Avoiding social media baptisms of fire: if nothing else, just listen. Pretty please.

by Steve Seager on July 12, 2009 . Views: 42

Oh dear, yet another business gets hit with the social media suckerpunch. Dell were the pioneers in underestimating the power of social media. But they recovered nicely. Motrin have been there, as have Domino’s Pizza and many others. Now it’s the turn of United Airlines.

Finally social baptism of fire

You can read a little more here, but in short, one musician gets his guitar thrown around by UA in transit, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. He tries for 9 months (without success) to get a reasonable response, decent customer service, and fails.

Finally, in return he vows to make 3 videos telling the world that ‘United Breaks Guitars. Video number one hits 2.4 million views to date and thousands of negative comments. Mass media coverage ensues. Canadian Broadcast Corporation calls. Even Oprah calls. God knows how much this negative publicity of poor customer care has cost. And two more videos to go yet.

I guess this baptism of fire (and I’m sure they will become even more commonplace in 2009) helps reiterate a few key social media learnings:

You do not have control

Unlike in good old fashioned mass media, brands do not have control. It’s the first and only channel in which consumers have the potential reach to rival even the biggest of brands. Let that sink in for a minute.

You do have influence

Even if you are not engaging just yet, listen! It’s free! Grab half a dozen key words relevant to your business (your name, for starters) and set up Google Alerts. Do a blog search and Twitter search your good self. Keep listening.

And remember, it’s still just business

This United Airlines story is not actually a story about social media. It’s about being responsive to your customer’s needs and concerns. Things really have changed. C2C exists. It has real business impact. Online public relations is not about publicity per se. It’s about relationships with your public(s). Core business, matey.

P.S. On a nice note, finally, UA have responded. They use the almost famous musician’s video below internally to demonstrate the importance of prompt customer service. Nice!

P.P.S I really hate country music.

Updates: who still doesn’t get it getting it?

29th July 2009 Horizon apartment saga. Fave quote: “we are a sue first, ask questions later kind of organisation.” PR master class.

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