Why You Must Deal With Negative PR

One unhappy customer has created a PR disaster for United Airlines

One unhappy customer has created a PR disaster for United Airlines

Have you seen the uber-popular YouTube video “United Breaks Guitars”?  I’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post so you can, it’s well worth 4:36 of your time to see this creative and funny look at poor customer service.  Seems Dave Carroll from the band Sons of Maxwell had his guitar broken while flying on United Airlines, and just a handful of days ago released a music video detailing his complaint. If we take what he says as truth, he spent a year trying to get some resolve and was repeatedly told “no”.  Personally I believe him because I’ve dealt with similar issues while traveling, and the corporate “no” is just too common.

If you run a business, big or small, you need to pay attention to what is happening in the world. The days of burying customer complaints are over, you need to develop a social media strategy to handle social media issues.

United Airlines has a mess on their hands, but they’re finally starting to deal with it. With over 2 million views of the “United Breaks Guitars” video as of this writing, United knows that they need to address this before they have an even bigger revolt on their hands.  Good news travels quickly, but bad news goes viral when creativity and humor are involved.  Armed with nothing more than a $200 HD video camera and a little bit of time and energy, an unhappy customer can share their story with millions of people, and that is not something you want to have to figure out how to respond to publically.

What You Can Do About It

  1. Monitor the social media space.  It’s critical that you know if your company or brand is mentioned, and there is no excuse for not having this information delivered to you.  Something as simple as Google Alerts allows you to monitor web spaces for mentions in blogs, tweets and forums and can be delivered to your Feed Reader or email.
  2. Respond quickly.  Notice I didn’t just say “respond”.  These days quick is necessary, although you don’t want to rush in and say something foolish.  If you are doing a good job of monitoring, you should be aware of most instances of your company being mentioned, and it takes 15 seconds to craft a response on Twitter…so do it! Dave thinks quick is a key element as well, he just posted a video response to United and mentions that they did respond, “generously but LATE…”
  3. Add value. Don’t just reply to inquiries or complaints with “I hear you”, add some value.  Direct the person to a resource that will be helpful to them, or if it’s within your power, tell them that you will check into it personally and then be sure to follow up.
  4. Be sincere. Social media is (for better and worse) a place of great transparency, and as such consumers can smell B.S. a mile away.  Don’t give lip service to your customers, treat them like you would like to be treated.

I recently spoke to a group of business owners about the need for a social media presence.  Many of them were struggling with the notion of stepping into the digital space, if for no other reason that they felt they couldn’t find the time to engage customers.  As we look at examples like “United Breaks Guitars” and dozens of other user generated “campaigns” , you need to ask yourself one question…

Can you afford to NOT have a social media presence?

By Matt Singley

Personal: husband to Alison, father to four amazing kids. I used to live a fast but enjoyable life in Los Angeles, now I have chickens on acreage in Charlotte, North Carolina. Just a bit different. I'm an advocate for cycling as much as you can and eating as cleanly as you can afford. Professional: I'm the CEO of Singley + Mackie, a creative digital agency that serves well-known lifestyle and entertainment companies around the world. Clients include Microsoft, Samsung, Hulu, YP and others. If you want to find the more-professional me, go to