Guitar breaks reputation

Previously, we spoke about how social media gives audiences a voice. Let’s look at an example of how powerful the consumer voice can be.

In March 2008, little know musician Dave Carroll was travelling from Halifax to Nebraska with United Airlines.  What began with unsatisfactory customer service from United has spiralled, making Carroll a household name and a pioneer for good customer service. All because of the power of social media.

On a stop-over in Chicago, a passenger witnessed a guitar being thrown by a baggage handler. Later Carroll found his $3 500 guitar was broken. For nine months Carroll tried to get compensation, and when he was denied, he promised to write three songs about his experiences with United.

Mishandling of a guitar caused a social media storm for United Airlines

Mishandling of a guitar caused a social media storm for United Airlines

United breaks guitars was born. The effect was phenomenal with the video surpassing 3 million views in the first 10 days. This was much more than making a complaint to the organisation. By taking his story to Youtube, Carroll insure that people all over the world could hear how unhappy he was with United’s service.

It certainly worked, with some reports stating that the video lost United Airways $180million in share value. However, the causality of these claims has been questioned. Regardless of monetary loss, it cannot be denied that United Airway’s reputation has been severely damaged by the video.

The video has become a world-wide sensation, and now has over 13 million views. As promised, two more instalments of the saga have been written and recorded, another in 2009 and the final video in 2010. With so many people now turning to social media for purchasing decision, the question begs to be asked: how many people have not flown united because of this video?

United break guitars is a prime example of why organisations need to pay attention to social media. Social media provides a platform where people are able to pass judgement about topics that matter to them without their opinions being filtered (Harrison, 2011). Consequently, an organisation’s reputation can rely on what people are saying about them online.

Three words can sum up what public relations can learn from this case. Consumers will talk. Harnessing social media means that their voice is louder than before, and can be heard by many more people. While public relations can’t control what is said about them, organisations need to make sure they are aware of social media so they can quickly respond to any negative statements before they get out of control.


Harrison, K (2011) Strategic Public Relations: A practical guide to success. South Yarra: Palgrave MacMillian



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