AT&T Video Aimed At iPhone Users Flops

SAN FRANCISCO ( — AT&T knows its iPhone-burdened network has become a public relations mess, with a number of major news outlets recently recounting how heavy iPhone use has resulted in spotty service. But the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier’s latest effort — meant to address its network and explain why it took so long to turn on a long-awaited multimedia message service for Apple’s iPhone — isn’t helping.

Instead of generating understanding and goodwill, a video appearing on YouTube has been mocked by angry customers, social media experts, bloggers and commenters as defensive and too little too late.

AT&T certainly isn’t the first to falter in social media; other marketers have also tripped their way through Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Rather than connect to people on a personable level, AT&T has offered up a stiff-sounding spokesman who evokes little empathy, while failing to apologise for its service.

Susan Bean, who looks after AT&T’s social-media efforts, said the video wasn’t meant to be a mea culpa but a way to let iPhone users know that MMS was coming, along with an explanation as to why enabling the service wasn’t “as simple as just flipping a switch.”

 Ad Age Digital  DigitalNext  MediaWorks In the three-minute video, Seth, a self-described “blogger guy from AT&T,” said: “Look, we see the discussions on the web, on blogs, on Twitter on Facebook, so we thought it would be a good idea to take what is being said head-on.” The video ends with Seth promising more AT&T service improvements down the road. In between, Seth says the carrier would activate MMS for iPhone users on Sept. 25 while explaining the workings of wireless networks and why AT&T had to make adjustments to its network before switching on the bandwidth-taxing MMS.

Yet reactions to the video from social-media experts and YouTube viewers suggest a different experience — that AT&T needs to make amends with angry iPhone users, and has been falling short in that effort. So we asked a pair of social-media experts how the video could have been better.

Find a spokesman with authority. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was the logical person to appear in the video, said Jackie Huba, consultant and author of several books on word-of-mouth and social media. “I don’t think anyone believes Seth the blogger. He can’t control anything. He’s not the executive who spends the money to upgrade the networks. We all see through this; he’s kind of a stooge.”

Accept responsibility and let humility work to your advantage. An apology was missing from the speech, noted Ms. Huba, and acknowledging past screw-ups can go a long way to humanize any company that has made mistakes. “It’s easy to beat up on faceless corporations, but if you put up a face and be humble, it makes us like you more,” she said.

Show your human side. Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, called the YouTube video “ridiculously clinical.” “It was not something that says ‘we feel your pain.’ They need a human to talk back and forth with us … he has to be human and accessible, a real catchpoint for the iPhone community to talk to,” he said.

And YouTube is the perfect vehicle to show some emotion that could resonate with the audience. AT&T would have done better trading in the overproduced video with its graphical overlays of diagrams and charts with some frank and earnest talk.

Mr. Brogan urged AT&T to take a cue from Comcast, whose customer care star Frank Eliason has garnered enviable buzz for his friendly and earnest approach on Twitter @comcastcares.

“Comcast put Frank Eliason on the front lines as their trust agent. That’s exactly what AT&T needs,” Mr. Brogan said.

Provide a follow-up mechanism for accountability. Ms. Huba said referring users to a microsite at the end of the video containing a schedule of commitments by AT&T to improve its network would help clearly communicate that the carrier is working hard and is on the ball.

“They could have an entire website listing all the things they’re going to do about the network and update it continuously, so it’s clear what’s being done, when it’s being done,” she said.

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