We often think of promotions as giving something away or getting people to enter a contest. But there can also be promotions to raise awareness.
In fact, promotions don’t have to be run by companies. They can be run by individuals.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these kinds of promotions in the last couple weeks. Two major promotions have been put on by people outside of companies to raise awareness of organizational internal issues.
David Carroll Breaks United Airlines
If you haven’t seen the “United Breaks Guitars” video, the gist is that a guy named David Carroll witnessed United Airline baggage handlers throwing his guitar. And sure enough, his $3,500 guitar was broken.
He paid $1,200 to get it repaired and then tried to get that money back from United. They refused. And what really blew his stack was they said, “…he didn’t complain in the right place, or at the right time.”
So, he made a video. Within 24 hours, there were more than 460 comments. As of writing this article, the video has more than 4.8 million views.
The power of this promotion comes from all the intense cross-promotional activity it received.
Because it was so clever, and because other people could relate to his experience, the video spread incredibly quickly on YouTube.
And if that isn’t enough, it’s on the first page of Google for searches such as “United” and “United Airlines.”
Social Media vs. Eric Dillner
Milwaukee has a great little theater company by the name of Skylight Opera Theater. Like many companies, they’re facing tough financial issues. To address those issues, the managing director, Eric Dillner, fired the artistic director, Bill Theisen.
The first problem with that decision: it was made with no consultation from anyone other than the board of directors. The second problem: Theisen was beloved by the Milwaukee arts scene and specifically the Skylight Opera Theater, of which he had been a part of for years.
Dillner had only been on the job for a year and a half. Dillner planned to take over some of the artistic director duties.
In a nutshell, it looked terrible. Dillner, the new guy, comes in and throws out the town favorite. And it looks like he maybe just wanted Theisen’s job.
Jamie Johns, the music director, (for the record, a friend of mine) stood up at a meeting in support of Theisen. He was later fired for that “insubordination.”
Enter social media.
In continued support of the ousted artistic director, Johns put this video on YouTube. He declared Dillner “a menace to this company and this community.”
In continued support of Bill Theisen, Johns and others created Bring Back Bill Theisen to Skylight on Facebook. The page has 456 members. The official Skylight Opera Theater Facebook fan page has 163 fans.
There were two primary goals to this campaign: to bring back Theisen, and to remove Dillner.
More Skylight employees were fired by the board and Dillner.
The social media pressure was applied by many people from many different angles.
And then of course, it jumped. The New York Times covered the story multiple times. All the major print publications in Milwaukee covered the events. The pressure became too great.
“That was something we never could have anticipated,” said the company’s marketing director, Kristen Godfrey. “I’m not sure I know how to manage it.”
Finally, the pressure became too great. Dillner resigned and all parties that were fired have been reinstated.
In both of these cases, the people didn’t need a union; they didn’t need to be traditionally powerful. They were just given the tools that are available today. A huge wave of impact ensued.