This post officially launches my ‘Social Media Shit Disturber‘ series in which I profile consumers and activists who have masterfully deployed social media to make life very difficult for folks in corporate communications. Featured today is the first part of an interview with musician, producer, and now start-up entrepreneur, Dave Carroll – A man best known for launching the viral video that brought United Airlines to its knees it 2009.
United Breaks Guitars!
First, for those of you not among the 12 million+ people who have viewed this video, here’s a little history. In 2008, flying United Airlines from Halifax to Nebraska, musician Dave Carroll arrives to find his guitar damaged by careless baggage handlers. His many months of fruitless exchanges with United’s customer service drive him to record the following protest video, which Time Magazine has recognized as on of the top viral videos of 2009.
The collateral PR damage for the airline should be obvious. United did end up apologizing, offered compensation and claimed that the incident has led them to revise their customer service practices. Dave’s one man crusade, however, shows clearly how the balance of power between brands and consumers has radically shifted in the last few years thanks, in part, to the power of social media as a platform for outrage.
Here’s the original video below for your viewing pleasure.
My interview with Dave Carroll
Dave kindly took the time to answer my questions below. This is Part 1 of the interview as I will discuss Gripevine.com, Dave’s startup, in a following post.
Me: When you set out to record and film United Breaks Guitars, were you motivated by pure outrage or was this a calculated move to make the company react?
Dave Carroll: By the time we filmed UBG it was so long after the guitar being broken and 7 months after making the promise to even make the video so I was long past being outraged. The plan was to bring some attention to a serious issue and hopefully make United have to answer to its policies and poor customer service. I had no idea how much attention that video would garner though when we filmed it.
Me: Were you surprised by the buzz your video eventually created online and offline?
Dave Carroll: Yes I was very surprised. I believed, with all three videos, that I could reach one million hits combined because there were a lot of poor quality videos with more hits than that. I believed then as I do now that content is still king, and that if I made something that looked good, sounded good, and made people want to tell their friends about it, that I could reach 1 million. The energy behind the support of those who watched the video shocked me though. It was was a perfect storm of conditions so I can take some credit for what happened but a lot of it was circumstance and timing.
The United Breaks Guitars media empire
Not satisfied with having produced one smash video, Dave kept on going and recorded two additional music videos on his consumer experience, wrote a well-reviewed book and has started an online customer complaint platform (which I will cover soon). Below is a full catalogue of the media empire Dave has managed to create around his consumer protest movement: