I’ve been digging into a lot of social media case studies lately, especially those that involve a little guy going up against a large corporation and winning the battle of public sentiment. A lot of these studies involve videos, and I think I’ve figured out the secrets to why they’re going viral, and why large companies need to watch out for these situations.
One of the most memorable videos is Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars,” which he released after United Airlines mishandled his $3,000 Taylor guitar. Carroll released a song and video about his efforts in filing a claim against United and all the hoops he jumped through for a year before anyone would even listen to him.
Ten million views and three videos later, Dave not only got his satisfaction from United, but Taylor guitars gave him two new guitars. His efforts also netted enough negative press against United to give an entire PR department heart failure.
Other videos have had similar success getting the attention of the corporate giants, and getting them to take notice and fix their problem. The same is true with blogs, tweets, and other times people have gotten punked by . And I’ve identified a few things they have in common.
- Viral videos are not straightforward rants. There needs to be an unusual hook, or something that makes it different/better than someone staring at the camera and talking about their complaint or issue. That’s why videos that involve music or acting gain a lot more traction than that talking head video you wanted to do.
- Viral videos include something humorous. Dave Carroll’s video was musical and funny. Other complaint videos are also funny, or have a humorous element to them. People love to be entertained, and anything that’s humorous will gain more attention than something that’s serious. (Of course, this doesn’t work about serious issues — just ask Groupon — so choose your humor carefully. And if you have to resort to humor that is guaranteed to offend part of your audience, don’t use it. You don’t want your audience hating you.)
- Viral complaint videos are always about David going up against Goliath. This is the big secret. I have yet to see a viral complaint video about two Davids fighting it out, or two Goliaths duking it out. It’s always the little guy going up against the big guy. Whether it’s Dave Carroll (a real David) fighting against the uncaring, careless United Airlines, or Dooce complaining about her Maytag (not a video, but a great example of the little guy fighting the big guy), people always cheer for the little guy. If there’s any indication that the big guy is screwing someone, we’ll watch the video, read the blog post, and retweet the tweet in order to help get the word out about the “epic struggle.”
This last point is what corporations need to beware of. All it takes is one irate customer with some creativity and a Flip camera to make your PR people sweat blood trying to overcome the tens of thousands of views of that video and subsequent complaints, plus any negative press that came about from their video. Dave Carroll’s epic struggle was picked up by the global press, making sure the United name got plenty of mentions in the press.
Even for companies who don’t want to be on social media, they need to at least have a presence so they can monitor customer complaints. They shouldn’t be caught off guard by videos, because they’re already behind the 8-ball when it comes to social media. The little guy is ready to complain about the big guy, and everyone else is ready to support them and carry their torch for them.