United Breaks Guitars

Or “When ORM (Online Reputation Management) fails”

When an unsatisfied customer uses digital media to publicize a complaint over a company – the typical negative client to client communication – the extent of the reach of this communication can be totally uncontrollable.

After having his guitar broken in a United airlines flight and refused any compensation, singer Dave Carroll released a music video titled “United brakes guitars”. When in a few months it got over a million views on Youtube United started reconsidering the case and when it got about 3 million views in a week, United decided to offer a full compensation. This video was one of the first of its kind that gone viral really fast and case studies were developed to analyse the phenomenal influence it had. 

Today the specific YouTube clip has over 16 million views, over 97.000 likes and over 21.000 mostly negative comments on United Airlines customer services and some presenting similar negative experiences. The multiplier effect a negative publicity can get is huge and can reach a vast audience negatively influencing the subject company. This is what affects profits really fast. A bad customer experience is always possible to occur, this is why an equally fast reaction is required to be prepared by the corresponding communications department to reduce the damage to a minimum level as due to the uncontrollable nature of the phenomenon, even the viability of the company can be endangered if neglected. When something that powerful is most likely and easy to happen it is not an issue of prediction it is an issue of preparation.