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April 30, 2012

The Story Behind "United Breaks Guitars" -- a new book

by Josh Bernoff

United breaks guitars bookI was delighted to get the chance to interview Dave Carroll, creator of the amazing "United Breaks Guitars" video, for my book Empowered.

Luckily for me, my relationship with Dave went beyond an interview. I know a little more about his story, and a fascinating story it is. Now you can hear that story, too, since he wrote a book about it: United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media.

Here's the foreword I wrote for Dave's book. Buy a copy. I think you'll find it revealing.

In July 2009, Dave Carroll stepped onto a United Airlines plane from Halifax to Chicago and changed the world.

Dave is the iconic creator of United Breaks Guitars, an impassioned video ballad that describes his months-long trek through the world of airline customer service, illustrated with Mariachi singers, catchy country-style music, and clever visuals. But United Breaks Guitars is far more than music. With more than 10.7 million views, it’s a highly visible marker that business has changed forever, and that customers have taken over. This is truly the age of the customer, because any customer can, in theory, do what Dave Carroll did: use talent, fight back, connect with millions of other customers, and knock hundreds of millions of dollars off the market value of a massive corporation.

United breaks guitars quoteThis engaging book tells Dave’s story from the inside. As you’ll learn, he’s one of the nicest guys on the planet, just a musician trying to do a great job. Despite the way he was treated, Dave shares the almost loving way he tweaked United after trying every other imaginable strategy. This may be one of the most humble stories every told by a man who changed the world. You’ll read about Dave’s upbringing and the family life that shaped him, his struggles as a musician, and how he’s taken this experience and used it, not only to build his career, but to give back to the people who helped him along the way, and to support the causes – like first responders and local news coverage – that he feels strongly about.

Embedded in this story are also nuggets of insight for anyone in a business, large or small. If you’re wondering what social technology means to your company, take a close look at what it meant to the companies Dave talks about in this story – not just United Airlines but Taylor Guitars, Ford, and Chubb Insurance. These companies have been changed by social technology – United now uses United Breaks Guitars in its customer service training, for example. They understand that social sites like YouTube and Facebook represent not just a threat from unhappy customers, but a unique way to listen and engage with all customers, improve your products, and improve your company’s image.

As a business author, my stock in trade is case studies and strategy frameworks. But Dave’s experience frames these ideas in a wholly personal way. In hundreds of stories and interviews, from CNN to The View, Dave’s story has become familiar to many of us, but inside it is an uplifting tale of how you can change the world with a smile and a guitar. As you read about Dave’s personal journey from musician to video star to activist to social media expert and public speaker, I hope you think, “Hey, I could do something like that.” Because in the totally connected world of social technologies, each of us now has the potential to change the world.



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Pretty much everyone who has been involved in marketing or social media over the past few years knows of, or is at least somewhat aware of, the whole United/guitar incident. It gets tossed around as a case study in all sorts of discussions on customer voice, social media reach, influence, company engagement, shifting PR roles, etc...

It's a great story, as all great stories are, but can we tone done the hyperbole of "changing the world" a bit? There are things that truly "change the world" like wars and natural disasters and major new discoveries in technology and science - a youtube video about customer service gone bad story that has deservedly attained near urban-legend status doesn't quite rate at that level.

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