Community Management, Social Media Case Studies, Social Media Tools

4 Ways This Big Brand Blew It on Twitter

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Jay Baer Blog PostIn business – and in life – sometimes there’s a thin difference between aggressive and obnoxious.

T-Mobile crossed that line.

Late last week, Sprint tweeted about their new package that provides subscribers unlimited data, as well as an annual phone upgrade:

Some Sprint customers were upset that package pricing and ingredients were shifting:

Given the size of Sprint’s customer base, it’s natural that some would be displeased, and complaints about Sprint’s speed and lack of LTE are common. Evidently, T-Mobile was strategically eavesdropping on this thread, and proactively reached out to dissatisfied tweeters:

In The NOW Revolution, Amber Naslund and I talked about “listening at the point of need” and seizing opportunities that are unveiled in social media. We counseled brands to listen for customer expressions of want, and to tastefully offer to fulfill those needs. But is this “listening at the point of need” or is it out-of-bounds? Even if you think this is fair game, there are 3 reasons it was a disaster at the execution level:

1. Overestimated the Need

These customers weren’t overtly (or even partially) mentioning that they wanted a new carrier. They weren’t threatening to quit. Yet, T-Mobile jumped in with a “solution” that wasn’t commensurate with the consumers’ state of need.

2. Unclear Benefit

If you’re going to try to pick off your competitors’ customers on Twitter one-by-one, you probably should do so with very clear information and calls-to-action. These T-Mobile tweets have neither:

What is #teammagenta? Did you know that T-Mobile is “team magenta?” I didn’t. Did you even know that T-Mobile’s corporate color is magenta? I didn’t. If you’re trying to get someone to cancel a phone contract, why are you wasting precious characters pushing a marketing-speak hashtag?

3. No call-to-action

In some of their responses, T-Mobile did convey actual differentiators that might have partially swayed potential switchers, but what consumers want (and rightfully so) is a true call-to-action that provides enough value to actually change carriers. If T-Mobile offered a contract buyout in their tweets, instead of blathering about #teammagenta this might have been more effective. There’s not even a clickable link in these tweets (although I do give T-Mobile’s “Matt M” credit for signing them)


4. Not participating selectively

When you jump into conversations like this, you run the risk of coming across someone who actually has history with you already, which can breed some unintended commentary (I also find it amazing that T-Mobile chose to engage with someone with the Twitter handle of “suck dis d**k” who used a profanity in their original tweet):


I’m all for companies listening aggressively. But to me, this is just way over the line, and poorly executed on top of it.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and you think this is a good idea? Do you?

big thanks to my friend Jarrod Lyman for tipping me off to this in real-time.

Facebook Comments


  1. david jacobs says

    I have always wondered why more carriers don’t offer to buy people out of their contracts. I’ll tell you why. Because everyone would start doing it and you would have mutually assured destruction.

  2. Mary Green says

    I think it was obviously poorly executed by T-mobile, but not over the line. In my opinion over-the-line is more about being offensive to the customers, etc. This was just a lame attempt to swipe contracts from Sprint, Matt M needs some social media training for sure, but the issue itself isn’t awful as far as PR goes, just disappointing.

  3. Mediocre But Arrogant says

    Why not buy out competitors’ contracts? Pharmacies incentivize disloyalty with the ‘new prescription’ boners -er, bonuses- so, if industrial-scale disloyalty programs work for the pill pushers, why not for the cell phone carriers with the lowest satisfaction ratings of any industry?

  4. says

    1) ehh… probably true, but not a big deal. I think we’ll see more of this in the future, hopefully with better planning and execution. This whole skit is reminiscent of reality show drama.
    2 & 3) No kidding. Can you believe such a large business didn’t have a plan & CTA down pat!
    4) OMG! –yep that about covers it.

    Great post, very entertaining.

  5. says

    Customers are complaining, few companies jump in (including the offender)…

    Had they stuck to conversations where they could provide value, answer questions and do anything other than blanket advertising, it would have been a great effort. Instead, it comes across feeling like spam and for really no benefit… people already know they exist, the opportunity was to showcase why they were different.

  6. ninjoic says

    Well, if they hired us as Social Media Managers, T-Mobile wouldn’t have put up with this. See what I did there? T-Mobile, tweet me: @fonzimarquez

  7. says

    Wow – you stay classy, T-Mobile.

    I think this does constitute a major goof, but a qualified one. People are now to how badly a company can use Twitter. (Like Urban Outfitters offering free shipping for Hurricane Sandy with the hashtag, #All Soggy. Yikes.) By comparison, this seems innocuous.

    The problem is if an organization is thoughtlessly tacky in public, people will see the brand as out of touch. Instead of being the silly Hail Mary campaign to possibly get a couple of people to switch carriers, it damaged their reputation with everyone who saw it and rolled their eyes. The-Mobile got on the social media’s all the kids are using and individually spammed people.

    If you can’t say something without properly thinking out how the message will be received, don’t say anything at all.

      • Jim Canto says

        I’m torn as to whether this is actually SPAM… ok… it is.. but; (IRL) If you market/sell for a company, and you’re in a room full of people where you overhear someone mention their dissatisfaction with their current widget provider, is it proper to “create” an opportunity by engaging them with your competitive widget?

        • says

          I guess it depends on the nature of that room everyone’s standing around in. If it’s a casual BBQ, jumping in and saying, “Well then you’re in luck! I happen to sell that thing you weren’t talking to me about!” it could be rude. If it’s a networking lunch where you know people are pitching business at each other anyway, it’s probably fine.

          My point is, IMHO, one needs to determine how the audience looks at that room. Sure, a lot of people promote stuff on Twitter, so maybe they should be ready to hear pitches. But if they didn’t come to Twitter to be pitched at, they might not be that responsive to a hard sell.

  8. Lolilol says

    What is #teammagenta? Did you know that T-Mobile is “team magenta?” I didn’t. Did you even know that T-Mobile’s corporate color is magenta? I didn’t.

    Stopped reading there, you are obviously a troll or stupid. Serisously. Magenta is part of the 3 main printer colors along with Cyan and Yellow… Please go back to School.

  9. says

    I think T-mobile could have done better but these days when you switch to a new carrier you can get a good deal. Be it for only for a limited time but that can be all the incentive you need especially if you are unsatisfied with your current provider.
    With the tweets related to the signal quality of sprint, T-mobile could have highlighted their own signal strength showcasing exactly how they were better.

  10. RedSlice says

    I don’t know, Jay. I’m not thinking this is all bad news here. Thought it was going to be much worse based on your post title! Yes, there are some finer points they could have put on this (link, CTA, not responding to profanity-laden tweets, etc.) but I think this is a great effort to participate in the conversation at a timely point. If people are complaining about a competitor, I think it’s totally appropriate to respond and offer them an alternative, but again, give them a link or a call to action to make the next move and convert them. I honestly don’t think this was over the line, so much as they made some gaffes in using the medium most effectively. And yes, who the heck even knew what #TeamMagenta was?!

      • RedSlice says

        Yes, I do. They expressed dissatisfaction (a problem) with their current service and Verizon is letting them know they can switch (a solution). What’s wrong with offering them an alternative to let them know they CAN switch? To say, “Hey sounds like you have a problem, we can help.” Sounds silly, but maybe those customers didn’t know they COUL:D switch and this is an opening to get them to think about doing it. Some of the web hosting companies (and email providers) have sent similar tweets to me in the past when I’ve complained about my current provider, and I actually thought that was a brilliant move: Meet me at my point of need. Sorry, disagree with you on this one, Jay!! (but not on how bad some of the execution was – again, they didn’t think through a CTA or sharing valuable info and it DID come across as individual spamming, but the intention was a good one, totally appropriate IMHO)

        • says

          @jasonbaer:disqus, I’m with @RedSlice:disqus on this one. I think the execution was ill-advised, but I don’t it was an inappropriate time for a Tweet (well, one sample user aside).

          That said, I really wish TMobile would have offered up something useful. Maybe a detailed network coverage map, so you could look up coverage for your area. Something like “We believe we have the best coverage and highest speed. See the map for details on coverage in your area. LINK” would have been appropriate as a response to the coverage tweets, for instance. Without offering up something beyond shallow “switch” with a silly brand hashtag, it ended up just being spam…

  11. jillebean says

    Yep, agree. Companies that do this are ambulance-chasing Twitter trolls (I’d say whores but it’s an insult to whores). Telecom/cable is the worst. It’s pushy, rude, and completely lacks salesmanship. Didn’t Mom tell them not to butt into conversations they aren’t a part of? Just visualize it…some fidgety creep with fingers on keyboard searching hashtags on Twittersphere ready to pounce…snorting and hyperventilating when he discovers a complaint….ready to burst into cheer about their company…(how much flare is he wearing anyway?) .

  12. says

    Jay – do you have any more information / posts etc. on listening at point of need (other than is in the book)? I think this a very important concept – which illustrates the key social shift, which is from a channel and message environment to a behavior identification and response environment. Very few organisations get this at the moment.

  13. Graciousstore says

    This is a classic case when well meaning action back fires. I guess T-mobile meant everything good for their cusstomers

  14. heho96 says

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  15. besweeet says

    “What is #teammagenta? Did you know that T-Mobile is “team magenta?” I didn’t. Did you even know that T-Mobile’s corporate color is magenta?”

    Are you colorblind, or do you just live under a rock?

  16. Melissa Coombs says

    I totally agree with you Jay, T-mobile went a touch too far and in so cases it seems to have backfired on them. I can see what they were trying to do but really they should have highlighted the benefits of being a T-mobile customer rather than just saying “you shouldn’t have to put up with that”

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