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.