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If a Broken Guitar can cause an Airline to Crash, what disaster is waiting for you?

November 12, 2010

Dave Carroll took a United Airlines flight to Nebraska with his band, Sons of Maxwell, and his fancy $3500 Taylor guitar. Enroute, the plane landed in Chicago where Dave saw baggage handlers throwing his guitar around. One can only guess the ground crew were Bull’s fans.

Dave spent the next nine months trying to get some kind of compensation out of the airline only to discover that, while the baggage handlers like basketball, the rest of the airline preferred ice hockey and continually to passed the buck. Eventually they said no compensation would be forthcoming.

Dave went to the only place he could to vent his frustration – the Internet. He promised United he would write 3 songs, record them and post the videos onto YouTube. The first video was all he really needed to do. It’s had nearly 10,000,000 views (to date) and as a result of the negative word-of-mouth generated by social media channels, United Airlines lost 10% of their share value – approximately $180,000,000.

This situation was the result of many mistakes but the containment of the problem comes down to a couple of key failings from United Airlines’ PR team. There was no effective disaster management strategy, they were not actively engaged in using social media as an online tool and they failed to update their online newsroom with any information on the unfolding situation.

The ‘ostrich strategy’ of keeping your head in the sand and waiting for it to blow over clearly didn’t work in this situation. This case clearly demonstrates the need for companies to be part of the conversation. It also strongly suggests the need to have a properly specified and resourced online newsroom that can be used as part of the response to a disaster.

Interestingly, Qantas adopted almost the exact same attitude towards social media in it’s recent A380 engine problem – http://www.tnooz.com/2010/11/04/news/qantas-a380-incident-a-lesson-in-social-media-and-web-pr/

Dave Carroll’s video see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

For more on the United Airlines incident see http://socialmediatoday.com/index.php?q=SMC/109126

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