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Comcast and Twitter: Can Words Overcome Products?

Comcast TwitterThis is the classic social media case study that finally someone has put a real face on. I read MG Siegler’s account of Comcast’s CEO Brian Roberts speaking with John Batelle of Federated Media and was getting lulled into the same Comcast story we have been reading for months now. While it is a nice piece of PR there is still an underlying reality that is not mentioned by many. TechCrunch’s Siegler starts the coverage innocuously

Today at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts spoke on stage with Federated Media’s John Battelle . For the first part of the discussion, they talked about the usual stuff: the state of the industry, competition, and the like. The answers were pretty PR-friendly, as you’d expect. But a bit of a surprise came with Battelle asked about the role Twitter is playing with the company.

“It has changed the culture of our company,” Roberts said. Comcast has for a while now been using Twitter to scan for complaints and engage with customers. The idea was not his, but rather rose organically when someone in the company realized that a lot of public complaints were being sent over Twitter.

That’s the nice side of the story. Big company has customer service issues and the use of Twitter has made a huge difference in how they do business. Enter the platitudes for the poster-child of customer service Twittering, Frank Eliason. He says

Roberts went on to note that “Famous Frank,” also known as Frank Eliason (Comcastcares on Twitter), now has 11 people working under him simply to respond to information about Comcast being broadcast on Twitter. Roberts says that it’s an entirely different kind of dialogue coming in then the usual phone complaints, and he seems very pleased about the work the team has done with the customers on Twitter.

Now we hit the meat of the matter. Despite all of the positive vibe around using Twitter to change Comcast and the ability for a company to create a better customer facing effort, Siegler tells the real story that is the personal side of this whole thing. In other words, there may be more hype than reality to this whole story (shocking huh?)

As a very unhappy Comcast customer, I’ve had a number of interactions with Comcast’s Twitter team. There’s no doubt, they are very responsive, and are trying to be helpful. The real problem Comcast has is that their product and all other forms of service are simply not up to par, to put it nicely (I often put it much less nicely on Twitter).

Bingo! So is what Comcast doing with Twitter a more elaborate cover up for their apparent inability to bring their service in line with their new image as a customer caring organization or is it TRULY affecting the culture of the company? Cultural change would imply that the products get better and less fussing is required by their customers. Maybe C –level understanding of this kind of customer engagement and the ensuing publicity should go a little deeper than “Hey this makes us look good”. Maybe it would be smart for Comcast to address the issues that create the need for 11 people to handle complaints regarding their service?

So this feel good Twitter story may just be another marketing / PR tall tale. That’s too bad. At least Frank responded in the comment section to Siegler’s dissatisfaction.

MG, could you keep us up to date if the product eventually catches up with the customer service effort?