Broken Guitars and Fat Cats: Customer Service Lessons from Airlines Industry’s PR Disasters

Ask any expert about the impacts social media has had on public relations, big brands or customer service. Chances are the answer you’ll get will include at least one reference to the public relations disaster that befall United Airlines in 2009.

United Breaks Guitars

The story began in early 2008 when Dave Carroll, a Canadian musician, had his pricey guitar damaged by United Airlines baggage handlers. After speaking to dozens customer service representatives and failing to get the company to pay the $1,200 repair cost, Carroll wrote a song about his experience, recorded a video to go along with the song, and uploaded it on YouTube.

Following a year of unsuccessful attempts to get United Airlines to compensate him for a damaged guitar, Dave Carroll made this video in 2009. As of this writing, the video has been watched more than 19.5 million times.

The video, United Breaks Guitars, quickly went viral, and the story was picked up and amplified by mainstream media. Carroll gave hundreds of interviews, telling everyone who cared to listen about his experience. The United Airlines’ executives tried to minimize the damage to the company’s reputation by finally agreeing to compensate the musician, but their efforts were too late. According to BBC, the airline’s share price dropped 10 percent shortly after Carroll’s video went viral.

It is much harder to estimate the longer-term damage that the incident has had on United Airlines’ brand. As for other big international brands, particularly in the airlines industry, they must have learnt that in the age of social media, negative customer experience can quickly escalate into a major PR disaster.

Aeroflot’s Fat-Cat Debacle

Well, the lesson appears to have been lost on Russia’s largest airline, Aeroflot. Over the last weeks, the company has experienced a public relations fiasco comparable to that of United Airlines a decade ago.

On October 30, Mikhail Galin missed his connecting flight in Moscow after Aeroflot check-in staff said his cat, Victor, was too heavy to travel in the cabin of the aircraft with him. The airline insisted that pets heavier than eight kilograms had to travel in the luggage hold. Galin’s furry friend was two kilograms above the limit. As the man later explained [ru] on Facebook, Victor was distraught by the first leg of the journey, a four-hour flight from Riga, Latvia’s capital, to Moscow. He feared that an eight-hour flight in the cargo hold to Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East, would severely traumatize the cat.

Galin came up with an ingenious plan to get Victor accepted in the aircraft cabin. He posted the cat’s picture on Facebook and asked his friends to help him find Victor’s look-alike in Moscow. As soon as a similar looking but slimmer cat was found, Galin purchased a ticket to Vladivostok and had Aeroflot’s check-in staff weigh Victor’s look-alike and confirm that the pet was fit to travel in the cabin. Once Galin received his boarding pass, he parted with the impostor and his owner, and boarded the plane.

Galin shared this photograph of his overweight cat, Viktor, on Facebook soon after pulling his now famous cat-swap trick and boarding a plane.

As Galin and Victor made it safely to Vladivostok, their story was widely shared and discussed on social media. Given the special status cats enjoy on the Internet as well as the fact that an estimated six out of 10 Russians own at least one cat, reactions to Galin’s cunning albeit legally shady scheme to ensure his cat travelled with comfort were overwhelmingly jubilant.

However, the mood was not shared by Aeroflot’s executives. Once the story was brought to their attention, they stripped Galin of his frequent flier status and cancelled all air miles that he had accumulated. The company issued a statement explaining its pet travel policies and accusing Galin of “deliberate violation” of these rules.

Aeroflot’s reaction sparked a huge social media outcry in Russia. Memes ridiculing Aeroflot’s rigid policies and supporting Galin took the country’s social media by storm (some of the best memes can be viewed here and here). Celebrities, athletes and politicians also weighed in, boycotting the company and sharing messages with hashtags that could be roughly translated as “pets are not luggage”, “let Viktor fly” and “we are all the fat cat”. Other airlines scored PR points against Aeroflot by offering Galin a special “feline VIP” frequent flier status. The man was also bombarded by offers of free cat food, spa treatments for Viktor, free stays in pet-friendly hotels and movie vouchers. The story became so big that even the country’s president was asked to comment on it.

This caricature created by Sergey Elkin was shared by Radio Svoboda. In the image, an Aeroflot plane is depicted as chasing and barking at a fat cat. Source: Radio Svoboda on Twitter.

Just like United Airlines did a decade ago, the Russian airline had a quick change of heart, apologizing for its rash response and offering [ru] Galin the company’s shares as compensation. And just as was the case with United Airlines, the move came too late to stop the wave of negative publicity and social media ridicule from causing serious damage to Aeroflot’s brand.

Lessons for Social Media and Customer Service Teams

The PR disasters experienced by United Airlines and Aeroflot will not prevent mishaps from happening. Baggage handlers will inevitably continue damaging baggage, while overworked and distressed check-in staff will continue alienating customers.

What these two fiascos should change, however, is the way big brands, both in the airlines industry and elsewhere, handle customer feedback on social media.

Build relationships

In the age of social media, companies should focus on building relationships with their customers and personalizing these relationships wherever possible. This approach calls for a departure from standard operating procedures that require customer service staff to act within the rigid boundaries of company policies, rules and standards. In other words, companies need to ensure that when their staff communicates to customers, particularly those with grievances, they sound like humans capable of empathy and emotion, rather than impassionate bureaucrats. As Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, a customer service and social media expert at Forrester Research suggests, brands should be aware of the “frustration customers feel with companies that act like monolithic monsters”.

This shift requires that companies invest in training their staff in positive customer service and empower them to make on-the-spot decisions that make customers happy, even if these decision do not always align to policies and rules. Or, as John Deighton, Professor at Harvard Business School puts it, brands “need to cultivate good judgement and free their employees to use it”.

Engage online

When customers share stories of poor customer service on social media, companies should listen to and engage in these conversations before they get out of hand. Such engagement should aim at turning negative customer service experience into positive experience, while ensuring that this transformation is interesting enough for social media audiences to tune in.

For instance, management expert Bart Perkins suggests that instead of trying to buy off Dave Carroll after his video got viral, United Airlines could have mitigated the impact of the consequent PR disaster, while also scoring some positive publicity points, by employing the same tools that Carroll had used, namely creativity and humour. They could, for example, respond with a funny video of their own. They could also organize a content for best sung responses to Carroll and share the winning songs online. Perkins urges companies to remember that when a story that can potentially affect their brand is unfolding online, “by choosing not to engage, they are letting the opponent win all the debate points.”

Focus on the positive

Over the longer term, companies should focus proactively on creating positive customer experience and promoting positive offline experiences online. Negative stories are not likely to develop into PR calamities when they involve companies that are generally known to deliver good service. Besides, as customer experience expert Blake Morgan argues, companies that focus on the positive inadvertently encourage their customers to do the same.

I understand that while building relationships, engaging online and focusing on the positive should set companies on a good start, it is not enough to help them promote their brand and address negative publicity online. What else should companies do to adapt their customer service and public relations to the realities of the world increasingly saturated with social media? Do you know any companies that have successfully completed this transformation?

Do Algorithms and Echo Chambers Make Us Nasty?

I’ve recently read an interesting book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Written by Jaron Lanier who was only a decade ago regarded as the “Silicon Valley digital-guru rock star,” the book presents a number of powerful arguments for quitting social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. While most of Lanier’ arguments sound too familiar to raise many eyebrows, he offers a very novel and illuminating analysis of the heavy toll that social media is taking on political debate and political activism.

Jaron Lanier talks about his book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Algorithms favour assholes

Lanier suggests that a strong trend towards negativity and polarization is hard-wired into the algorithms that make social media platforms so addictive. It is hard to disagree with this take if you follow political conversations on Twitter where particularly hateful and obnoxious posts tend to attract the most attention. As users flock to comment on and register their outrage about the nastiest posts, conversations gravitate towards the most extreme viewpoints.

Politicians and activists of all stripes adapt to the algorithm-dictated outrage-is-everything pattern by reframing their positions on controversial issues as Twitter-style statements in which there is no place for nuance. Bot and troll armies operated by malicious actors, then, drive the polarization even further by spreading misinformation. Social media users become increasingly confined to and influenced by opinions within their social media “echo chambers”. In the end, we end up losing our ability to see nuance and empathize with people outside our “echo chambers”. Or, in the words of Lanier, social media algorithms turn users into “assholes” and reward those who behave like ones.

Source: Giphy

Echo chambers?

But how exactly do otherwise nice individuals who greet their neighbours and support co-workers’ charity drives in their daily lives turn into “assholes” when discussing politics online? What Lanier’s otherwise very informative book leaves unclear is the mechanism that turns social media users into nasty human beings that troll other users and share offensive content.

The book offers only a partial explanation by suggesting that platform algorithms reward hateful and polarizing content. Many other authors, scholars and journalists have argued that the way social media platforms organize users into communities inevitably creates “echo chambers” which solidify and reproduce particular political opinions to the point where users become unwilling to give merit to or even tolerate opposing or more nuanced opinions. This is the view I used to gravitate towards, particularly after realizing that the list of people I followed on Twitter looked surprisingly similar to the list of people I agreed with.

Source: Giphy

The key assumption underlying the “echo chamber” argument is that long-lasting exposure to certain political views and insulation from opposing views drives political polarization. This assumption, however, has been questioned by a recent study conducted by a group of scholars of American politics. The authors surveyed a substantial group of Democrat and Republican Twitter users and had them follow accounts expressing opposing political views. When the respondents were re-surveyed after some time, the researchers found that instead of bringing the users closer to each other, exposure to opposing political views actually increased their polarization.

While this study refutes the core assumption behind the “echo chamber” argument, it does not leave me anywhere closer to understanding what exactly causes otherwise polite and well-behaved individuals to post and share insulting political content online.

Do you have an explanation? Have you read anything interesting that could help me find an explanation? If so, please let me know in the comments section below.

COMM0015 – Blog #1 – Maybe I should

Let’s be real honest here, I have not yet taken the habit of listening/monitoring social medias very seriously. Two reasons motivates this; 1 – At work there is a team dedicated to this and 2 – For my side business as a photographer, I am not currently looking for more work and can afford the luxury of choosing the assignments I want to take on, and, thanks to a permanent job within government, I am also fine with not having any.

Luckily for me, the photography industry is out there in almost every platforms and it remains fairly easy to stay on top of things by following my favorite photographers and gear manufacturer on Facebook and Instagram and still remain aware of what is going on in the industry, locally or internationally.

At work, my colleagues use the pro version of Hootsuite. I like how customizable, clean and precise it can be. It also allows them to work as a team to respond to comments and create engagement as well as schedule posts into the various platforms we use. Should I decide to become more serious I would probably use this system combined with various Google alerts

On Facebook, I get to see in a rawer version how other photographer use their creativity to market their services while I use Instagram to get inspired and monitor the trends in the techniques used by the photographers I follow.

While I prefer a more laid back approach, do not mistake this as a lack of interest or pure laziness on my end. I am very active on these two Social Medias and interact daily with my colleagues and friend in the industry.

Social Media and Thrifting

Social Media and Thrifting

            Yes I am a true Thrift Shopper. Long before “thrifting” was in fashion, I was a struggling student needing to pay tuition, eat and buy trendy but warm clothing with pennies. Thrift stores were small, cluttered and smelly. However, in recent years selling vintage clothing and accessories grew from a few sellers on Kijii to a full-blown retail business on Instagram. Suddenly, customers went from never admitting when asked “where did you get that great sweater?” that it was from a thrift store, to boasting about the find they found and how little they paid.

            Thrift stores are now on Facebook, Instagram and blogs. Marketing how buying gently used items saves money and is environmentally conscious. Consistent digital marketing is the expectation and the only way to keep customers engaged. Offering online coupons, discounts and VIP advertising for upcoming sales is becoming the best way to drive customers to the brick and mortar locations. Unlike other retail stores that can close their actual store locations and still sell on line, thrift stores must have a building in order to receive and sell the donations.

            The customer expectation is changing as well. Small, cluttered and smelly stores are being replaced with bright, well organized, visually appealing displays with elevator music and no smell. In the thrift industry, “pickers” are becoming regular customers. They come daily, early as soon as the store opens to find the best items. They will do online searches to make sure the price is low enough and some will even call clients to make a sale before they buy the item.


The influence of social media in the retail world is becoming more and more prevalent with each passing year, and customers are now demanding a more interactive shopping experience. Gone are the days of the shabby secondhand store, thrifters now want a polished and modern layout. Without really realizing it, thrift stores find themselves at the cutting edge of a new trend that says “thrifting is in.”  Suddenly “branding” matters and thrift stores have a responsibility to create a marketable image that translates both online and in real life. This is a big ask for an industry that has existed almost as long as retail itself and one that hasn’t changed much in that time. 

Slowly but surely the thrift experience is adjusting to match the rest of the retail market and stories like the link below are a good signal of things to come.

Even celebrities are buying second hand

4 ways to make social media more accessible

4 ways to make social media more accessible

keyboard with handicap sign on it. Source: shutterstock

Social media is important to a lot of people, its a method of gathering information on things that people care about. That includes people with visual impairments. Making things accessible is becoming a legal obligation too. A 2010 WHO (World Health Organization) report states that there were 285 million people in the world who were visually impaired. [1] Now that is a lot of people who are potentially missing out on your content. Some social media platforms have got you covered but when you don’t know its better to be safe than sorry. Here are four ways to improve your content by making it more accessible.

  1. Use alternative text for content (images, video captioning)
    Describe your content as if you were describing a photo to someone.
    Use Youtube captioning services for videos on platforms that offer it (Facebook).
    Have text that adds more context to the photo below.
  2. Avoid Acronyms
    Yes acronyms make sense on twitter due to the space limit but it can be confusing for a text-reader
  3. Color contrast
    How you see color is not the same way that others may see it. Using color and pattern can help someone differentiate content.

    Use these two rules :
    • Never use color alone to show emphasis
    • Make sure your colors have strong contrasts between them
  4. Use camel case
    This is especially important on twitter with hashtags camel case is capitalizing the first letter of each word #MakeSocialMediaAccessible

Now this is a good start but there is a lot more to learn. If you want to read more you can go to the bottom for more info.

Try using WAVE (Web accessibility evaluation tool) on your favorite social media site and expand on the results and how the social media platform can improve? (It has issues working on chrome but it works fine on firefox)

Continue reading
Blog 2 : Social Media highs and highs

Blog 2 : Social Media highs and highs

Source : childmags

Everyone is living life to the fullest on social media and rarely do we ever see the reality.

This leaves some people feeling as though their own life is lacking or even isolated. That person must not feel the same anxieties and fears that I do. But we only see the highlights, never the roots. Like eating too many cookies, bingeing on other peoples success could do more harm than good.

There are good habits that can help reverse that harm. Like eating less cookies and more vegetables. I know vegetables are yucky and who cares about the consequences. But just give it a try.

Next time you are somewhere with family or friends put down the phone and connect to your environment. Before bed put the phone on silence or airplane mode and try to get adequate sleep. Just being mindful of your own consumption and taking care of yourself will go a long way for your mental health.

I know myself I am not perfect and I do practice these habits but not to a tee. So where do you find yourself lacking when managing your social media consumption?

COM0014- Blog #4; B2C social media platforms

Canva - null-2According to, “The term business-to-consumer (B2C) refers to the process of selling products and services directly between consumers who are the end-users of its products or services. Most companies that sell directly to consumers can be referred to as B2C companies. 

B2C became immensely popular during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s when it was mainly used to refer to online retailers who sold products and services to consumers through the Internet”  

Canva - Person Shopping Online Using a CellphoneIn this ERA of Digital world, many consumers prefer to shop online vs. going through traditional mall shopping. Do you buy products online? If so, why? Is it because it is cheaper, convenient or any other reason? How do you know about special promotions?  

Companies that rely honline shopping 2eavily on B2C model need to maintain a healthy relationship with their customers. With invention of social media platforms, it has become much easier for companies to connect with their customers and gently remind them about promotions and new products. How many times have you seen pop up ads on these social media platforms? I bet you will answer, “many times! 

Canva - nullOne company that stands out to me is Air Canada. I highly believe that they are connecting and targeting their audience well. They are regularly monitoring their social media platforms and building trust by responding in a timely fashion. They are beautifully showcasing their destinations, airplanes, food and experiences of other travelers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They also use these platforms for telling their audience about special promotions to various destinations. At times, on these platforms they also showcase their employees- flight attendants and pilots and ground staff. 

From a personal point of view, I have had great interactions on Social media platforms with Air Canada. I remember once I was checking into a flight and I was flying business class from Ottawa Airport. The check-in agent was not friendly nor was aware of perks of flying business class as she was replacing someone who went on break. I tweeted Air Canada while agent was checking me with my frustration and disappointment and while I made to security in less than 5 minutes, I had a reply from Air Canada. On other occasion, I have also got hold of someone faster on social media than being on hold for over 30 minutes. I think Air Canada has been maintaining their social media platforms well and many other organizations should learn them now. Have you ever had an experience with Air Canada through Social Media? If so, were you satisfied? 

Canva - null-3


(Source of photos:

COMM0014 – BLOG #3 -Variable audience

As you may know by now, I’m a photographer . I have two kind of clients: 1- The strategists from my full time Job and, 2- my sideline photography business.

Serge photographe

Taking pictures of Garance

I quickly realized that I always have more than one client for my products of the same event. For example, if I take photos at a parade, I might take some close ups that can be used by the recruiting department and artistic photos for the social media teams. If I am lucky, the boss might use some for her twitter account and so on. The audience varies depending on the strategists and their specific projects and I try and bring home a variety of images that tells the story and will suit everyone.

Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 20.51.04 PM

Screenshot @CommrRCMPGRC ‘s Twitter account using my pictures of a parade.

For my business, it is a totally different picture. My audience consists of my friends, my family, local families and businesses in my community. They usually come from my network, meaning people I work/train with, friends or mouth-to-ear referrals. They are mid-class to wealthy people (meaning they can afford professional photography services). I find it interesting when I look at my client’s sessions page. It gives me a visual of who they and who is reaching out for my services. My blog, website and Instagram are used to share my work with them, including what I do at work.

At this time, my strategy is not aimed towards getting a lot of clients. Since I work full time, I keep my online presence to maintain a reputation and, from time to time, find opportunities for assignments.

While we are here…

We are currently taking part in an international photo contest with one of my image! Head to this @Policenationale Instagram post and please like my picture to help us win! – and become part of my audience!

Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 20.43.22 PM

Please vote for my picture on @policenationale ‘s Instagram account!



Social media Help you or Kill you?

Social media, which is now closely related to our life, whether you want or not, you have to face it every day. Sometimes it does bring convenience to people, but sometimes it does cause trouble. Can social media save you time or wasted time? Here are some things you need to know.
Social network advantage

1. Global connectivity
Whether you are looking for a former college roommate, your first teacher, or an international friend, there is no easier or faster way to connect than through social media. While Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. There are also new sites that pop up regularly and are dedicated to getting people connected and interacting via the Internet. Through these websites, individuals make new friends or business relationships, or extend their foundations, connect and friends with friends of friends, and more.

These connections can help with a variety of things like:

Looking for date
Seeking new jobs
Positioning assistance
Access and provide product and service referrals
Receive support from like-minded people
Make or accept opinions on professional or personal issues
In many ways, all sectors of society are in the general store or in the virtual equivalent of church networking meetings to exchange news and get updated friends and family. The snail mail pen pal has been replaced by a virtual avatar and sent a private message via a social network.

via:, Ukraine – October 17, 2012 – A logotype collection of well-known social media brand’s printed on paper. Include Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Vimeo, Flickr, Myspace, Tumblr, Livejournal, Foursquare and more other logos.

2. Real-time information sharing
Commercial social media
Many social media sites integrate instant messaging capabilities, which means you can exchange real-time information via chat. This is a great feature for teachers to use to facilitate class discussion. Also, the Internet is the ultimate online book purchase. Students no longer need to take out a collection of six libraries at a time. What they need, knowing that they can find a lot on the Internet. Schools are not the only ones that set this type of real-time information sharing, which can be beneficial. Social media can provide a tool that managers use in group meetings to use meeting participants and update attendees and business people as a means of interacting with customers or potential.


3. Free advertising
Whether you are a non-profit organization that needs to get a word about an upcoming fundraising event or a business owner who promotes a new product or service, is there a better way to get your message in front of millions people,24/7? The best part is that it can spread free words through social media. Can promote a product, service or concept, or many, because you can only invest through limited time and you want to spend.

Social media disadvantages

1.A face-to-face conversation is endangered
A considerable advantage, these social groups have a side effect of reverse, but also a significant drawback of social: they reduce or eliminate face-to-face society. Due to the autonomy provided in the virtual world, individuals are free to create a fantasy person who can pretend to be someone else.

It is hard to say no, it is rude or neglected when you are looking for their eyes. It’s effortless and quick to dismiss a friend or stop following someone or stop their efforts to make a connection. With just one click, your question. Unfortunately, this online society deceives people’s opportunities to understand how to solve the Internet’s external conflicting functions, which can hinder or weaken the development of a person’s social skills.

2. Risk of fraud or identity theft
Whether you like it or not, the information you post on the Internet is that almost everyone smart enough to access it. Most thieves need a small portion of personal data that makes your life a nightmare, and if they succeed in stealing your identity, it can cost you a high price.


3. waste time
A report explains that socializing can be a big waste of time, and 17% of our online time is not productive. While this is true, some of the time it was likely to be used to make and maintain substantial commercial, social or professional connections, it is also true, it is easy to become distracted and ultimately spend valuable time on games, chat or other unrelated activity. Facebook users spend about six hours a month on the site, while social networking sites spend more than three times as many other online businesses as emails.

This is really up to you
Because social media is still a relatively young network trend, social or not is harmful, it is still unknown. Like any other type of system or social club with individuals becoming involved, this is doing homework and making sure you know that you are entering a good idea. Understand the terms of use, regulations, and identify issues such as security and confidentiality.

Take responsibility for your safety and integrity, and never join just because it is fashionable, or something your friends are doing. In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of social networks, it is best to be cautious and make mistakes. After all, the lack can have a devastating effect.

Facebook: Social media Help you or Kill you? #socialmedia #socialmedia advantages #socialmedia disadvantages

Twitter: Social media Help you or Kill you? #socialmedia #socialmedia advantages #socialmedia disadvantages

Be careful that Instagram is hurting you!

Do you have similar experience?
After you post some content on your social media account, you start to think about whether this post is appropriate, what your friends will think, or if you worry about deleting or re-editing it. Or have you ever felt inexplicably bored, anxious and empty after browsing social media?

Your Anxiety May Be Due To Instagram

Research indicates that Instagram is a visually oriented social media. The social world in which photos are piled up places great emphasis on looks, dresses, lines, luxury goods, and other things on the surface of life. This kind of direct, shallow, and superficial socialization is more likely to cause young people’s inferiority and anxiety.

To a certain extent, Instagram forces users to compare their unrealistic, well-crafted, filtered and modified lives with others.This kind of pressure to show perfection is the source of anxiety, because Instagram brings the illusion of “beautiful life.”

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom also found this problem, in order to solve the pressure on users to feel that their lives are not glamorous, so Instagram launched the Stories function two years ago. The emergence of time-limited dynamics, although reducing the pressure on posting, but because the release becomes easy and time-sensitive, users share life more frequently and more trivial.
We have turned the desire to “present ourselves” from post to time-limited dynamics. Does the pressure really disappear? Has the comparison really disappeared?

How to save yourself from Instagram

When browsing the lives of others on Instagram, we will improve our self-expectation and expect ourselves to live the same life as others. But in our real life, we are not expecting such an expectation, so anxiety will only increase and will not decrease.

Psychologists have suggested that a person’s self-esteem is equal to the ratio of actual achievement to self-expectation.And as the gap between self-expectation and actual achievement grows bigger, our self-esteem will be severely frustrated. Therefore, the core of eliminating anxiety is:

In each stage of life, you must set goals that are consistent with your actual ability, and accept the luck components of the results, thus protecting your self-esteem and staying away from anxiety.

Here are two articles about how social media affects your mental helth:

How Instagram hurts you #mentalhealth #socialmedia check

Check out the article about the negative effects about Instagram!