Crisis? What Crisis? Admirable O2 Comes Out Fighting As Twitter Turns Nasty

It’d be fair to say that O2 hasn’t had a particularly enjoyable last two days. Blanket network failure saw social media channels overrun with annoyed and sometimes irate customers yesterday. In fact, social monitoring dashboard Synthesio shows over 11,000 mentions of O2’s network problems, with over 9 out of 10 of them on social media. And the overwhelming majority of those were on Twitter.

Many companies would have buckled under the pressure. Most do. But not O2. In fact, the social media team has emerged from this crisis with its head held high, having garnered the respect and admiration of hundreds, if not thousands, of watching Twitter users. The way it professionally, calmly and skilfully dealt with the furious and unnecessarily malicious comments of angry customers is something to behold. These are just two examples that I saw:

O2 Twitter Responses

[Update: there are more examples of O2’s responses on New Statesman]

Now let’s be honest, this approach isn’t for everyone. It’s gutsy and it’s not what you’d see in a best practice guide to handling a Twitter crisis. But I love it for two reasons. First, it’s personal. It’s easy to forget that behind the brand there’s a real person whose job it is to handle this stuff, and that they had nothing whatsoever to do with the network failure. So raining down fireballs of spiteful tweets at them is, on the face of it, unreasonable. And yet O2 has responded with an extremely personal approach and a very gentle touch that is truly admirable.

And second, it portrays an organisation that has empowered and trusted the people who run its Twitter profile to do their jobs as they see fit. In a world where I still see some companies who want to insist on signing off every tweet and status update, often with at least a 24 hour turnaround, this is extremely refreshing. So good on you, O2. You’ve turned a huge negative into a mass of positive publicity today. I’d change network due to this sort of thing. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

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  • Steve Ward (@CloudNineRec)

    Great shout Paul, I think we all wish Twitter feeds from Customer support were more human and less automated. I hope for O2s sake, that the everlasting memory of their 24hr blip, is the way they handled it with humour and warmth.

    Excellent case study for brands to learn by, but with caution – clearly O2 seemed to have hired some kind of Dara O’Briain to do their Twitter response, or something!! – sometimes humour can fall horribly wrong if the tone is incorrectly set.

  • Paul Sutton

    Bring in Michael McIntyre: that’d be a refreshingly different approach to a Twitter crisis :)

    I agree with the cautionary note. As I say, this approach is definitely not for everyone and is very brave. It says a lot for the organisation, and for Alex Pearmain who heads up social, that O2 is confident yet grounded enough to carry this off.

  • Gini Dietrich (@ginidietrich)

    OK…that’s pretty darn funny! Good for them for being human and taking it all in stride.

    • Paul Sutton

      Absolutely, Gini. A risky strategy, but paid off for them. Love it!

  • Danny Brown (@DannyBrown)

    I love this, mate – like you say, it shows both trust in O2 and empowering its employees, and a reminder that there are real people trying to do their jobs behind the facade of an online avatar. Something I’m going to try and be aware of better in future. Kudos, O2.

    • Paul Sutton

      I’ll certainly be reeling this out in front of clients in the future. Although I think it’ll probably scare the life out of most of them :)

  • Kami Huyse (@kamichat)

    I actually disagree with how this was handled, not that we haven’t all felt this way from time to time. Who wouldn’t like to just tell the trolls and complainers exactly how we feel? I think there is a fine line between human interaction and glib responses. This was walking a fine line and went over it. What about all the people who were really having issues with their service? Should they come to Twitter to see an official response that basically says they don’t respect the pain of their customers, even if said customers are behaving badly? All of us who do this for a living, of course, get silent pleasure for seeing this person “win” against trolls, but a longer view has to be taken here. It is quite possible to win the battle and lose the war. Just my two cents.

    • Paul Sutton

      I appreciate your point, Kami, but I disagree. There certainly is a fine line when it comes to this kind of thing and, as I say in the original post, this is very gutsy and isn’t for everyone. But although I agree it did come close to it, I don’t think O2 crossed that line. The nature of some of the abuse it received was bang out of order, and what it effectively did was to remind the abuser that there are real people behind the profile who should not have to put up with that. Any reasonable person can see that some of the tweets it received were completely unnecessary, and dealing with them with a sense of humour I’d imagine helped those running the profile to deal with that.

      It’s important to bear in mind, however, that for every one abusive tweet there were hundreds of ‘normal’ tweets, and these were dealt with in an extremely professional and polite manner. At the end of the day, it’s that professionalism and responsiveness that allowed O2 to stay behind the line.

      Thanks very much for your comment., Really appreciate the opportunity to extend the conversation and to be challenged on this.

      • Kami Huyse (@kamichat)

        I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this incident. I actually agree with you about adding humor and personality. But for example, answering the horrible tweet about the tweeters mother with, “she says no thanks” is not really showing personality, its just stooping to their level and being reactive.

        When one person says, “not gonna lie, can’t wait to leave @O2” the tweeter says, “@name But we still love you.” I might have also added. How can we patch things up? or similar. I would even go for, “@name Don’t break up with us, let me help you.”

        Anyway, having been on the other end of a number of these type of situations with more than one brands, I would not hold this one up as an example, but instead as more of a misstep. And don’t think I have always responded with milk toast replies. One of my clients once took on (with respect) Mike Arrington and won concession.

        Also, if you have a strong online community, they will step up to defend you in these situations. It is easier on Facebook where the whole conversation is easier to see, but the same applies to Twitter.

        • Paul Sutton

          That’s fair enough. There’s no right and wrong, only opinions. (It’s just that my opinion is the right one haha!) Fantastic to have you leave yours and to contribute to the conversation. You’re welcome here any time, Kami! :)

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