O2 and the social media handbrake turn

Did O2 get it right on twitter in the wake of their network outage problems?

No.

And yes.

This may be one of the biggest clichés in PR and comms, but it gets to the heart of a very important consideration – what are you trying to achieve, and what does success look like?

When I and thousands of other O2 users found we couldn’t make calls or send texts, we turned to twitter to see what else we could learn about the problem… was it happening to anyone else, was there an explanation, and so on.  The O2 support page seemed to go offline around the same time, possibly due to being swamped by enquiries.

Twitter was soon a-buzz with tweets from disgruntled O2 customers.

There wasn’t a great deal of information coming out of O2 and the grumbles began to grow in volume and intensity. The O2 twitter account seemed to go a bit quiet at that point too.

By Thursday, O2 seemed to be more in control of itself, if not of the glitch that had caused the outage, and the company’s twitter stream was soon alive with responses to customers.

O2 is one of the few brands I follow and interact with on twitter. Not just because I’m a customer, although that is ultimately the explanation, but also because I’ve always thought they got the balance of interaction and broadcast right. There was a human touch to the O2 account but it never overpowered the O2 brand.

But in my opinion the wheels came off on Thursday.

If you check out Karen Webber’s excellent piece about the outage on NewsReach you’ll see what is probably the most famous tweet from O2 in response to an abusive customer’s tweet. It was inspired. Genuinely funny.

That whoever was staffing the twitter account was given the freedom to do that is a masterstoke.

However, I also got the impression that the huge positive sentiment that tweet elicited from the wider audience prompted someone at O2 to declare “do more tweets like that, I think we’ve found our way out.”

For a while it seemed that O2’s motivation on twitter was no longer to inform or engage with customers, but to demonstrate how achingly funny the brand could be – how irreverent and not-at-all-how-you-expected it was capable of being.

For me, that joke wore thin pretty quickly.

It was clever though.

Social media is a fickle environment. The speed with which people get enthused and subsequently bored is staggering at times. So, why not take advantage of that..?  Which is what O2 did.

By engaging in a spot of banter, attempting to shock us all a little by responding to remarks about anal sex with people’s mothers for example, the brand was executing the perfect social media handbrake turn.

O2 outage..? What O2 outage..?? Look over here – they’re being funny about tweeting first and fellating in hell later, and joining in with jokes about pigeons.

Did O2 get it right? I think that depends entirely on what we think they were trying to achieve. If it was reassuring customers (and don’t forget some of them rely on O2 for their business) that the problem had been identified and was being put right, I don’t think so. If it was turning the tide of negative tweets, then yes.

They could have posted some animated cat gifs, that would probably have had the same effect in terms of getting the angry mob to put down the pitchforks and torches.

Personally, I think there was too much emphasis on trying to be clever and funny, and not enough on acknowledging the problem.


Footnote: can you see sour grapes here? If you feel like trawling through my twitter stream you’ll find a tweet from me to O2 stating that despite being inconvenienced by the outage, I wasn’t feeling at all aggrieved. There are no sour grapes.


O2 – see what you can do…

O2 cut me off this morning. Not me personally, my iPhone – I couldn’t make calls or send texts. After several attempts I finally got through to someone at O2 customer service who was able to explain the problem.

It transpires that for reasons best known to them, someone at O2 decided that rather than collect the payment for my bill via direct debit, they would cancel the direct debit, not ask for payment and suspend my service.

The woman at O2 I spoke to was a bit bemused by all of this. “I can see from here that we haven’t tried to take the payment,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Quick as flash, she sorted everything out – phone working fine and as a grovelling apology (sorry, I mean goodwill gesture) she credited my account with £10.

As pissed off as I was that they’d dropped the ball and I ended up not being able to use my phone, I couldn’t fault the way my problem was fixed.

I recently interviewed a WStore customer who – on the subject of customer service – said that he cares less about mistakes than he does about the way mistakes are dealt with. And don’t we all.

Well done O2!

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