David and Goliath go digital: YouTube gives public a way to fight corporations

Until recently, large corporations had enormous advantages over consumers when it came to disputes over lousy service. If consumers weren't happy with something, they were free to get lost in customer-service hell. Or they could take the company to court, where deep-pocketed corporations simply waited for consumers to use up all their cash on lawyers and give up. But not anymore.

Thanks to Google's (GOOG) YouTube, consumers who can get their anti-corporate tirade videos to go viral can level the playing field with those corporate behemoths. The latest of these is a video by Ann Minch, a Bank of America (BAC) customer enraged that her credit card borrowing rate spiked from 12.99 percent to 30 percent. After her blood curdling tirade -- entitled Debtor's Revolt Begins Now! -- which Fortune reports has been streamed 350,000 times, the bank lowered her rate back to 12.99 percent.

Minch is not the only consumer to use a viral YouTube video to their advantage. A United Airlines (UAUA) passenger, Dave Carroll, made his own viral video -- United Breaks Guitars -- to memorialize the way the airline broke his guitar, costing him $3,500. His first video has been viewed over five million times on YouTube and United eventually agreed to reimburse Carroll. But by that time, Carroll suggested that United give the money to charity.

Carroll has plenty of fellow United customers who share his frustration. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's report in April 2009, United ranked 10th among 19 carriers in baggage handling, with 13,517 "baggage reports" among 4.03 million passengers.

It's obvious that big companies live in fear of such viral videos. Fortunately for them, the odds of any individual consumer rant getting the level of attention needed to make a difference are pretty small. But there seems to be no risk in trying.

Peter Cohan is a management consultant, Babson professor and author of eight books including, You Can't Order Change. Follow him on Twitter. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.

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