O2’s Twitter team: Taming the trolls or provoking customers?

16th Jul 2012

Is 02's Twitter banter with angry customers' tweets a clever way of dealing with trolling or an irresponsible approach to service?

The O2 service failure has left customers outraged. After a 24-hour blackout last Wednesday, many of its 8m customers were unable to receive or send calls and texts or access data. The network was eventually restored the following afternoon - but by that time angry customers had flocked to Twitter to let O2 know exactly what they thought of the service failure and the brand. 

However, bombarded with hateful tweets, the in-house social media team behind the O2 Twitter account has responded in a very interesting fashion. Rather than the usual straightjacketed corporate tone typically doled out in crisis communications, the O2 account is attempting to get through the nightmare with some light humour and personality.

And O2 was subjected to some some truly shocking tweets (look away now if you are easily offended!):

And more: 

And some people were really, really angry: 

But humour was doled out to lighten the mood: 

Which went down well with some of the network's customers:

O2 was reluctant to name (and potentially shame - depending on your view) the man behind the mask and instead told "Clearly we're not happy that we've disappointed our customers over the last 24 hours, but it's good to hear that some have enjoyed our tweets!"

But had it struck the right tone to respond to frustrated customers in a crisis like this or is it only going to provoke them further? 

Clever communications

One advocate for O2's response strategy is Julian Heerdegen, CRM Evangelist at SugarCRM, who argued that a politically correct and sober message of crisis communication might make you look somewhat hapless. 

He said: "Is it the right tone to respond to a service failure? No. Is it risky? Yes. Does it work? Yes! 

"O2 took an unconventional and flexible approach to gain back some control over the conversation – and the online sphere so far gives them credit for doing so."

Kelda Wallis, new business manager at Tempero, believes that although the network chose a potentially risqué path, it paid off and showed they were taking the matter seriously. 

She said: "Risqué tweets aside, O2 did a really great job of showing their human side, by crafting unique rather than the standard ‘copy & paste’ responses. At times, they were definitely pushing the boundaries, but they clearly understand the platform and thought it was worth taking the risk."

Even Twitter's own UK Director, Bruce Daisley, came out in support of O2 with a tweet that read: "Wonderful day's work from O2's Twitter account yesterday. Wrote the rule book."

Tactless tweets 

But not all are convinced that it is the best approach.

Owner of Positive Marketing, Paul Maher, emphasises that the impact on small businesses of the service outage could be serious, so taking a light-hearted approach could be inappropriate.
He said: "Business customers do not want glib responses and 'network issues' given as excuses. We would like to know exactly what went wrong and most importantly, is it likely to happen again. If we were given these facts, which likely could not be squeezed into 140 characters, we might know whether to trust the 02 brand again."

PR consultant Sean Fleming argued that although initially a clever move from the mobile network, they took the entertainment too far.

In a blog post he said: "That whoever was staffing the twitter account was given the freedom to do that is a masterstoke [sic]. 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." 
Best practises 
So can other brands deploy this communications strategy and what are the best practices for businesses that find themselves in a similar position? 
Wallis doesn't think so: "While it has appeared in the main to have worked to their benefit, it’s not an approach that would have worked for every brand – such as a bank for instance, that has much tighter restrictions. It’s about knowing your audience and understanding the platform you choose to talk to them on.

Harriet Clarke, who sits on the Internet Advertising Bureau's social media council, believes humanisation is a key word that should run through all marketers social strategies.

She said: "Talking to a customer as a human, being transparent and responding in a timely manner is crucial for any brands social media success and reputation.

"Never forget to keep your social media strategy at the heart of all your communications and ensure your tone of voice reflects your core business objectives and remember your customers are your brand advocates and you should work hard to both engage and enchant them."
What do you think? Did O2 use the right tone to respond to customers during the crisis? Would you adopt the same tone?

Replies (7)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By Marie Rose
16th Jul 2012 12:24

O2 was faced witha  huge problem when their service went out, and I think that they handled it very well. One of the most important aspects of social customer service is that a company needs to respond to all of its customers. Due to the public nature of the Internet, leaving unanswered Twitter messages allows any user to see that customers are being ignored, and it reflects very badly on a company. O2 definitely did this, by even replying to the more inappropriate messages that they were receiving. Their choice to use humour was definitely a risky one. Some customers reacted negatively towards it, but it's impossible to please everyone. I think that they did a great job of providing fast customer service and still maintaining their brand image.

Conversocial covered O2's handling of their recent crisis on our blog found here:

Thanks (0)
By delmeister
16th Jul 2012 13:00

I am a very busy person, I don't have time to go on twitter or facebook to see what O2 are saying. When my service crashed it really hurt me. Once it was fixed, well, I expect O2 felt I should be grateful everything was up and running again and just carry on using their network. No O2, that's not how it works. You have a wide range of customers and you need to communicate better with all of them, in the manner they prefer. I don't prefer twitter, so being clever and "funny" about the crisis on that media means [***] all to me.

It s now Monday, a weekend has passed, and I've heard sweet fa from O2. No email, no text, nothing. Thanks so much for ignoring me, I shall definitely move away when my contract expires. Its not the downtime that worries me, that's technology for you, it's the fact that I'm anonymous!!

Thanks (0)
By Natalie Steers
16th Jul 2012 15:16

Thanks for your comments, both.

Marie - I also thought it was an effective way of dealing with inappropriate messages but perhaps teetered a little too close to the edge. I guess it's easy to see the funny side when you're not an affected customer.

But from O2's perspective, a good point in your article that their witty response helped shift the tweets received from complaints to praise.


Delmeister - If you had tweeted O2, how would you have felt receiving such a response?

Thanks (0)
By mucalumjon
15th Oct 2012 06:39

sphere O2 took an unusual & flexible approach to grow back some manages over the conversation & the online field so far offers them credit for doing so.

Thanks (0)
By selvestersteylon
08th Feb 2013 10:13

twiiter is best way to connect with new peoples and to meet your fav celeb on twitter because twitter is only social site where celeb tweets about there self and many more latest update of bollywood news

Thanks (0)
By yune12
26th Mar 2013 06:28

Online printing is a means of transportation that makes printing easier and faster. It allow you to communicate improved with your printer and whole the deal you wish to make.

Thanks (0)
By jonasafleck
23rd May 2013 02:43

That was such a clever communication. However, count on to those positive one though there are bushers who are trying to ruin the reputation of the company. We all know that it's not easy to please everyone. - facebook for photographers

Thanks (0)