How to Keep Complaints from Spreading

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleProfessional


After United Airlines baggage handlers damaged Dave Carroll's guitar, he spent months fruitlessly seeking compensation. Then he created a music video about the experience and posted it on YouTube. Within three days "United Breaks Guitars" had been viewed by 1.5 million people, many of whom chimed in with their own grievances. United's stock plunged, with many observers attributing the drop in part to the PR debacle.This incident and others like it prompted researchers led by KEDGE Business School's Dennis Herhausen to analyze nearly half a million negative comments posted in the public Facebook communities of 89 companies, along with the firms' responses. As a result of that work, they developed recommendations for detecting and preventing potential online firestorms and limiting the damage if one erupts. Among the findings: Posts containing intense emotions were more likely than others to spread. Strong ties between a post's author and the community drove contagion, as did linguistic similarities. Companies should respond to negative posts, and fast; the worst thing a firm can do is ignore an unhappy customer. Apologies and requests to switch to a private channel lowered virality, as long as they were communicated right away. But offering compensation early on had the opposite effect; it sometimes prompted other customers to post complaints in the hope of being rewarded themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-23
Number of pages5
JournalHarvard Business Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


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