If you aren’t one of the 4 million people who have already watched this video, take a quick look. Its a song about how Dave Carroll, a musician, had his guitar broken by my former employer, United Airlines. (The back-story is here http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/story/united-breaks-guitars if you’re interested.)

Think about it, this video has been viewed on the Internet over 4 MILLION TIMES! That’s a lot of press. Steve Jobs would kill for that type of coverage for his iPhone. It shows us how powerful the medium of video can be when put in the right hands.

Dave’s creative way of making this situation known, and having some fun while doing it, paid off and got him the attention he needed to get United to pay for a new guitar.  Its also pretty obvious that Dave isn’t stupid. He used this video to create exposure for his brand (himself) which was probably his motive in the first place. Another good use of social media. If it worked for a working musician like Dave, think about how you could use this creatively for your own brand?

So, what’s the takeaway? What could have United done to avoid this PR nightmare?

First off, let me state that the general public only has this song and Dave’s side of the story. United has yet to publish a reply or response as to what really went down. This alone is something United PR Department might want to rethink. Transparency is the order of the day and people expect to hear both sides, right or wrong.

If United had hired a Social Media expert or had a SM Department, they might have avoided this mess altogether by catching it earlier. The expert would have been charged with monitoring the airwaves through tools like www.socialmention.com or http://search.twitter.com (where the video spread fast) and have seen the smoke before the flames blew out of control. That’s the other side of the social media coin, companies can use the same social media tools Dave used to monitor and take action early in the game when there’s trouble, but they have to be watching and aware.

What it all comes down to is: Treat your customers right in the first place. The best time to create a great customer experience for someone and make a lasting impression is when the customer is upset. From Dave’s point of view, he just wanted compensation for his broken guitar. For an airline that charges $12,000 for a round trip ticket to China from Chicago, I think they could have afforded to handle this with a bit more finesse. (Pun intended.) If they had taken care of the customer in the first place, this would have never happened. The best insurance is to put your customers first, especially in this day and age where word can spread quickly online about a bad experience.

I would love to think United could still have a sense of humor about it and have some kind of “musician’s discount” or a funny giveaway with a music theme. That might diffuse the situation a bit and show that they can play the game just like Dave did. I think United might want to think about creating a fun video which explained a little more in depth what really happened. In the end, I don’t think they will lose a massive quantity of customers over this, but this video isn’t going to go away unless they pull out the big guns and call the lawyers in. That wouldn’t look so good either. Let’s face it, this isn’t the first time this has happened to a musician on any airline and it won’t be the last. United just messed with the wrong one. We live in an age where there is no bad publicity. Maybe they should just hire Dave to do their next commercial or to be a regular entertainer in their on-board entertainment package. Wouldn’t hurt.

Personally, I think the guy should take www.petairways.com next time. He’d probably get a little more respect and some better customer service. They’ll probably even throw him a bone and scratch behind his ears. After all, isn’t that what most customers are looking for? Just a little more attention…

Dave, if you’re reading this, next time you fly you might want to rethink checking that guitar. Better yet, whip it out during the flight, get a video camera…well, you apparently know the rest…

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