Wag the dog

If I had any doubts about the increasingly dominating role of new media over traditional media, they were vanquished yesterday while watching ABC’s World News Tonight.

In the A-block of the evening news program (ranked second between NBC and CBS) Anchor David Muir told us a story about a tweet that Donald Trump sent earlier in the day to commemorate Cinco de Mayo.

Perhaps because Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee for the presidency and because his  tasteless Taco Bowl tweet had gone viral, ABC treated it as one of their top new stories.

ABC’s Taco Bowl Tweet story included reporting that Hillary Clinton’s team fired off a response tweet using Trump’s own words to discredit him. The story also mentioned that 81 percent of Hispanic Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump.

ABC was certainly not alone in covering the Taco Bowl incident. The social media gaffe was covered by every other network, including cable news giants CNN and FOX, not to mention the print media, including the Associated Press, USA Today and Reuters.

In each of these stories, something that transpired in the world of new media was being reported by the old media giants in a classic game of react and catch-up.

Trump tweeted his photo some five hours before ABC’s evening news broadcast. How many people had already seen the tweet?

I will not argue the newsworthy merits of Trump’s tweet, but it struck me that the once dominating news giants were again scrambling to keep up with their more nimble counterparts in the world of social media.

Whether it is a political campaign or your business reputation on the line, what you do and say on social media has significant consequences. That’s why I always tell my clients to be very careful and not post anything on social media that you don’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

The tables have turned. The rules have changed. You are the media. Take your role seriously.


Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More

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Pretty Persuasion

boehner-resignDo you argue about politics on social media? Do you find yourself getting angry and often one step away from “unfriending” someone or blocking them?

And what happens when you argue about politics with someone right in front of you? Are you able to keep calm or do you feel your blood begin to boil?

I have an interesting mix of Facebook “friends,” and follow an eclectic mix of folks on Twitter.

Most of these people are relatively outspoken about their political views, and many of them are political junkies just like me. Hence, we are connected via social media.  My social media contacts are pretty much equally divided between the two dominant political parties, but most of them could be described as political moderates.

Lately, however, I am seeing an increasing number of my friends becoming more extremist, whether they sit on the left or right side of the political aisle. I’m not a big fan of the word “extremist,” I prefer to describe these particular friends as passionate.

Passion, however, does not equal reason or even common sense. You can be passionate about something, but if you’re leading with your heart or your gut instead of your brain, you are bound to cross paths with someone who has a polar opposite point of view.

Witnessing those interactions is like watching a train wreck. Nothing good comes from it.

Passionate folks often decry the role of moderates. They say we lack convictions, courage and principles. I would counter that passionate people rarely pause to use their brains when trying to make a political point.

So there, I just lost the art of political persuasion.

Define winning

We live in a culture of winners and losers. We love to root for our teams, and politics has always been a blood-sport.

We have cliches such as “elections have consequences,” a modern adaptation of “to the victor go the spoils.”

But what is the point of winning a political argument? If you win, does it really help your candidate or cause?

What is more important: your PRIDE or your GREED?

Pride is defined as your way of doing things, your personal view of yourself and tactics. Greed is defined as your goals, the object of your desire.

So, first ask yourself: am I arguing to beat someone or am I arguing to help them better see my point?

Instead of bashing a candidate or cause, why not vest your energy into making a more compelling argument for your candidate or cause?

Why are you arguing? To thump your chest, to make a point or maybe to win someone over?

Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner abruptly announced he would be leaving his post at the end of October. That announcement drew cheers from many of my friends on both sides of the aisle.

I don’t think Republicans understand fully how much Boehner helped his party. He was a fundraising machine and held together one of the most challenging caucuses in recent memory.

I also don’t think many of my friends on the left appreciate Boehner’s dedication to his country, his willingness to compromise and the leadership he offered in the House.

If it is to be all out war between the two political parties, then the casualties will be counted in losses for our nation.

So let’s all take a stab at better approach to arguing. Let’s persuade instead of attack.

Persuasion is much more difficult, but it is far more rewarding.

And it will likely help keep your blood pressure in check.

For a complete style guide about how to really win a political argument, check this link from New York Magazine.

When things go right

American_Airlines_logoRegular readers of this blog know that I believe strongly in the power of social media.

Social media has been used to topple governments, connect people globally around a common cause and to highlight awareness of issues that may otherwise go unnoticed.

You can also use the awesome power of social media to put pressure on companies or businesses that fail to deliver on their promises.

But today, I want to highlight a company that responded to the pressure of social media in a productive and meaningful way.

Some of you may recall that I was fairly harsh with American Airlines regarding the treatment I received on a March 21 flight from West Palm Beach to Portland, Maine. You can read all the gory details here: Automatic For The People.

I used Facebook and Twitter to express my dissatisfaction with the airline. I waged a relentless battle while the airline repeatedly asked for my patience. It took nearly two months to get a response.

That said, the response I received was meaningful and sincere. The airline explained why the situation happened, detailed the corrective steps that they were taking and agreed with me that they had short-changed me on my compensation for an over-booked flight. It was a lengthy and detailed response. It showed empathy and reinforced the airline’s commitment to customer service.

Since I was particularly tough on the airline, I thought I should share their response publicly. The text of their e-mail is posted below: (Personal information has been redacted)

***************

May 14, 2015

Dear Mr. Seaver:

I’m sorry you weren’t able to board your scheduled flight to Portland and I understand your frustration. You have every right to expect to be boarded on the flights you have reserved. As you may know, airlines overbook to help plan for customers who are re-booked at the last minute or do not show up for their flights. An empty seat on a flight means a loss of revenue, which in turn means higher ticket prices. I realize this explanation doesn’t change what happened, but I wanted to let you know some of the reasoning behind this process.

At American Airlines we are committed to providing a truly enjoyable travel experience, and a warm, courteous attitude on the part of our employees is the key. That is why your email is so disheartening. We did not afford you with friendly customer service at the gate and the Passenger Assistance Counter, and we apologize. Your comments are important and serve as a significant tool in helping to maintain our standards of excellence. I have shared your feedback with the Philadelphia Station Manager to be addressed directly with the personnel on duty at these positions.

Per our Customer Service Plan and in accordance with the regulations of the US Department of Transportation, when a passenger has been subjected to involuntary denied boarding on a domestic flight, the passenger is entitled to one of the following forms of compensation:

* If the passenger’s arrival at his or her final destination is greater than one hour but less than two hours past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 200 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $650.

* If the passenger’s arrival at their final destination is two hours or more past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 400 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $1300.

Based on the circumstances surrounding your flight, you should have received a check for $[redacted], and we apologize that the check you were given did not meet this amount. I have issued an additional check for $[redacted], the difference between the correct value and what you received at the airport.

Mr. Seaver, I truly appreciate the time you took to share your experience with us. It is always our pleasure to have an opportunity to serve you and hope you will look to the new American Airlines for your future travel needs.

Sincerely,

[Redacted]

******************

We all screw up sometimes, but it is heartening to know that simply acknowledging your mistakes and taking corrective actions can restore faith and trust in your relationships, whether they are personal or professional.

Kudos to American Airlines for stepping up to do the right thing.

Talking in your sleep

Angry-Computer-GuyOftentimes, it’s not so much what you say but rather how you say it.

It’s an important lesson for all of us, but especially important for those who aspire to be our leaders. Think: “Social Security is Welfare

Earlier today, I was interviewed for a locally produced talk show in my community. I was pitched for this idea several weeks ago, and my first instinct was to decline the invitation. But the host was persistent, and he wanted to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: strategic communication.

As I prepared for the 25-minute taping, I paused to think about some words that I routinely take for granted.  After all, I am a strategic communications consultant; my job makes sense to me but I wondered if it made sense to anyone else.

stra-te-gic \strƏ-tē-jik\ adj 1. of, relating to, or marked by strategy. 2. necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan.

com-mu-ni-ca-tions\ kә-myὕ-nә-kā-shәns\ n. 1. an act or instance of transmitting; 2. process by which information is exchanged between individuals.

con-sul-tant \kәn-sәlt-nt\ n. 1. one who gives professional advice or services: expert

Thinking more deeply about those words led me to a basic conclusion: Despite the rapid and sometimes overwhelming advance of technology, the basic fundamentals of good communication skills haven’t changed much.

In fact, I quickly recalled a lesson that my late uncle drilled into my head during my teenage years: God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.

Human beings have always had the need and desire to communicate. Our ancestors used hieroglyphics (an earlier version of SnapChat) before sharing stories around campfires and passing those tales and lessons from one generation to the next. From there, we moved on to the invention of the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, television  – – all the way into our brave new world of Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

But as the speed of our communication increases exponentially, it becomes increasingly important to remember my uncle’s Golden Rule of Communication: take the time to listen and think before you speak, post or tweet.

If you want to learn a little bit more about my professional life (how I feed my family): check out this relatively short video clip.

In the meantime, remember that social media tools are power tools and require caution and a firm understanding of the consequences of making one wrong move that can happen in an instant without warning.

As always, I encourage your feedback. You can contact me by clicking this link.

 

 

 

 

How not to use social media in a campaign

camplogo3There is a right way to use social media in a campaign.

And there is a wrong way to use social media in a campaign.

The following could be forgiven if it came from a political novice, but not when it comes from the governor’s re-election team.

Here’s a game you can play at home. Find the three glaring strategic mistakes that Team LePage 2014 uses in their recent Facebook post.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/mainesgov/posts/10152803304354676?stream_ref=10

1.) The post urges us to “please search for the LePage 2014 website on your computer.”

Oh, I’m not supposed to search under the table or between the seat cushions?

How about this? How about posting a link to your site? You can do that on Facebook.

Instead, the governor’s social media gurus are worried about unintended “filters” that could accompany an embedded link. So, instead they strongly suggest that you use your computer, hunt down the link and then donate.

In fact, donating must be important because they ask you to donate twice in the same paragraph, which almost looks like one giant sentence, considering the absence of punctuation.

2.) The campaign’s post is horrendously long.

Facebook is not Twitter, which requires abbreviated posts. That said, you should not use Facebook to “cut and paste” an entire speech.

A better strategy would be to hook your social media audience into your website. Use social media to tease your message and direct readers back to your website.

3.) If you must go long, give your post some space.

If you insist on your using Facebook like a blog, at least be considerate and allow readers a visual experience that doesn’t look like a bucket of spilled nails.

Insert a line space between paragraphs. Remember, if you want more people reading your posts, make your posts easier to read.

So here’s a primer for Governor LePage and his re-election team:

If you want to see Governor LePage re-elected go here and donate.

See how easy that was? Social media is supposed to be easy.

I’m not sure who is handling the governor’s social media, but from the looks of things there is plenty of room for improvement.

Social media and Maine’s gubernatorial campaign

camplogo3Despite all the hoopla about the power of social media tools in political campaigns, what metrics can we use to determine if those tools are effective?

While just about anyone can set up a Twitter account or create a Facebook page, social media tools are only as effective as those who are using them.  Although it is widely accepted that social media tools played a big part in President Obama’s 2008 campaign, that type of success is not guaranteed by simply using social media as part of a campaign strategy.

When it comes to Maine’s 2014 gubernatorial race, which of the campaigns is best using social media? More importantly, how do we set aside our individual biases and evaluate the campaigns based solely upon their social media metrics?

At the Brookings Institute’s Center for Technology Innovation, Darrell West offers a mixed review regarding social media and campaign engagement and the awkward transition to actual governance.

Social media are the ultimate in disruptive technology. They change information delivery, business organization, online content, news coverage, and the manner in which individuals process new developments. As shown during the 2008 campaign, these digital tools represented a textbook example of voter mobilization and electoral impact. They were, in the words of Engage Partner Mindy Finn, the “central nervous system” of campaign organizations.

Using social networking outreach tools such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter, a number of Democratic and Republican candidates raised money, identified supporters, built electoral coalitions, and brought people in closer touch with the electoral process.

You may recall a somewhat silly and lighthearted piece about Maine’s gubernatorial campaigns that I posted a couple of months ago. Then, I jokingly said we should dispense with the standard election process and use social media metrics to determine the winner. I examined each of the campaign’s current metrics.

Twitter FollowersToday, I have decided to track those metrics on a regular basis and to blog frequently about those campaigns and their use of social media.

Over the last 60 days, each of the Maine gubernatorial campaigns has been active on various social media platforms. But before we begin, it’s important to note that Democrat Mike Michaud is the latest entrant to this race. Both Governor LePage and Eliot Cutler carried over their respective social media support from the 2010 campaign.

Nonetheless, Michaud has seen the greatest increase in social media traffic, earning a 21 percent increase in the number of Twitter followers @Michaud2014, moving from 1,219 Twitter followers on January 20 to 1,475 followers as of March 20, 2014.

Although Governor LePage (@lepage2014) has the greatest number of Twitter followers (1,698) his metrics have increased only 8 percent during the same time period.

Eliot Cutler (@EliotCutler) saw a 10 percent increase in Twitter followers, from 1, 153 to 1,269 followers during the same period.

Facebook LikesOn Facebook, Cutler still dominates in the total number of Likes for his campaign page (19,824) but saw only a 4 percent increase over the last 60 days, while both Michaud and LePage experienced increases of 10 percent.

LePage’s Facebook page had 18,438 fans on March 20, compared to 16,791 fans on January 20, 2014.

Michaud’s Facebook page had 11,600 fans on March 20, compared to 10,529 fans on January 20, 2014.

When viewed overall, it would appear that Team Cutler has the steepest hill to climb, so far.

Note: Though it’s generally common knowledge, it must be noted that Twitter followers and Facebook fans do not translate directly to the number of supporters for a political candidate. As an example, I follow all three campaigns on Twitter, but will only be voting for one candidate.

Just like a prayer

Bobby Mills
Bobby Mills

Biddeford City Councilor Bobby Mills has a lesson for all of us who use social media.

It doesn’t matter much if the NSA has tapped your phone or if Google is using your online data to create a psychological profile, you have a responsibility to be careful about what you share on social media outlets.

Mills, an elected official, is upset that he was contacted by a local newspaper regarding a potential conflict of interest issue. According to Mills, the newspaper received an anonymous tip regarding something he posted online.

I’ll let Mills tell the story . . .

Interesting enough I just got a phone call interview from the Courier. Someone made an “anonymous” complaint about the unsuccessful Go Fund Me page I set up back in October/November for assistance in our down payment for our lease to own home. Since this page was only created for my family and friends on Facebook I’m simply amazed.
“The complaint was about public officials creating pages seeking donations and conflicts of interests that it may generate.  Seriously.  My family doesn’t live here and any friendships in Biddeford would never be in a situation to assist us if they could. Nonetheless conflicts of interests? Amazing.
 Everytime I’m reelected,  there’s always some “anonymous” nonsense. Hey. Why don’t you call me? 207[redacted].  Your welcome to come and visit as well. Obviously you know where I live”

Bobby Mills and I have not always seen eye to eye. In fact, I’ve often been one of his loudest critics. But in this story, I feel some of his pain.

Please note: I said some.

Mills and every other adult who uses social media ought to understand how those platforms work. Social media is a power tool in the realm of mass communication, and like any other power tool, you can expect really bad results if you don’t follow some basic guidelines.

Mills said he posted his personal request for the benefit of his family and friends. He didn’t expect criticism or harsh comments about his financial situation from outside his circle of family and friends.

While I sympathize with Mr. Mills’ situation, his defense is extremely weak. He wanted to raise a lot of money (thousands) to help secure a down-payment for a home. You don’t post something online if you don’t want a lot of people to see it.

Rule No. 1 of social media: Never post or tweet anything that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

Bobby Mills likes to use social media. In fact, he’s set up a Facebook page for a second run at becoming Maine’s next governor. Criticize him for that, if you want (and I will . . . later), but don’t knock the guy for being in a tight financial spot and then attack his character because of that fact.

Times are tough for a lot of people. There’s nothing wrong with asking family and friends for help. It’s a tough situation. If you haven’t experienced it, thank your lucky stars.

Raising questions about whether Mills’ original fundraising post constitutes a potential conflict of interest is a bit of a stretch.

By all accounts, Bobby Mills is a good husband and father who loves his kids. He holds several jobs and works hard. He gives a lot back to his community. His only crime here is being a bit naïve about how social media works.

However, if Mills still serves as a member of the Biddeford Housing Authority, and if the home’s sale is connected in any way to that agency, then Mills needs to put some distance between his personal objective and his role as a city official.

Elected officials are treated differently by the media for good reason. When you run for office you have to expect that.

And when you post something on Facebook, you should expect that a lot of people will see what you may not want them to see.

UPDATED: Bobby Mills is NOT a member of the Biddeford Housing Authority.

Dead letter office

Source: City Clerk's office; 2004 data not available
Source: City Clerk’s office; 2004 data not available

I was speaking with a friend yesterday  about the recent municipal elections in Biddeford.

“I bet you’re glad it’s over,” he said.

“Over?” I responded. “It’s hardly over. Already candidates are lining up for local legislative races that will be decided next November. There’s always another election around the corner.”

He shook his head and smiled. “Who cares about who we send to Augusta,” he said. “It’s not like it matters.”

It’s understandable that most people feel a bit burned out by the political process.

Only a few weeks after arguing and ranting about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, political junkies turned their attention to controversial referendum questions pending in South Portland and Portland. While local candidates were seeking city council and mayoral seats, Congressman Mike Michaud, the likely Democratic nominee for the Blaine House, announced that he was gay and thus strategically overshadowed Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement about his own official re-election campaign this week.

I almost expected Independent Eliot Cutler to announce that he was bi-sexual, pledging allegiance to neither heterosexual nor homosexual preferences; a true Independent — just like Maine —  in a desperate attempt for some much needed press during a tough news cycle.

It’s no wonder that voters have become a bit apathetic and cynical about politics.

For the record, I could not care less about a candidate’s sexual orientation. I also don’t care about their favorite color or whether they like their chicken original or extra crispy. I want the candidates and the media to focus on the issues that are affecting every day people who are struggling under the weight of a difficult economy. I want to hear new ideas. I want to hear each candidate describe their vision.

Although I am pleased that an overwhelming majority of voters in my hometown chose vision over fear, positive over negative; I also expect those who won their seats to get real busy, real quick and to focus with laser-precision on economic development, creating streamlined efficiencies and encouraging private investment.

Voter turnout in Biddeford this year hit a 10-year low. Fewer than one-third of the city’s voters bothered to cast a ballot. Sure, there were no sexy referendum issues like a casino or marriage equality driving people to the polls; but the decisions we made yesterday impact every part of our lives: our roads, our schools, public safety, our sewers and yes . . . our tax bills. The people chosen on Tuesday will be responsible for making decisions that could have long-lasting impacts.

So why was voter turnout so pathetic? The weather was beautiful. There were no long lines at the polling places. What gives?

It’s always difficult to gauge voter sentiment, but there are a few likely reasons:

a.) Voters are content with the way Biddeford is being managed. They sensed Alan Casavant had a commanding lead and, therefore, their vote was unnecessary;

b.) Voters are upset with the way Biddeford is being managed and feel disenfranchised. You can’t fight City Hall;

Or c.) the most likely reason: voters just didn’t care. Period.

If you belong to any of the above three groups, you are an idiot.

Members of Group A risked a potential loss and a step backward for the city. Members of Group B missed a real opportunity to send a powerful message about their discontent; and members of Group C ought to be required to take a remedial civics lesson.

Voting is important. You are an equal shareholder in this community. Your voice matters. Imagine how different the election would have been if only 20 percent more of the city’s register voters had bothered to participate?

Of course, it’s too late to speculate. And those who did vote sent a pretty clear message. They want a fiscally responsible council. They want a positive and professional mayor leading the city. They are not afraid of making long-term investments in their community (all five state bond questions passed easily).

Sure, it’s more fun to get wound up about a particular, controversial issue, but if you can’t be bothered to exercise your civic duty, then be prepared to accept whatever comes down your path.

Voters tend to turn out for things they want; things they support.

Throughout this last election cycle, many of Casavant’s loudest critics failed to articulate who they supported. They were against someone, but for no one. A sure-fire prescription for voter apathy and a stunning loss at the polls.

Sure, Casavant’s opponents split their opposition, but looking at the results tells an even stronger story. Even if you add the total votes of each opponent, Casavant’s numbers were still higher. Fifty-seven percent is a clear victory. Winning each of the city’s seven wards reaffirms the voters’ decision.

If the opponents are struggling to accept the results, maybe they ought to spend a little less time bitching and a bit more time convincing their friends and neighbors to get to the polls two years from now.

I said it before, and I will say it again: Campaign signs do NOT win elections; Facebook or other social media tools do NOT win elections; debates or endorsements do NOT win elections. What wins elections? It’s about how many people you get to the polls. Game over.

Too big to fail?

I never expected it to happen so quickly.

Almost every day I am deep in the trenches of public opinion, helping a wide variety of clients navigate the perilous waters of brand reputation management, crisis communications and message development designed to garner strong public support.

But last night it got a bit personal, and I tried a social media experiment.

urlI had an issue with my mobile phone provider, AT&T, one of the nation’s largest corporations. I spent more than an hour on the phone with their customer service representatives, haggling over a bill that was grossly out of balance. You can find the details here.

The company failed on several fronts. First, they did not live up to the promises they made during prior calls about the same issue. Secondly, perhaps more importantly, they let me off the phone without asking me if I was satisfied.

I waited 24 hours and then launched an all-out social media battle with the company. I dragged their competitors into the fray. I hounded their Facebook page and chased them on Twitter. But it all ended rather abruptly.

I never had the chance to execute the second phase of my PR battle because they smartly surrendered and resolved the issue to my satisfaction.

I am just one person, but I used my social media connections to leverage my message. The results were clear. It took fewer than 24 hours for them to surrender to my one-man war on the blogosphere.

This was all preventable. AT&T spent far more than the $1,000 they claimed I owed. They also suffered as others jumped on my bandwagon, further diminishing the company’s brand and reputation.

There are lessons here.

1.) No company is too big to fail.

2.) Do not underestimate the power of social media.

3.) Your brand and reputation are your most important assets and must be guarded.

AT&T ought to take a lesson from companies like AVIS, which authorizes its front-counter rental agents to do whatever it takes to resolve customer complaints; or LL Bean, a company that built a reputation for the quality of its products by honoring their replacement for any reason whatsoever. Or, GWI, a locally owned Biddeford-based ISP and telecommunications provider that always goes the extra mile to make customer satisfaction a top priority.

Fletcher Kittredge of Biddeford started GWI with vision and commitment, but he also had to endure many, many battles with larger telecomm giants. Fletcher proved that you can compete with anyone by focusing on the quality or your product and developing strong relationships with your customers.

AT&T, by comparison, is a multi-billion dollar corporation. Why is it so hard for such a large company to understand or appreciate the value of customer satisfaction and loyalty?

AT&T: Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap

My nightmare started less than 24 hours ago.

Spend just a few moments on the blogosphere and you will find a lot of stories just like mine.

On Google, Facebook and Twitter, these dark tales of woe, deceit and theft abound.

But my story is a tad different.  And this, my friends, is the first warning shot across the bow of a corporate giant aircraft carrier that likely will pay little attention.

attI am talking about AT&T, one of the nation’s largest and most well-known corporations.

AT&T (NYSE:T) is a Fortune 500 company and of the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Their reported consolidated revenue for the 2011 reporting period was $126.7 billion. Randall L. Stephenson is the chairman and CEO of AT&T.

So now you know what I’m up against, but don’t count me out just yet.

Allow me to back up and offer some context.

I have been a loyal AT&T customer for more than 7 years. I have a Family Plan that is also used by my wife and two teenage step-sons. I have a data bundle, unlimited text and 1,500 minutes of monthly talk time. My average monthly bill runs approximately $200 every month.

I have upgraded my phones over the last few years. I have never said an unkind word about AT&T in the public realm, despite their rather dismal coverage and the fact that my cell phone is essentially useless in my own home. But I am hooked into everlasting contracts, and until now it seemed like a giant pain in the ass to leave.

But then this happened:

Last evening, I received an automated call from AT&T, suggesting that I should consider a new plan. Curious, I went to view my account online and almost had a massive coronary. According to AT&T, I owe them $1,016.21.

Go here to find out how it happened and how AT&T repeatedly failed in even the most basic of customer service tasks.

I spoke with at least two representatives, including a young man named Rico, a “customer satisfaction specialists,” who didn’t seem to know the first thing about customers or service.  In summary, AT&T refused to budge.

Somehow, I was able to get Rico to set down his scripted talking points and listen to me for just a few seconds. And this is what I said.

 I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for me to pay this bill, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you adjust this bill now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill your company’s reputation.

For good measure, I threw in some other key phrases like Maine Public Utilities Commission, Maine Office of the Public Advocate and Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

I am going to haunt AT&T’s Facebook page and chase them on Twitter. I am going to call their customer service line every day, multiple times a day. I am going to shout my story from the rooftops, call every member of the Legislature, file formal complaints and talk to my friends in the media.

I am going to buy AT&T stock so that I can participate in shareholder conference calls and stay updated on their corporate affairs. I am going to e-mail Randall Stephenson daily, sometimes two or three times a day. I am going to create a Facebook page and make sure that Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile know about it.

Strangely, there are several fun URL domains available, i.e. attsukz.com; attblows.com, etc.

ATT-Logo-NJTechReviewsBut in the end, AT&T has me over a barrel. They can impact my credit report if I don’t pay on time. They have me locked in a contract.

But I am motivated, and unlike the foolishness and aimlessness of the Occupy fiasco, I have a clear objective: AT&T is going to spend at least 10 times more than what they are charging me for international calls that I never made.

Companies like AT&T spend millions every year to attract customers in a competitive market. They spend millions more on lobbyists and on PR professionals like me.

Go ahead and laugh, who could blame you? But consider this: social media helped bring down the Egyptian president. Lech Walesa, a Polish Factory worker, brought the Soviet Union to its knees in a matter of weeks. David beat Goliath and elephants are terrified of mice.

I invite you to join me in my crusade. I am going to have fun, and you can follow my progress with regular updates here.

Meanwhile, I will wrap it up here with a wonderful quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Hey, AT&T: can you hear me now? You guys may want to rethink possible.

AT&T customers are welcome to join the fight. Tell me your story here