United Feels the Pain When Complaints Go Viral

Last Updated Jul 8, 2009 10:37 AM EDT

If United ever needed a reason to take every customer complaint seriously, Dave Carroll and his guitar have provided one. This should actually be a good lesson for those airlines that still think social media isn't important.

Dave is a musician with Sons of Maxwell, and in the spring of 2008, he took his guitar with him on the road. He checked the guitar, got on the plane, and then watched helplessly as a baggage handler tossed his guitar around like a rag doll. The guitar was broken, and after nine months of going back and forth, United refused to pay for the damages. He decided to write a song.

In the past, a little-known musician wouldn't really be able to broadcast his message widely. Sure, he could try to talk to newspapers to pick up the story, but a song like that probably wouldn't get much coverage. Maybe the locals would pick it up, but he's from Northern Ontario, Canada. My guess is that bad news about Air Canada would certainly drown out anything on United up there. He could tell some friends, but the story isn't interesting enough to spread beyond them, and they wouldn't exactly be sending CDs to everyone they knew. He could complain to the DOT, but that would just show up as a little number in the public data.

Now, things are different. Thanks to YouTube, Dave was able to put his video out there for everyone to see. Take a look for yourself:

It didn't take long for social media sites to pick up on this story. The Consumerist published the story, and at last check it had over 30,000 views. It also found its way to the top of Reddit. I've received emails from three people about it, and I had someone share it with me in Google Reader. It's taking off, and United gets to feel the pain.

Let this be a lesson. Now anyone can have a global audience.