Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Power of Viral

An old buddy of mine, Bill Geist of Madison, wrote a note on his Facebook page last week about the speed and power of information these days. It was a brief story about how a Canadian band, The Sons of Maxwell, were travelling to Nebraska for a one-week stand many months ago.

Musician Dave Carroll’s guitar, a $3500 Taylor, was severely damaged by United Airlines.
Bill’s note drew attention to a YouTube video made by Carroll, who had been so frustrated in his months of dealings with United that he gave up and wrote a song about it. United kept denying any responsibility. So Carroll composed a song about his experience, calling it “United Breaks Guitars”. The video is four and a half minutes of fun at United's expense.

The first video went up on YouTube one week ago today. By the next morning, the video had doubled the hundred-thousand views milestone. By noon Wednesday, the number of viewers had rocketed up to over half a million, and was getting ten thousand views an hour.

By the end of the day, “United Breaks Guitars” had hit 1.2 million views, and had garnered posted comments from over 8 thousand people. The next morning, it was still growing…1.4 million views. Folks on Facebook, Twitter, and the other social media websites were still sending links to the video to their friends.

The network news operations picked up on it, and organizations like USA Today and Fox News had each sent tens of thousands of their readers to the video by linking it to their sites. This morning the view-count was well over 2.7 million. In one week, nearly three million people had seen the video, and uncounted millions had heard about it or commented on it.

United Airlines quickly became aware of what Mr. Carroll had done, and late last week offered him a fairly large amount of money to “settle” his claim concerning the damaged guitar. Saturday, Carroll posted a quick response to the offer on YouTube, saying he didn’t want money from the company…only acknowledgement that they’d wrecked his guitar. He suggested they take the money they’d offered him and give it to the charity of their choice.

Carroll has promised he’ll do two more YouTube “songs” about the United adventure. He’s gotten tens of thousands of suggestions about what he should put in the songs, from people who saw the first video.

Sometimes, it’s hard to get a handle on how quickly things happen on the internet, and for the folks at United Airlines, it was a harsh lesson on how one frustrated and dissatisfied customer can pretty easily give you a huge black eye in the internet age. The total impact of the first “United Breaks Guitars” video, and the two that will follow, is nearly unimaginable.

There’s a lesson here somewhere.

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