Online Reputation Management: Listening May Have Prevented United Crisis

When Canadian singer Dave Carroll boarded a United Airlines flight, he faced a musician’s worst nightmare: Baggage handlers broke his Taylor acoustic guitar. After a year of failed attempts of trying to get some compensation from United, Carroll used his singing skills to finally get noticed. Carroll’s YouTube video “United Breaks Guitars” has received over 14 million views, and its immense popularity created a crisis situation for United Airlines. Today, many online reputation managers use “United Breaks Guitars” as a case study for how a brand should respond in a similar situation.

If I were United’s Online Reputation Manager and Carroll had reached out to me via social media, I would have responded to his complaint immediately. A timely and compassionate response can often turn the tide in a social media complaint. Many times customers just want to feel like they have been acknowledged, so a response could prevent a complaint from turning into a full-blown crisis. It’s important to have a time frame for social media responses in place. It maybe different for every company, but for an airline, I would expect a customer to have a response within a couple hours of making a complaint or inquiry.

United Breaks Guitars, online reputation management, social media, Crisis management, United Airlines

Even if Carroll had taken to other methods of communication and I was unaware of his complaint until the YouTube video was produced, I would have used social media listening tools (Google Alerts) so I would have known that a complaint was out there. Once again, if United had been listening and responded to the video in a timely fashion, some of the backlash may have been avoided.

If I wasn’t using social listening tools and was completely blindsided by Carroll’s video, then I would go into crisis management mode. I would start by releasing a press release apologizing to Carroll that his complaint hadn’t been resolved. I would iterate that his experience with United was not the typical customer experience and it wasn’t the standard of customer satisfaction that United hoped to achieve. I would then assure Carroll and all other customers that their satisfaction was important to the United brand, and the brand would do everything in its power to rectify the situation. I would share a link to the press release on all of United’s social media pages.

After releasing the press release, I would create a YouTube video in response to Carroll’s video. Once again, I would apologize for his negative experience and say that it’s not the typical United experience. A simple apology and acknowledging mistakes can make a brand appear more human, and can prevent fallout from a crisis scenario. I would also highlight what the brand strives to provide in terms of customer experience to put a positive light back on the brand. Finally, I would let Carroll and all other customers know how we planned to rectify the situation. This transparency goes a long ways with customers.

Great customer service doesn’t stop after the initial response. I would check in with Carroll via social media to make sure the situation had been resolved. These continued interactions show your customers that their service and happiness really is important to the brand. Had United followed these steps, some of the crisis fallout could have been avoided.


4 thoughts on “Online Reputation Management: Listening May Have Prevented United Crisis

  1. Great post! I think this whole situation is so funny. I literally laughed out loud when watching the video and picturing poor United scrambling to manage it. It was so poorly managed that honestly, anything would have been better. I think you have great ideas and techniques to do damage control. I think if I were United, I would have really tried to be a good sport about the situation and made light of it where I could. I think people would have had more respect for that tactic that asking for the video to be removed, which seems cowardly and insensitive.

    • Thanks Lesley! Looking at the situation now, it’s so easy to point out all the ways that United went wrong. In their defense, this video was the first of its kind and they probably didn’t have a plan in place for this type of situation. Even without a plan, we are social media managers and have to handle unexpected events a lot better than United did! I have seen some pretty creative ideas about how United could have teamed with the band to solve their problems. You’re right, making light of the situation (where and when possible) would have been a better tactic than asking for the video to be removed. That just makes it look like the airlines has something to hide.

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