Friday, July 10, 2009

playing hooky

a few of my followers know that years ago, i managed a rock n' roll band, thinking that it'd be a good way of combining fun and profit. after too much of the former and not nearly enough of the latter, i came to my senses and decided to pursue slightly more lucrative, if somewhat less melodius, work -- work which, it turned out, involved a fair amount of air travel and being subject to the poor customer service of the airlines. i think perhaps the soft spot i still have in my heart for musicians, coupled with my glee that finally an airline is being taken to task over its bad treatment of customers, are combining to keep me absolutely glued to the amazing social media frenzy that is the story of dave carroll and united breaks guitars.

(see video, right)

unless you've been under the same rock you might have been under during the susan boyle craze, you've probably heard about this. dave carroll, a musician travelling between halifax and nebraska, saw united airlines baggage handlers at o'hare tossing around his guitar and other equipment. he says his $3600 taylor guitar was broken as a result, and that united gave him the runaround for a year on his claim for damages. he finally had the guitar repaired for $1200 at his own expense, and decided he'd tell the world his story via a series of songs & videos.

his goal was to get 1 million youtube views in a year. this first video in the series was posted 4 days ago and he's already got nearly 1.5 million views and 15,000 comments, the vast majority of which are along the lines of "you go, dave!"

it should be noted that dave's is not nearly the first video to dis united. there are, in fact, several videos about the airlines treatment of musical instruments, which collectively have a few hundred views, and another regarding a bad travel day for a decidedly offbeat individual who goes by the name of nutcheese that's racked up nearly 50,000 views. so why all this mania now?

one of the things you learn when you're a band manager is that people would rather hear a hooky little tune a thousand times than some other songs even once. and dave's song is as hooky as they get, which is why after you've heard it once you can't get it out of your head until you hear something else equally hooky, say, like the pants song.

also, unlike nutcheese, dave is not a nut case. he is, however, quite possibly a test case. the social media bloggers have been all over this one, with a variety of points of view. my favorite conversation so far, i think, has got to be the one on seth simond's blog, where seth basically makes the assertion that dave could be fibbing, didn't follow united's established rules for reporting the damage, and suggests that it's not right that an individual can hijack social media to take a company to task in this way. he had a few folks agree with him (i wasn't one of them), suggesting that the situation points up the need for pr and communications folks to plan in advance how to handle these occurrences. many seemed to think (again, i'm not one of them) that united should have responded with a funny video of its own vs. caving to the pressure.

why my opposite point of view? because in my mind, united was playing hooky, too, but in a different way. they were nowhere on this subject -- that is, anywhere but engaging with their unhappy customer -- for a year. and when they did finally engage, they chose to avoid all responsibility. perhaps, as i pointed out in my comments to seth, if they had done something ... ANYTHING ... to help dave with the problem, he wouldn't have been so motivated to create the song. dave says as much in his write-up about the debacle.

now united says they're wanting to use this as an internal training vehicle. i can't help but wonder if that means they'll be training their agents to ask things like "are you a musician?" "can you sing?" "do you plan to use social media to fry us if we don't help you?" vs. really empowering people to do the right thing and put the customer first ... or at least, not leave him alone on the hook.

1 comment:

Susan Boettcher said...

Hi, Monica! Delurking. I think United has been playing hooky for a lot longer than the time it took them to ignore Dave Carroll. Sites like have been documenting problems at United for a decade. The reason the video went viral is that everyone has either had this experience or knows someone who has. For me the marketing moral here is that if you want to avoid situations like this you need a product or service you can stand behind. United serves a largely captive audience with a product /service that many of its members find inadequate. Hard to see how marketing could be used to successfully sell something that doesn't exist (the idea that United cares about its customers and wants to make things right when it messes up) or how United could market its substandard product successfully.

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