Influence, Schminfluence. People Matter.

Two years ago at an industry event, an executive from a major airline told me frankly the company would  NEVER go live on a platform like Twitter. “It’s Pandora’s Box” the executive exclaimed as we sipped glasses of wine, "There's no way we'd be on Twitter."  I felt my eyes widen as I responded:
I understand your concerns, and here's the problem with this thinking: “Pandora’s Box” is already OPEN!  Conversations about your brand are happening, right now, without you on the social grid. You can stick your head in the sand like an ostrich, but will only be a matter of time before the audience will demand your response. Wouldn’t it be better to enter the discussion proactively? Will it take a crisis to drag you into the conversation?  Can’t you see that these tools, like the Internet – have the potential to strategically extend your business – specifically in the area of Customer Service?
While my thoughts admittedly made a dent in this executive’s conscience – they didn’t make a dent in the company’s approach. Sadly, within a year, United Airlines was dragged into the open - totally unprepared - as Dave Carroll’s song, “United Breaks Guitars” became an overnight, viral phenomenon.

Prior to the summer of 1999, few people knew who Dave Carroll was. United Airlines did, but they didn’t seem to care – even though he’d been working to gain resolution on a customer service issue with United for almost a year. Dave had a band with a small following. He didn’t have a Top Marketing Blog listed in Ad Age’s Power 150. He didn’t boast more than 5,000+ Twitter followers or a kick butt Facebook Fan Page. In short, by current standards, Dave Carroll wasn’t an “influencer.”

United didn’t flinch when he warned them that, if he could not get satisfactory response, he would write a series of songs about United’s poor service and post them on You Tube for open consumption, votes and ratings.  Perhaps United believe him. Perhaps they didn’t care because they were locked in the world of policy and procedure. Perhaps someone just decided that Dave Carroll didn’t really matter.

But boy, did he turn out to be influential.

It’s been a year and I’m resurrecting an old story by Internet standards.  However, I'm doing so because I think Dave’s story illustrates some points about “influence” that many of the pundits in social media don’t seem to actively consider; primarily the fact that, in the present economy – and with a totally unstable level of predictability -- almost anyone can become an influential force overnight. Dave Carroll was an ordinary guy with a simple recipe:
  • A good story, artfully told
  • A clear plight or frustration that resonated with others
  • Access to / proficiency with You Tube and other social tools
  • Creativity and personality
  • Some good friends
  • A little dumb luck
So if we know this, why don’t we treat people better?

Today, I leave you with this thought, but I’m following up with another “People Matter” post. Until then, consider Dave's lesser known "Video 3" from the United Trilogy. For those of you who suffer from short attention spans, my favorite part of this video occurs at (:50 – 2:10 minutes) where he makes some good points about customer service:

Companies:  How does your company treat people like they matter? How do you use market segment, CLV, influence measures to enhance the service or experience you provide?

Consumers: How do the brands you support make you feel valued and respected?  How much of this is "going beyond the call of duty" vs. "providing a base level of good service"?

All:  This "broke" Dave Carroll's career.  So, what do you think of his (relatively) new, non-musical, customer experience venture "The Right Side of Right?"   Check it out and weigh in!


Jill Manty said...

Excellent post. You don't have to be an "influencer" to go viral. You just have to put something out there that's get people to nod their heads and say, "yeah, what he said". How hard is it these days to "like", "share" or "retweet"? Social media has made a pr nightmare (or dream) one button click away for most businesses, and they should start thinking accordingly.

AnnaB said...

What an awesome post Leigh! I remember this story. How brilliant was it that Taylor responded by video / on protecting guitars and customer service!! Everyone can empathize with Dave Carroll and too bad for United. Why do so many companies wait for a crisis to happen? Eventually if they aren't prepared one will.

Pablo Edwards said...

Influential is right... I have musician friends who never check guitars on United now because of this song. They have brought up the song when told no, and are allowed to carry them on. There is some real power in Social Media.

Eddie said...

What a great post... I love the song too. It is apparent that some companies have not learned from United's mistakes, as we continue to see a bunch more attacks on Social Media.

Post a Comment




TwitterLinkedInYouTubePosterousFacebook G+


I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


The Customer Experience Edge


Age of Conversation 3 - Get yours now in hardcover, paperback and for the Kindle.


Web Redesign: Workflow that Works