If something can go wrong, it will.
This time-tested axiom, known popularly as Murphy’s Law, is well known to Online Reputation Management experts. And they have learned that when something goes wrong with a client’s online reputation, it must be dealt with firmly and swiftly, so things don’t go from bad to worse.
Mistakes happen, after all. Just ask the nice people over at United Airlines.
Back in 2008 United Airlines, one of the world’s largest air carriers, had something go wrong. It began with an honest, if careless, mistake and developed into a full-blown public relations disaster.
By the time it was over it spawned a viral video on YouTube, made the career of a fledgling musician, and left United embarrassed – but with no one to blame but themselves.
It could all have been avoided with an apology, and proper Online Reputation Management.
A Perfectly Good Guitar
Dave Carroll, one half of the Canadian music duo Sons of Maxwell, flew United from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Nebraska, with a connecting flight at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. As the plane sat on the O’Hare tarmac, passengers noticed that United baggage handlers were carelessly throwing luggage, including Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor guitar. To Carroll’s horror, the guitar was destroyed.
“Musicians and their instruments have a close relationship,” he said . “Sometimes closer than a spouse…when you see that broken, and from mishandling, it’s pretty upsetting.” For most of the next year he devoted a lot of time trying to get United to own up to the problem, and reimburse him. Instead, the airline ignored him.
So Dave Carroll did what he does best: he wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars,” turned it into a $150 video, and posted it to YouTube. A humorous telling of what went wrong, the video went viral. In just four days, millions of YouTube viewers saw Dave Carroll’s account, and were squarely on his side.
“Big bully companies can’t get away with treating customers like crap any more!” one of them said. “I feel very sorry for Dave and his Taylor guitar,” said another. “I am NEVER ever going to fly United.”
Facing The Music
“United Breaks Guitars” hit United like a roundhouse punch; their stock dropped by ten percent, a value of some $180 million. NBC-TV later said the song’s power was that it complained, but remained respectful. By the time the airline was ready to face the music, Dave Carroll said all he really wanted was for United to admit they screwed up, and the airline finally did.
“The guitar that got broken,” Carroll said, “I got fixed.”
Clearly, what United Airlines needed was effective Online Reputation Management. Ignoring the problem did not make it go away. The incident remains a modern day David and Goliath story: one man, aided by the power of social media, took on a mega-company and won.
It also illustrates a hard truth: when something goes wrong, own it – and minimize the damage to your reputation.
Companies should have Online Reputation Management strategies ready and waiting, but many don’t. “There’s a real lack of preparedness,” according to Kate Cooper, the managing director of social media agency Bloom Worldwide. “It’s only when a PR crisis arises that the importance of a response plan hits home and, by that time, it’s often too late.”
Reputation Management strategies can prevent a small problem from growing into a full-blown public relations disaster. The higher the company’s public profile, the more important those strategies are.
- Act Promptly. United Airlines’ big mistake was turning a blind eye to Dave Carroll’s complaints. People like Carroll are paying customers, and the ones most affected by a problem. They want resolution, and they want them fast.
- Manage the Crisis. The tail doesn’t wag the dog; never let it drive your actions. Take charge and act promptly, instead of taking a wait-and-see attitude.
- Deal With It. Whatever the problem, accept that it might be your fault. Get the facts and deal with them head-on.
- Social media gives your critics a high profile, so take to the Internet with your version of the issues. Encourage a dialogue to clearly communicate what happened, and what you’re doing to resolve the issue. Use your company website, blog, press releases, and social media pages.
- Follow Through. Once you’ve addressed the matter with words, make sure you deliver, and use social media to make sure your critics know you’ve responded appropriately.
Fifteen Million and Counting
Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars” video is still on YouTube. At last count it had more than fifteen million views, and nearly eighty-nine thousand “likes.” The songwriter has parlayed the incident into something of a cottage industry, with follow-up songs, speaking engagements about customer service, and even a book, United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media.
“The beauty of social media,” Carroll observes, “is that it allows you to share your message with everybody.”
Indeed it does. And the lesson is, don’t be like United Airlines. Don’t wait until your company’s reputation has taken a serious hit before you act. Disgruntled customers can and will strike back.
The Internet, and social media in particular, represents a paradigm shift; the relationship between companies and their customers is changed forever.
The services of a Reputation Management company can be an enormous help. Talk to the professionals at InternetReputation.com to learn about effective Online Reputation Management solutions. credit-n.ru