New media may have been at play this month in helping to solve an age-old consumer conundrum: how to get just one voice heard.
Friends of a north side Chicago man who lost nearly everything in an apartment fire took to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr in a show of force against DirecTV after the company refused to budge on its early-termination policy.
The electrical fire that ravaged Bill Stern's apartment last month left his living room charred and his electronics melted, including the DirecTV satellite dish erected above the balcony that burned off the building.
Among his many worries, he said he didn't think that canceling his DirecTV service, which he could no longer use, was one of them.
"'Please help me," Stern recalled saying in his plea with the company. "There's got to be someone there who can."
But to his dismay, the provider stood firm on the fee, which in Stern's case was a $220 penalty.
"The supervisor said, 'We cannot cancel your service,' and I said, 'No, you won't cancel my service. Please help me,' and they said, 'No, we can't."
Rebuilding his life from the rubble, Stern's friends kept asking how they could help. And that sparked an idea.
"I thought, 'Well, this is how you can help. You can Tweet and Facebook message at DirecTV," Stern explained.
And thus began the social media storm. Stern's friends pitched messages directly to and at the provider.
"Hey @DirecTV, if your apartment burned down, I'm sure Bill Stern would wave your early termination fee," one person wrote on Twitter.
The conversation continued on Facebook and on Tumblr, with the messages letting DirecTV know that Stern had all of them in his corner.
The provider confirms that it did ultimately waive that $220 fee but declined to comment as to whether the social media messages played a part. A DirecTV spokesman said that had Stern called the company again, he could have solved the problem through regular customer service channels.
Stern said his friends didn't stop with DirecTV. They later held a benefit to help raise funds for a new start.
"It sounds cliché or whatever, but from this tragedy came the realization that I'm, like, the luckiest guy in the whole world," Stern said.
In 2010, DirecTV reached a settlement with all 50 states over consumer complaints, with cancellation policies being a major one. The company now said it works hard to keep customers happy.