As O2’s network was floundering, customers took to Twitter in their angry, sweary droves to complain loudly and angrily. But where many brands simply ignore rudeness on social media, O2 chose to engage – not only did it respond to every tweet, which were sometimes coming in at the rate of one every six seconds, but it did so with constant good humour.
Where customers wanted to know what had gone wrong, when it would be fixed and why it was taking so long, O2 could initially only say it was sorry and it was fixing the problem. Such a cautious approach may appear to be opaque, but presumably the firm reckoned it was better not to raise anybody’s hopes.
By the second day of the crisis, user anger was boiling over. Social media users were suggesting how they’d like to abuse O2’s mother. The response in the end was what one “marketing and communications professional” said should be “filed under best practice”.
Put simply, O2 strove to put a human voice to what would otherwise have been a faceless and incompetent corporation. Even when tweets turned to praising the telecoms company’s strategy, its team maintained a humble and believable persona: responses ranged from “I need a hug” to pointing out how difficult it was to send tweets from the top of a mobile phone mast.
Conversocial, which sells tools to help brands manage social media, praised O2 on its blog, too. “O2 responded with witty messages that made their other customers giggle, and lightened the overall mood of the whole disaster. The tweets being sent to O2 completely shifted from being mostly complaints about the company, to mostly praise for the people working on the social customer service team for their funny Twitter responses. For what could have been a huge crisis for the company, O2 used Twitter to deliver fast, professional customer service, and still maintained their brand image by adding humour and personality to their tweets.”
In this approach O2 risked alienating its angriest customers, but it demonstrated that engaging with people almost always calms the mood. That sets a new standard for other brands, but it also emphasises that managing Twitter, Facebook and other platforms is likely to continue to demand ever greater resources from businesses of all sizes.