Tag Archives: authentic communications

Brandemix Bonus Reel: Authentic Employer Branding

How can a company offer an authentic employer brand even during negative publicity? Director of Interactive Branding Jason Ginsburg shows how it’s done.

Social Media PR Disasters: “United Breaks Guitars”

Social media has given brands unprecedented access to its customers, but we may forget that the customers also have access to those same communication tools and are able to broadcast their messages to the world.

Sometimes those messages are critical of a company. How do brands respond? Over the next few months, I’ll look at the way brands have missed, or exploited, opportunities for good publicity. This week, we’ll see what happens when a little-known musician takes on a major airline.
The Brand
United Airlines
The Incident
In 2008, on a United Airlines flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, the Sons of Maxwell, a rock group led by David Carroll, witnessed baggage handlers throwing their guitars on the tarmac. When Carroll arrived at his destination, he found that his $3,5000 Taylor guitar had been broken. Carroll pursued compensation from United for nine months, but the company never took responsibility and ultimately denied his claim.
The Problem
Carroll wrote a song about the incident and posted the music video on YouTube. After three days, it had received over 500,000 views. (It currently has over 10 million). The song became a hit on iTunes as well. Carroll promised that two more songs about United’s poor customer service were on the way.
The Response
After just 18 hours, United began offering apologies through Twitter. However, the airline’s Facebook Page made no mention of the incident, and the Page’s press release tab, an obvious platform for communicating the company’s official response, provided no additional information. The United Airlines YouTube channel quickly filled up with negative comments, which the airline neither replied to nor removed. Eventually, the airline made amends by donating $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute (at Carroll’s request), but that action didn’t indicate an improvement in baggage handling or a change of policies.
The Result
Carroll’s second song, a faux love ballad for a United customer service rep, was less successful but still a modest hit. His third song, in which Carroll describes being contact by other passengers who had had poor experiences with United, was more conciliatory. Carroll eventually began giving speeches on customer service to corporations around the country. He even flew United again – though on a flight to Denver to give a presentation, the airline lost his luggage. And Social Media Today, following an analysis of the story, concluded that “United Airlines did follow the first rule of crisis communications by apologizing and trying to make amends.  It’s their failure to leverage and integrate their online channels that is at issue.”
The Takeaway
So what are the lessons from “United Breaks Guitars”?
Drive people to your own turf. United had the platforms to control the flow of information, but neglected its own Facebook Page and YouTube channel, letting critics take over.
Respond immediately. How many views must a critical video get before a company responds? Carroll’s song became popular so quickly that many companies would have struggled to keep up. But United had at least some of response before two days had passed.
If necessary, make the change: Look at how Delta changed its baggage policy for military personnel after an Army reservist posted a video about having to pay a fee to check a fourth bag on a flight home from Afghanistan. Other airlines quickly eliminated their own fee. The entire story took only a few days to be resolved.
As “United Breaks Guitars” shows, while great customer service rarely stays with us, bad customer service drives people to vent their frustrations online. Some of the most vicious – and popular – content on the internet involves consumers taking their revenge against brands that have wronged them. But brands can swing public opinion back in their favor by acting with speed, grace, and humility.

If The Shoe Fits: Social Media Lessons from Converse

   Mashable just published an interview with Geoff Cottrill, Chief Marketing Officer of Converse. One passage jumped out at me:
   One day he discovered that Converse had 8 million [Facebook] fans and was asked what the brand should do. “Nothing,” he replied.
   How counter-intuitive! While the interview goes on to show that Cottrill’s philosophy isn’t quite that meager, his strategy for Converse is very simple and effective. Here are the lessons you can take from the shoe company and apply to your own brand.
   Listen More Than You Talk
   Cottrill explains that he actually meant “Do nothing special,” meaning Converse should allow online conversations to go on without any assistance. “The bottom line is that in social media you have to let go,” he tells Mashable, pointing out that the era of one-way communication is over. Studies have shown that people “Unlike” brands on Facebook when they post too often and broadcast too much promotional material. Allow your customers to come to you and address their concerns. If you just link to your own press releases, people will stay away.


   Give Things Away
   Knowing that rock musicians have a history of wearing Converse shoes to express their “individuality and independence,” the company is about to open a recording studio in Brooklyn, which it will rent to new bands for free; Cottrill promises that the musicians won’t even be asked to promote Converse in their work. You may not be able to offer a recording studio, but you can still hold giveaways and contests on your Twitter feed, Facebook Page, or blog. Give everyone who votes in your online poll a chance to win a small gift card or one of your less expensive products. You can also give away white papers, e-books, or other premium content.   Focus on Core Marketing Truths

   For Cottrill, that means “Be relevant, make a connection, and be useful.” A quick check of the Converse Twitter feed shows that a significant portion of the tweets are @replies to customers and fans. You can emulate this strategy by keeping straight promotion to a minimum and actively engaging your followers with answers, fun facts, surveys, and links to content that matches their interests and lifestyle.
   Don’t Duplicate Content
   Cottrill says that he modifies his messaging based on the platform. The example he gives involves posting videos of rock bands on YouTube, while asking for band member interview questions from followers on Twitter. Duplicating content may save time, but you’ll pay for it as followers get tired of seeing the same links three or four times in one day. I’m very aware of this phenomenon and I created the Four Essential Profiles to ensure that your four main messaging sources work together instead of against each other.
   Ultimately, Cottrill compares his social media campaign to being a good party guest: bringing your unique voice to the medium, letting go of the urge to manage the conversation, and trusting your customers. The result is that Converse has four times as many Facebook fans as its parent company Nike — and over three times that of Pepsi, which aggressively advertises its brand. “The key is to know yourself as a brand, be confident in your POV, and act that way wherever you are,” he says. Good advice.