just a tweet

The twittersphere is all a-twitter about a company suing a woman for $50,000 over one of her tweets. The offending tweet from @abonnen to her 20 followers was:

…who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.

Most reactions to the news seem to be centered around the idea of “it’s just a tweet / lighten up”.

OK. Using that same mindset, then…

  • United Breaks Guitars is just a YouTube video.
  • ComcastMustDie is just a blog.
  • #MotrinMoms is just a hashtag

If we’re all going join hands in a circle and get weepy over the fact that “everyone is now a publisher”, then everyone is now accountable to established publishing laws. This tweet may violate a little one called libel.

Ask yourself this: If a newspaper or TV station reported without justification that a local landlord condoned their tenants sleeping in mold infested apartments, would the company be justified in suing the media outlet? If you think so, then how is “new media” different than “old media”?

I have no idea (and don’t care) about the specifics of this case. Maybe @abonnen was sleeping in a petri dish. Maybe the company was attacked unfairly. (although I do find it hard to side with any company that describes it’s business philosophy as “sue first and ask questions later“)

But here’s the big point that everyone needs to think about. We’re going to have to decide does consumer generated media mean “fundamental groundbreaking change” or “just a tweet”?

my God, they’re throwing guitars out there

So over the course of about two weeks, a Canadian folk singer has brought United Airlines to its knees with over 3 million views (and growing) of this viral video:

There’s been lots of talk online and in the MSM about how this is a great customer service lesson in the new economy. And it is. United has even said they will be using it in their internal training.

The customer service angle is the most important, but I think there are four other big lessons here:

Presentation counts.

There are thousands of consumer gripes at this very moment on twitter, facebook, youtube, individual blogs, and every other web thingy you can think of. What made this one stick and go national?

It’s because it’s well done.

The first time I watched the video, I watched the entire 4:36 (and then watched it again) and you probably did too. By comparison, see how long you can make it through another United Airlines consumer complaint video.

Unless they have no life and unlimited time, people will choose to spend their time with engaging online content instead of stuff they have to struggle to digest.

And the important part for online virility: they won’t pass it on unless it’s really good. Think about your other WOM recommendations to friends. “That restaurant is awful. You should go!”

You still need big media to make a big impact

The video got a response from United within a short time of being posted, but it didn’t really take off into the stratosphere until several new and old media like the Consumerist, LA Times, NY Times, CNN, and other “big guys” featured the video. It might have taken off itself, but these Digg/Oprah-type spotlights amplified the user-level passalong effect to make it go viral. It also helped that Sons of Maxwell already had a fanbase that could help spread the message.

You have to have a base to push off of — if you’re going to jump high.

Don’t back down

United has offered Dave compensation for his guitar and he refused, requesting that United give the money to charity (United is donating $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz). And he is going ahead with the other two songs of his promised United trilogy.

In the end, he is going to come out way ahead. Taylor guitars has offered him some new guitars, other airlines are offering seats, and he and his band now have tremendous publicity.

Learn from your mistakes

It seems that United has no choice except to assume the Duck and Cover position for now. They’ve made the donation. The other songs are coming. (I hope one of them explains the sombreros.) At the minimum, the upcoming second one will get publicity. And United has said they are going to learn from the experience

Rob Bradford, managing director of customer solutions at United, called Carroll Wednesday to apologize for the foul-up and to ask if the carrier could use the video internally to help change its culture.

(My first suggestion: eliminate stupid titles like “managing director of customer solutions”)

I’d love to see a case study or something come out of United on how they handled this. I think they actually have an opportunity to shine here if they don’t mess it up. The best thing they could do? Offer to help Dave to make the third video a happy ending.

UPDATE (7/17/09): I have thought of a fifth point. From my perspective, Dave Carroll seems like a nice, decent genuine guy. Being a good guy counts probably more than anything.