Authenticity in Social Media: Don’t Get Mad, Get YouTube

A recurring theme of Amber Mac’s keynote presentation at SES Toronto today was how companies need to face up to the challenge to authenticity that social media presents. The companies that were online, listening and responding to their customers were the ones best placed to avoid a costly hangover from a social media PR disaster. One of the key factors Amber Mac identified that made social media truly shareable was the quality of authenticity – real people demonstrating their own products. She noted that part of the appeal and success of the famous Will it Blend videos from Blendtec is the fact that it is the company’s CEO that maniacally blends everything he can get his hands on.

Similarly, what works for companies in social media also works against them – they have to deal with the “realness” of their customers – which reminded us of some funny stunts recently pulled by the disgruntled common man.

These days, if you need to fight city hall or battle corporate bureaucracy, then don’t get mad, get the YouTube community on your side.

Let’s look at three examples of brilliant YouTube protest videos. A New York City police officer recently gave Casey Neistat a $50 ticket for riding his bike outside the bike lane. Casey tried to explain that the bicycle lane isn’t always the safest place to ride, but the officer said that didn’t matter. You always had to stay in the bike lane.

Now, some New Yorkers would have gotten mad. But Casey is the “Casey” from the TV show “The Neistat Brothers.” It’s on Friday nights at 12 a.m. EST on HBO.

So, on June 7, 2011, Casey made a “little movie about a ticket i got for riding my bike not in the bike lane.” The 3-minute and 4-second long video, “bike lanes,” and it had more than 1,750,000 views as of this morning.

So, is a protest video about “bike lanes” going to prompt any official response from city hall? Well, according to a search on Google News this morning found 238 news articles on the topic.

Now, you’ve probably heard the story about the Army unit that flew back to the U.S. after almost a year of service in Afghanistan. Upon checking in with Delta Airlines last Tuesday, the soldiers were hit with over $2,800 in excess baggage fees.

Staff Sgt. Robert O’Hair of Colorado then posted a video of their experience on YouTube, which was viewed more than 200,000 times before it was removed from the site. Here’s their report on the incident, “Delta Airlines Charges Soldiers for “Extra Baggage” Mirror.”

It’s worth nothing that Delta Airlines changed its baggage policy for service men the day after the YouTube video was uploaded. United and Continental Airlines followed suit.

Finally, there’s the now classic YouTube protest video, “United Breaks Guitars,” was made in July 2009 by Canadian singer/songwriter Dave Carroll. Here’s the backstory:

In the spring of 2008, Dave and his band, the Sons of Maxwell, were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and his Taylor guitar was seen being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. Dave discovered later that the $3,500 guitar was severely damaged. United didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people Dave communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate him for his loss.

So, he promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that he would write and produce three songs about his experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world.

The first of those songs has more than 10.5 million views.

The Times newspaper reported within four days of the video being posted online, United Airline’s stock price fell 10 percent, costing stockholders about $180 million in value.

So, what’s the moral of these stories? Don’t Get Mad, Get YouTube.

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