'United Breaks Guitars' Viral Video Gets Counterpunched!

The infamous 'United Breaks Guitars' video that went viral with over 5.2 million views is now receiving some push back from an airline branding company. SimpliFlying, an international marketing firm based out of Singapore has filmed their own editorial video to provide United Airlines with some useful social media tips as to how to counter this negative publicity.

According to a recent article in the NY Times, irate and disgruntled airline travelers "are finding that if you really want to vent your frustrations, you can now be loud and fast and public," on YouTube and other social networking sites. In the war of words (and visuals), beleaguered airlines are fighting more and more public relations battles online than ever in the past. As customer-generated content becomes easier and easier to assemble and post on sites like YouTube, all brands run the risk of receiving negative feedback just as quickly as their customer service levels falter. 

In a previous blog titled "Top Ten Branded Social Media Nightmares," I wrote about the Halifax pop-singer Dave Carroll who had his guitar critically damaged by United's baggage handlers at Chicago O'Hare Airport in the spring of 2008. His clever lyrics and professional video not only received instant notoriety, it was a boost to his musical career. Take a look at his complaint here...

On August 21, 2009, Shashank Nigam, the founder and CEO of SimpliFlying felt the need to support United Airlines by providing them with some free advice. In a carefully crafted backstory, Shashank describes the steps that led up to the creation of his 'counterpoint' video titled 'United Breaks Guitars - the Answer'.

Shashank NigamShashank NigamWhen interviewing Shashank this week, he stated that "the video creatively suggests ways United can handle the crises. But the message really is meant for all brands, trying to handle social media nightmares of this type." The lyrics co-written by Nigam and Jamiel, an up-and-coming music sensation in Singapore is an upbeat ballad that provides a  haunting refrain that underscores Dave Carroll's notoriety: "5 million views and a YouTube Star."

The social media advice that Nigam provides in his enlightening lyrics is instructional advice. While its been said that all publicity is good publicity, in the social media space this tenant doesn't hold up. As it stands over 5+ million people have already formed an opinion about United's handling of this situation, and many I'm sure have chosen not to fly United because of it.

Following some simple steps, the lyrics by Nigam and Jamiel are a straightforward way for United to address this issue:
  • Apologize to your customers when you err
  • Listen to your customers
  • Ask your customer what you could have done better
  • Don't ignore those that comment on your error
  • Interact with your customers on Facebook and other social networking sites
  • Show how you have improved
  • Post all your training videos on YouTube
  • Paste Dave's photo with slogan; "Another guitar saved today"
  • "Ms. Irlweg… get featured in Dave’s upcoming video!"
Ms. Irlweg, United's customer service rep who rejected Carroll's request for a replacement guitar Ms. IrlwegMs. Irlwegbased on the fact it was outside of United's baggage responsibility terms was used as a punching bag in Carroll's video. In Nigam's video, he provides her with a suggestion as to how she can turn this lemon into lemon-aide... "Ms. Irlweg… get featured in Dave’s (next) video." 

And that last point is the most poignant, since Carroll promised Ms. Irlweg that if he did not receive satisfaction, he would produce 2 more videos. And guess what... time is up, Ms. Irlweg, 'United Breaks Guitars - Part Two' was released on August 17, 2009.

So in essence, Mr. Carroll has counterpunched the counterpunchers! Looks like the ball's back in your court, United. Things move mighty quickly in the social media space. Revenge is best served cold on YouTube, but so is turning a crisis around. Let's get to work United, and act on some of those social media suggestions laid out by SimpliFlying. And while you're at it, you might think of hiring Shashank Nigam and his team for taking the time and money to help you out with sound, free advice.

Aug 28, 2009
by Anonymous

Yes United, please hire

Yes United, please hire these guys because we ALL KNOW HOW HELPFUL CUSTOMER SUPPORT IS FROM INDIA...what a joke...they always read from a script and don't help with anything technical like computers.

I always laugh when they have a really thick accent and tell me their name is bob smith how can I help you...ya right...

Aug 30, 2009
by Anonymous

What's this got to do with Indians? You seem confused.

What's this got to do with Indians? You seem confused.