United Breaks Guitars – The Power of Social

Apr 30, 2014
Jason Baumann

Boxless Media Looks at United Breaks Guitars

I thought today we would take a look at the cross-section of social media and customer service. On Wednesdays, we look at successful campaigns and strategies. For United Airlines, today’s story was not a success. David Carroll is a musician from Canada. Most people don’t know about him. Many of those who do know him, know him for one YouTube video.

A great while back, David was flying on United Airlines. While on the tarmac at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (one of the busiest airports in the world), the passenger behind said, “Oh my gosh, they are throwing around guitars out there.” To David’s utter surprise and disbelief, he looked out the window and saw the baggage loader toss his guitar.

When he arrived at his final destination, he picked up his guitar for the baggage check area. He opened the case and his guitar was broken. He had a Taylor guitar. Taylors start at about a thousand dollar and can jump into the $5k range pretty quickly. After months of contacting United Airlines, he got nowhere. Finally, they said “no” to his claim.

David fought back how he knew best. He gathered musician friends, and wrote a song and promised to write two more. Then he gathered some video friends and vowed to get 1,000,000 YouTube hits. He created the following song and video.


As of today, he is just under 14 million YouTube videos. United clearly made a few mistakes. The first was mistreating a customer’s possessions. Next was providing less than ideal customer service. The final and most substantial was not recognizing the power of social media. The video made a million hits in just about a week. In addition to the YouTube video, there were appearances telling the stories on some of the biggest TV shows of all time.

One of the most beautiful parts of social media is that the little person can communicate, challenge and correct the big business. David Carroll was a home musician with no reach. United Airlines is one of the biggest corporations in the world. If this was Celebrity Death Match, I would bet on United. But social media leveled the playing field. Social media allows the little person to make a big difference and if you don’t believe it, watch the video again.

What resulted from this? United finally apologized and awarded David airfare vouchers and money which was donated to a local charity. Taylor Guitars sent David new guitars and a guitar case builder launched the David Carroll case that was targeted at making cases more durable. David launched a successful social media consulting business and has grown to be slightly more popular in the music community.

What is the lesson for us? There is power in social media. Recognize it. Embrace it. Use it to do great things. If you do, it can be a better world.

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