To the Barricades! Social Media versus Time Warner

Oxymoron In the middle of an otherwise unremarkable neighborhood association meeting this evening, my neighbor declared that he had to create a Twitter account right away.  What stunned all of us was the fact that this neighbor celebrated his 80th birthday several years ago. He is not exactly in the age bracket that you would normally expect to see flocking to social media.

What changed?

He was facing a situation that made him so boiling mad that he was willing to push out of his comfort zone to solve the problem. And what exactly was his problem? He was furious because he believed that he was paying an exhorbitant amount for his cable, internet and telephone service. To make matters worse, he was deeply disappointed by the quality of the service provided. And who is his provider? Time Warner Cable.

Another neighbor (in his late 50s) told us that when his teenage son had seen the family’s Time Warner bill, he uttered an expletive and then immediately set up a Twitter account for his father. Using that new account, the son posted a pithy tweet addressed to Time Warner (@TCW), complaining about the poor quality of the service and what he considered to be its outrageous price.

Now here’s the part that caught the attention of my 80-something neighbor (and the rest of us at the meeting, to be honest):  shortly after the teenager tweeted his upset with Time Warner, the company’s customer service department called them with an offer to make the situation better. Consequently, the neighbor with the tweeting teenager was able to report an improvement in service AND a substantial reduction in his monthly bill.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a couple of dollars here or there. Rather, we’re talking about prices so high that Craig Moffet, an analyst at the Wall Street firm Bernstein Research, felt completely justified in making the following observation:

The cable distribution giants like Time Warner Cable and Comcast are already making a 97 percent margin on their `almost comically profitable’ Internet services.

Clearly, I’m in the wrong business.

That said, the reaction of my neighbors provides an important reminder to us all. Social media enables an extraordinary amount of direct communication. It has an immediacy and effectiveness that my 80-something neighbor had been unable to match using the traditional methods of letters of complaint or long calls to scripted customer service representatives. Social media also provide a very public way of communicating your concerns. My neighbor’s complaint letters are undoubtedly sitting in a circular file somewhere, never to see the light of day. By contrast, a tweet can be retweeted many times over and every iteration is recorded by the Library of Congress or one of the many search engines. If a complaint publicized via social media goes viral, then a company has a major public relations disaster on its hands. If you don’t believe me, just ask United Airlines about guitars (nearly 13 million views on YouTube)!

Thanks to social media, David once again has a chance against Goliath. Thanks to social media, the public can erect public barricades to attract the attention of companies that are much larger and more powerful. Thanks to social media, we have a shot at leveling the playing field.

Earlier this evening, I posted a tweet directed at Time Warner Cable. I’ll let you know what Goliath says.


[Photo Credit: Lyman Green]




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