On the O2 Crisis

So yet another network has gone down. Hot on the heels of Blackberry, O2’s network left people with silent phones.

It’s pretty unforgiveable: after the Blackberry farce, all network operators should have been checking that they had built in ‘redundancy’ in their networks for just this kind of thing. And testing their crisis communications plans.

I’m sure that the guys on the ground at O2 will have worked through the night to try and get things back up and running, but it appears their comms teams were tucked up in bed.

At 10.30 today, 3G networks still weren’t up and running but 2G appeared fixed.

Initial handling

Their comms appeared to start well. At around 5pm yesterday they warned of a problem via Facebook:

O2 FaceBook Wed 5pm














But on Twitter, they directed people through to a page about their network:

Somewhat ironically the people who followed the link were greeted with a statement about how good the network is!

Message to people whose phones are down







Web communications

The only statement on the O2 website, however, has been a consumer statement:

O2 consumer statement






The statement doesn’t tell people how to turn off their 3G and get onto 2G instead, but at least, I guess, something’s there. However, as things stand, it looks like someone outside of O2 found the ‘switch off 3G, go to 2G fix’. Their statement sounds like a turn on/turn off reboot.

But at least it’s a statement. Which is more than you can/could  say for media statements:

O2's online communications as at 10.30 Thursday








Parent company Telefonica, meanwhile, appears similarly oblivious/uncaring:

Telefonica's press office.






Where to next?

I have no inside track on O2’s comms, or what’s going on behind the scenes, but I think it’s safe to say that there are teams out there trying to solve the problem(s).

O2’s been slow to ‘own’ the story, but there are, at least, updates now. They’re only just waking up, but the Twitter stream’s now active.

They now have three challenges:

– communicating restoration;

– an appropriate apology;

– re-establishing consumer trust.

Communicating Restoration

Every crisis brings an opportunity. If O2 gets its act in gear, it can reassure people about what it’s doing with onsite videos of the people working to restore things. And getting its SEO team to help ensure that those messages are heard in the right places.

And if it can’t do it now, it can be collating things to share their stories later. Get the CEO recording an apology and telling people the company’s taking it seriously. Really! It may be something that internally just needs the focus of engineers, but customers are paying for a service they’re not getting, and lives are being affected: from the individuals who can’t call loved ones and the vulnerable, to the Waitrose driver whose instructions can’t get through. Acknowledge it! Show you care and are taking it seriously.

I’m absolutely certain that they will be taking this seriously, but in the eye of the storm, it’s what you’re seen to be doing that helps.

It can start offering hourly updates, even if it’s just to say ‘we’ve eliminated…’ or ‘we’re delivering….’ or ‘thank you to those people who’ve stuck patiently with us…’. On their own website. That way people have a single place to look for updates, and it’s the company, not clever tech folk on Twitter, who appear to be finding the workarounds for users.


The apology bit is going to be hard. Blackberry got it horrendously wrong, tiering the importance of the customer to kind of apology it offered. As someone who used to spend thousands with them each year, I walked away feeling totally undervalued. Sure my £3k a year was small compared to big corporates, but the self employed rely on their phones.

Re-establishing trust

Re-establishing trust is going to be far, far harder, and a lot will stem from their apology.

Any network, right now, should be checking it’s redundancy – the failsafe backup that kicks in if a part of the network is affected. Sure, it’s expensive, but not as expensive as everyone walking away.  And getting it’s crisis comms plan looking tight.

O2 looks as if it was caught on the hop. And, for the moment, is the laughing stock:






1 Comment

Other Links to this Post

  1. Digital corporate affairs – weekly bits and bytes – Thomas Knorpp — December 30, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Site Map Freelance PR consultancy in the UK by © WavesPR 2010

%d bloggers like this: