AT&T vs. Verizon: Why Bad PR Is Still Good for You

In Andrew Cherwenka’s recent case study, he explains how AT&T used Facebook to defend themselves against Verizon’s claims of a better 3G network,  and how that plan backfired when the very customers AT&T expected to rally to their defense instead fell silent while the conversation was dominated by Verizon fans.  (At one point, 89% of the sentiment on the forum was pro-Verizon, prompting one poster to comment, “You’re basically maintaining a fan page for Verizon.”)

Whoops.

Yet while Cherwenka is correct in surmising that the 2-way nature of the web has eroded a company’s ability to control the messaging surrounding their brand, there is one positive that AT&T should be taking away from this experience:

Now they know what their biggest problems are.

Granted, those problems may be technological in nature (like spotty cell coverage) or they may be matters of negative consumer perception.  That’s up to AT&T to decide (or admit).  But because AT&T has a record of what the public really thinks about its service, they can now choose to fix those problems head-on, OR they can choose to ignore them and hope the public eventually loses interest, which often happens.

Regardless of what AT&T chooses to do, your company can embrace this same lesson.  Yes, your social efforts may occasionally backfire.  Yes, the public may sometimes provide you with opinions and suggestions you’d rather not have to hear.  But this feedback is actually the most important information that you could hope to receive, because this is what helps you understand what you need to improve in order to grow as a company.

The better your product actually is, the more loyalty and evangelism you’ll see from your customers — and the more money you’ll be able to save on advertising to convince people you really are that remarkable.