It’s a much reported story, Dave Carroll flew United, put his guitar into the luggage, the guitar was damaged, and United were unwilling to compensate him for his loss. He tells the story much better in song on YouTube – here, in case you’re not one of the four million people who have already seen it.

Various reports point to a dive in United’s share price, which in these times no-one wants to see, and it’s often quoted as being a 10% drop. Well last year we saw the stock price financial services firms drop more than that in an afternoon, but still – it is not something any company wants to happen.

Much is being made of the transformative nature of consumer power due to social media, and while that has had an effect I’m not sure that it’s as great as some are saying.

In this diagram (and data is from wikiinvest) the arrow points to the date Dave Carroll launched his song “United Breaks Guitars” on YouTube. What you can see on the graph is that

  • the share price recovers quite quickly, surpassing it’s 6 July level by 15 July
  • the share price drops from 3.34 on 6 June to 3.18 on 9 June

Various commentators have talked about a 10% drop, but looking at day closing figures the drop is less than 5%.

Almost every article I’ve seen takes the angle that big companies better watch out because now everyone can put up their protest on YouTube and this will affect your share price.

I don’t think so.

Dave Carroll has talent, he’s an award-winning musician, he has the ability and resources to create an amusing video – and humour is a key component in a video going viral. An earlier video complaining about United has collected 112,000 views since being loaded to YouTube in April 2008 – and I suspect many of those views are recent since it’s now a related video to the Dave Carrol video (16 of the 40 pages of comments are from the last two weeks).

I don’t think all of us have the power to do what Dave Carroll did. That does not mean that companies should ignore social media, it’s pretty hard to imagine how Dave Carroll could have got an audience of 4M to a music video so quickly before YouTube. Even the old post it on a website and forward the email link would have been a lot slower – and before email? You would have needed to get it onto TV.

So social media makes a difference in the delivery channel, and the Dave Carroll story shows that United Airlines – the big company – had plenty of opportunity to get things right.

  • train your baggage handlers, reward them as a group for safe transfer of fragile baggage
  • give your first line staff the power to resolve a complaint for a customer
  • make solving customer complaints a first priority for your managers
  • when something does go wrong, rise above it, get your executives involved in a really great response.

Imagine if Glen Tilton, CEO of United Airlines, had given Dave Carroll a replacement guitar – with a tiny “sponsored by United Airlines” logo in it. They would have had a PR win on their hands, not a share prices dip.


Post Script:
Someone was smart enough to make a PR moment out of it. Bob Taylor CEO of Taylor Guitars created a video to help all guitarists about travelling with guitars.


Image guitar via pixabay


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