Do you remember the United Breaks Guitar song? In short, Dave Carroll was traveling on United Airlines flight with his band when they damaged his Taylor guitar. They admitted it was their fault, but after nine months of trying to get compensated, nothing happened. So he wrote a song about it – and it went viral. Today, it has over 12 million views, and by some estimates, it has cost United $160 million in brand value.

It was posted in July 2009, early social media days, when big brands were more hesitant to engage in conversations where they had to relinquish control of their messaging. United missed an opportunity to put out their own diddy (imagine a rap about their baggage policy?!), and only one side of the story (admittedly, the more sympathetic side) got all the airtime. I don’t think they ever replaced his guitar, but Dave Carroll now has a new business called which helps consumers use social media to leverage their complaints.

Imagine the headache United could have avoided by simply responding to Dave’s complaint. When handled properly, negative comments can be an opportunity for businesses to highlight their commitment to fixing poor customer experiences. Perhaps United could have produced a video similar to this innovative one by Delta that shows exactly what happens to your luggage when it leaves your hand.

“United Breaks Guitars” is the perfect anecdote about how important it is to respond to negative comments. In all the social media training we do, we always talk about the proper way to respond to negative comments – friendly, but state your case. The customer isn’t always right.  TripAdvisor lets accommodations have the last say. On Facebook, you can take a conversation into private messages. No matter the channel it’s important to show your broader community that you value their input, and provide your side of the story, in a respectful way.

So what should Australia do about this? A YouTube Video, “Caught on Camera, Racist Australians Abuse Girl and Crash Bush Window,” was caught on a cell phone camera by a Australian citizen. The video shows bus riders abusing French tourists (allegedly because she was singing in French). It is truly despicable and does not make me want to visit Australia.

Harvard Business School Case Study poses the question: is social media better at destroying value than creating it? In many cases, the goodwill generated through social media can quickly be negated by one critical clip or story that goes viral. Bigger brands are more vulnerable, as the case study points out because “social media favors the insurgent not the incumbent.” This clip isn’t directly about Australia or tourism, but it certainly affects its brand among travelers.

Tnooz asks an important question – what does Tourism Australia do with this? Is it their responsibility to respond? They point out that this video, with 4 million views, already has nearly three times more views than Tourism Australia’s most watched YouTube clip.

This probably will affect tourism (Tnooz says South Korean media already advised against traveling to Australia based on other racist incidents) – or at least, the brand of Australia. I think Tourism Australia should respond. A few ideas they could try: find the guy who made the clip or the French girl who was in it, and see what they have to say about broader Australian culture.

Assuming, there are already local campaigns in place that promote diversity and tolerance, maybe they could foster a local awareness campaign about how valuable tourism is to their economy. Maybe locals wouldn’t be so abusive if they knew how many jobs were created and how much foreign exchange is generated through the tourism sector.

 This article has been reposted with permission from

Posted by Jordi Pera

Jordi Pera is an economist passionate about tourism, strategy, marketing, sustainability, business modelling and open innovation. He has international experience in marketing, intelligence research, strategy planning, business model innovation and lecturing, having developed most of his career in the tourism industry. Jordi is keen on tackling innovation and strategy challenges that require imagination, entail thoughtful analysis and are to be solved with creative solutions.

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