What Happens in Vegas, Stays on Facebook

Don’t piss off an inventive customer. It could cost you dearly, said Larry Taylor, head of online marketing at BT.

United Airlines found out the hard way in July 2009 when they mishandled the guitars of Dave Carroll’s group, Sons of Maxwell. After an unsatisfactory response all around, they penned a comical-critical song and posted the video. After 3.2 million views in 10 days, United was clearly on the defensive.

The video got a good laugh when played at today’s Public Sector IT Conference organized by the Irish Computer Society (@IrishCompSoc). But while United was left smarting and ultimately improved its baggage-handling and customer service processes, the key lesson about the power of social media has yet to be grasped by many decision makers, Taylor said.

Taoiseach (Prime Minsiter) Brian Cowen’s infamous “hoarse and congested” interview with government-run radio station RTÉ on Sept. 14 was a case in point.

Plotting the time line, Taylor said the interview happened at 8:45 am. By 8:55 am, it was being discussed on Politics.ie in seven different threads. At 9:16 am, opposition politician, Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney), tweeted:

God, what an uninspiring interview by Taoiseach this morning. He sounded half way between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested.

Then the firestorm erupted. Discussions sprouted on Boards.ie, the country’s most popular discussion site. By the afternoon, parodies were already up on YouTube. Fifteen hours after the interview, it was international news and the subject of no less than 457 press articles. Cowen even became fodder for America’s iconic, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Yet, it took Cowen 33 hours to respond on RTÉ, Taylor noted.

The sting is that, in the internet age, all of that mockery and criticism will be indexed and searchable for a long time to come, he said. “What happens in Vegas, stays on Facebook” and many, many other websites.

Taylor suggested companies take a more pro-active approach. While working at Dabs.ie, “we went out looking for trouble.” During a period when customer service complaints were being tackled, Taylor signed up for a Boards.ie account. He tracked down issues that were aired in public, identified himself and said the company was working on it.

This approach drew a surprised and impressed response from users and counter-intuitively lead to “spikes in sales coming out of problems.”

Image of broken guitar courtesy of Paul J.S. on Flickr.