As AT&T Gears Up Social Media Customer Service Efforts, A Look at Its Facebook Activity

In the face of the launch of iPhone 4 and unrelenting customer dissatisfaction AT&T has set aside resources to focus more on its customers on social media. This discontent is registered by an average of at least  10,000 mentions of AT&T on social sites each day, the company told AdAge this week — if not more — so the company is responding by ramping up its social media customer service resources.

AT&T is now set to advertise its “social media customer care” on monthly bills and web sites to get more customers to take their service problems to social media outlets. Here’s a closer look at what the company has been doing to date on Facebook — but first, a little background.

The new focus is essentially an effort to shape online conversation about the AT&T brand, as AT&T’s Susan Bean said in the AdAge story: “We discovered that for social media to be successful we really needed there to be customer care. Otherwise all anyone would want to talk about is: ‘solve my problem.'”

AT&T’s service problems have generated some pretty specific criticism. Chris Foresman from Ars Technica created an extensive list, noting that Verizon’s 3G coverage was “impressive” by comparison. These criticisms include: Offering a 3G MicroCell to supplement bad service at a cost of hundreds of dollars, no monthly data rollover, an extra charge for tethering, added fees for any type of extra feature, security issues with customer data and generally bad customer satisfaction.

Right now AT&T’s main Facebook Page provides some clues as to why the company may be expanding its attention to social media. This Page promotes all manner of AT&T promotions, but also has tabs dedicated to the iPhone, Customer Care and New Wireless Plans, among others.

The 614,700-plus Likes on the Page allow for frequent complaints about service on the Wall — complaints that are quite often answered by comments. Page administrators are also very active on the Page’s discussion boards, which would seem to suggest that AT&T already had an active social media presence.

AT&T runs at least two other active Pages on Facebook. AT&T Latino only has about 560 Likes and basically promotes its main services, but in Spanish. The company’s AT&T Share Page, which is specifically for wireless services, has about 288,000 Likes and promotes a variety of specials. There are Facebook-specific deals on phones and other merchandise, a tab for users to go green and sign up for paperless statements, the Page promotes new phones, World Cup activity, AT&T specials, the iPhone 4 and information on its plans. There’s also a Customer Care tab.

AT&T hasn’t been the most active brand on Facebook, until recently

In December AT&T launched an interesting Facebook integration for its BlackBerry Bold 9700 that pulled personal information and photos and created a fictional suspense/action trailer for the fake movie “One Step Ahead” starring the Facebook user. The trailers were also being promoted with Monday Night Football television commercials. The company has also previously paid special attention to minorities with its Facebook marketing, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics.

Ultimately, AT&T’s social media efforts will only help the company so much. The fact is that iPhone users have no reason to be inherently loyal to AT&T — they’re just unable to obtain official support for Apple’s phone on other networks in the US.. In the face of such widespread service problems problems, it would seem that AT&T’s most logical move is to improve service, otherwise the company could hemorrhage customers if and when another company can supply the iPhone or other smartphone models catch up. To that end, AdAge reported that AT&T has plans to invest $18-19 billion to improve its networks.