Gripe song about United Airlines becomes web phenomenon

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An enterprising musician who had his guitar broken by United Airlines has created a protest song that’s become a runaway web sensation.

Dave Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor guitar was broken by United baggage handlers at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in the spring of 2008. During the ensuing 9-month period, Carroll attempted to get some compensation for the guitar. But he was repeatedly given the runaround by customer no service representatives.

His response? To film a video for an original song called “United Breaks Guitars” that has now gotten nearly 3 million views on YouTube. See the video here:

After the surprising success of Carroll’s clip, United came back with its tail between its legs and offered to make him whole. But the disgruntled musician refused and told United to donate the money to a charity of his choice.

The lesson here is that the web gives consumers a new level of power against businesses that have wronged them. There’s a similar kind of power in sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. Both sites cull the collective wisdom of users’ experiences with a variety of companies so you know who is safe and who to avoid.

In an example of the collective wisdom sites at work, Clark’s brother called him one night in need of last-minute accommodations in Bryce City, Utah. Clark used TripAdvisor to locate hotels in the area and read the online reviews to help his brother make an informed decision.

Meanwhile, The Financial Times of London reports that 92% of people say they trust word of mouth from friends, associates and colleagues when it comes to making a consumer decision. 75% say they trust collective wisdom sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. And only 60% of people report trusting traditional image-based advertising.

United would do well to remember it’s no longer about the image you try to portray in commercials. What really matters is the trust you establish with customers based on how you treat them everyday.

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