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Reputation at Risk? How to Deal With Bad Online Reviews From Job Applicants

Reputation Risk

As a Senior Manager or Business Owner, you’re likely already familiar with the impact social media has on influence marketing. Literally billions of dollars have been spent promoting an organizational voice, establishing relationships with target markets, and heralding brand identities. Because your reputation is always at risk. When it comes to individual user experiences and interactions – social media has proven useful in establishing the performance and credibility from positive reviews. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

Your organizational identity can suffer from online reviews if the comments posted are negative criticism from those who have an otherwise dissatisfying experience with your organization. Just typing that sentence reminded me of one my favorite examples – and while this story involving a customer is often easily accepted, look past the story itself and focus instead on the mechanics that enabled the outcome(s), for they apply to every organization regardless of size or industry.

“United Breaks Guitars”

Here’s the story:

A singer/songwriter named Dave Carroll was changing planes at Chicago’s O’Hare airport when he heard another passenger say, “My God! They’re throwing guitars out there!” In a flash of horror, Dave and the other band members looked out and immediately recognized their checked instruments. Upon reaching his final destination he discovered that his $3,500 Taylor guitar’s neck had been broken. And the 9 month customer service nightmare began (United’s position was that he waited longer than 24 hours to submit the claim, so… sorry).

Getting nowhere, the singer-songwriter did what he does best – wrote a song and produced a YouTube video about it. After the first 150,000 views, United changed their tune, agreeing to pay to have the bad PR removed. Dave said “no thanks” (missing a wonderfully funny opportunity to tell them they should have made their request within 24 hours) and suggested they give the money to charity.

As I write this, the video has had more than 17.6 million views. The news media picked it up and Dave did more than 200 interviews. 2 more songs and videos followed (along with quite a few copy-cat and parody videos from others). Then the book – yes, you read that right – there’s a book about it. And now in addition to his music, Dave is on the speaking circuit. But the big take-away here is that I can’t get that song out of my head.

Right or wrong, eight years later I still associate United Airlines with breaking guitars.

And I’m not alone. One story out of Newark, New Jersey describes an entire shuttle filled with passengers who spontaneously began singing “United Breaks Guitars” while traveling between terminals. Why?

Because we have all had a negative experience with an airline.

According to an American Express study in 2011, Americans tell an average of 9 people about good experiences, and tell 16 (nearly two times more) people about poor experiences. To which I would now add… or they just post it online for millions to see.

Where There is Pain, There is Also Opportunity

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this story is too often overlooked. And it had nothing to do with united Airlines.

Taylor Guitars was present enough to identify opportunity in the PR pain. Yes, they gave Dave a new guitar – but it’s what they did next that is so impressive.

Bob Taylor released their own YouTube video (almost 800,000 views of their own) saying, “We’re here to support Dave and everyone who has a broken guitar.” Taylor provided free web page resources including how to pack and travel with your guitar and then announced “We’re opening our service center to other makes and brands.” If something like this happens to you, call us. We’re totally equipped to handle it. “We’re here to support all guitar players. It’s what we live for.”

Whoa… “Winner.”

Roots of Your Reputation

Doing the right thing is more important than ever. Regardless of the value offered though products or services, your organization’s reputation can make or break your brand. And every place the organization interacts with others is an opportunity to establish or build upon it.

Here’s an exposure that most organizations overlook:

A Job Applicant’s Bad Review

It’s not uncommon for a unfulfilled job applicant to express their frustration through social media by posting a negative comment about the hiring company. If this is happening to your organization, there are ways to deal with the situation without compromising your credibility and hurting the image of your company.

1. Be Objective

Going head-to-head with an irate job applicant won’t yield positive results. Stay calm and assess the issue, then counter the negative feedback with an appropriate explanation or solution.

2. Be Professional

Respond to the negative comment in a calm, professional manner. Make sure you express your gratitude to the job applicants for showing an interest in working for your company, and thank them for giving feedback so you can better serve future job applicants more efficiently. If there is a particular issue being discussed, offer an explanation and possible resolution.

3. Keep It Private

Sometimes, it’s better to contact the irate job applicant directly to discuss the matter in private before trying to rectify the issue in public. This method diminishes the risk of an uncontrolled conversation online that may harm the image of your business further. Once a resolution has been established, you can address the issue in public. Make sure you acknowledge what’s been agreed upon during your private discussion with the job applicant.

4. Learn From It

Some negative feedback from irate job applicants can be dismissed as mere frustration. However, some can be used to evaluate what needs to improve within the company to prevent future complaints from potential job applicants, which can damage not just the credibility and hiring process of the company, but its opportunities for growth and profitability.


Your organizational image is completely within your control. When it comes to social media:

1. Be Objective

2. Be Professional

3. Consider Private Responses

4. Learn From It

One last word: I want to make sure we’re not missing an opportunity to also warn against “doing the right thing” solely because of its reputational risk or social media / public relations value. Acting deliberately is rightly the foundation of any sound, successful business. So here’s one final coaching takeaway:

Never miss an opportunity, big or small, to act the way that you want others in your organization to mimic.


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