More and more cases point to the need for employee social media fluency – and not just for employees within the marketing department. Consider the case of United Airlines. For nine months, various employees within the organization, from flight attendants to gate agents to claims to customer service agents ignored traveling musician Dave Carroll after one of their employees broke his $3,500 guitar. In the end, Dave let at least one of those employee know that he would be
“..writing three songs about United Airlines and my experience in the whole matter. I would then make videos for these songs and share them on YouTube, inviting viewers to vote on their favourite United song. My goal: to get one million hits in one year.”
Dave followed through – and achieved his goal – somewhere in the first few days that the first of the three videos was online.
Within just a few weeks, the video had received 4m views on YouTube alone, as well as 19k comments from people who were not all that friendly toward United Airlines. Why does this make the case that new media fluency needs to be developed outside of the marketing department? Because United’s new media-fueled problem was brewing for nine months before anyone within the marketing department ever heard about it. Now, the ball is in the marketing department’s court to try and salvage the brand. It is also in the court of the branding and leadership folks, who need to figure out why the airline’s stock dropped 10% within four days of the the first video going live.
There are two important aspects of this issue: the ethical and the functional (they are not really separate, of course, but for the sake of this post let’s treat them that way) The ideal ethical response would have been for United to take care of Dave’s claim regardless of his ability to use new media against them. They don’t appear to have done so in this case, so i will leave that alone for now, and move to the functional aspect of this: How would new media fluency outside of United’s marketing department have helped?
Anyone who has spent time on YouTube and who has ever watched Internet sensations “go viral” (spread far and wide) knows that music videos are some of the most likely to spread quickly throughout the Internet. This is especially true on YouTube, a platform whose list of top-viewed videos of all-time consistently includes both amateur and professional music-related videos. So a new media-fluent United customer service department might have therefore seen it as a legitimate threat to their brand when a professional musician tells them directly that he is taking his case against United to YouTube.
At the very least, one of the employees who dealt with Dave would have discretely escalated the issue to a few people within the customer relations department. “Could this guy be for real? What if his video does go viral?” At best, a truly new media fluent staff may have actually seen an opportunity which could have been brought to the marketing department. “Could we pay for this guy’s guitar and ask him to write a positive song about our honesty? Maybe we should be engaging all of the musicians who regularly fly on our airline and who might produce songs for YouTube?”