This blog is a random collection of information, partly in support of my quotations web site (note: relocated to new URL, June 23/09). Other topics include wine, military news, economics, history, libertarianism, and other random things which happen to strike my fancy. Backup site is at (if there are no posts showing, hit the backup blog for explanation). Comments have been turned off, as the spam was getting too much to handle. Comments can be posted on the new site (still under construction) at, where I'm cross-posting most items as of July 10th.

July 15, 2009

This genie is well and truly out of the bottle

United Airlines has a public image problem, and they've made it worse by their less-than-scintillating performance in response to the Sons of Maxwell video "United Breaks Guitars":

Besides being genuinely funny, it's a great example of viral revenge, the flip side of viral marketing. The video accompanies a song by the band Sons of Maxwell that describes how United Air Lines' baggage handlers carelessly treated band members' checked instruments. A valuable guitar belonging to band leader Dave Carroll was broken. For over a year, United repeatedly declined his requests for compensation.

That's when the band turned to social media for revenge, posting its complaint on YouTube. United Breaks Guitars has a catchy tune, clever lyrics and memorable images. The video has gone viral and broken the band out of relative anonymity. After only three days, it had almost 1.5 million views and 10,000 comments, virtually all siding with the band. The story was picked up by CNN, NPR and CBS.

Faced with this social media juggernaut, United dropped the ball. It issued a single tweet stating, "This has struck a chord w/us and we've contacted him directly to make it right." So far, the company hasn't posted a response on YouTube or its own Web site. Dave Carroll knows how to take full advantage of the power of social media. United doesn't, and the cost is a PR nightmare.

Viral marketing was one of the innovations that corporations were initially well-positioned to take advantage of: they had the technology, the connections, and the money to push something into the public consciousness, yet leave a question in the public mind. Now that the tools are available to literally everyone with an internet connection, the corporate advantage has vaporized . . . in fact, the advantage is now clearly with the individuals or small groups, who don't need corporate approval to go ahead with their plans. A corporation, like United Airlines, is unable to move fast enough to keep up with guerilla marketing as conducted by people like the Sons of Maxwell.

Viral revenge is powerful. If your own organization faces a PR nightmare in social media, don't fall prey to a "Least said, soonest mended" mind-set. Not when profits are down and competition is high. Respond quickly and effectively, or be prepared to face the music. Over 3 million times, and counting.

Posted by Nicholas at July 15, 2009 09:05 PM

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