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A ‘Call’ To Action: Crisis Communications by AT&T

Sep 30, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

By Katie Norwood

It’s a nightmarish scene for any company and especially one with such a large public face – the corporate Facebook page being inundated with negative comments from thousands of angry customers, posting in rapid-fire succession. The company? AT&T. The cause? A communications misstep that prompted a swift backlash and a significant PR fallout.

About three weeks ago, nearly 10 million AT&T customers received a special message from the corporation to announce that billions of dollars had been allocated for new network upgrades – no problem so far – that began “Thanks for choosing us. We already cover 97 percent of America.” The “special message” did not, however, address many complaints commonly held by AT&T customers, like dropped calls and gaps in coverage areas. The message invited customers to post feedback and comments to the AT&T Facebook page, and thousands of customers did just that, logging in to post complaints with an overwhelmingly negative tone.

AT&T responded by deploying a team of two-dozen social media handlers, who worked around the clock to respond to customer comments.

AT&T also made the right decision not to delete any of the Facebook wall posts – event comments using profanity – which, it could be argued, was a strong showing of corporate transparency. Perhaps AT&T realized, unlike many companies, that deleting a comment does not silence the commenter, and that trying to do can cause more anger and backlash from customers. So while it could hardly be said that AT&T handled initial communications with customers well, once the company realized the mistake it had made, it worked quickly to address customers on a personal basis and take action to fix the problem.

AT&T’s experience only reflects what has become the norm.  Consumers expect (and demand) to have their voices heard, and companies that ignore their customers or that don’t respect the rules of social media are in very big trouble.

Now as for those dropped calls…

Read about the incident here – http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/09/22/am-a-lesson-in-atts-facebook-approach/

Do you think AT&T handled the PR misstep well, or could they have handled it better?  What else could they have done?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

About Katie Norwood

A native of Texas, Katie holds degrees from the University of Miami in public relations and art history. Her background is in PR and strategic communications and she has extensive experience with social media, as well as marketing campaigns and event planning.

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