea like the one in this clip turn into such a large end product? Who knows! But seriously considering all reasonable ideas and being willing to take educated risk, then you as a Marketer are likely to see some very small thoughts (that at first seemed like nothing) turn into a great end product which led to flourishing business.

MESSAGE TAKEOUT: Give all ideas a chance. Think about the feasibility and expansion of even the smallest ideas.

Click through to the link to see what I call inspiring.