Brands engaging in the social media space must start learning these lessons, they need to understand that they need to respond quickly and coherently when dialogues start spiraling out of control – they need to be able to escalate the situation internally, and be able to deliver an outstanding response that will focus and guide consumers. O2’s efforts made it seem like their persona was some teenager in a basement who just switched on their computer when they felt like it. Far from being connected O2 showed just how distant they really are.
The date 8th June 2009. Apple had just announced the latest iPhone, the 3GS, a faster iphone with movie recording, voice control and in built location features. It was the first iphone release in almost a year, hundreds of thousands of people were watching live streams and feeds of the event as they all read and reported on the latest must have gadget. The real hook was that this device would be on sale just 2 weeks later in the United Kingdom, with the only supplier being O2.
Existing iPhone 3g users were eager to upgrade, as it had only been 12 months since the last upgrade they needed to know the costs. They swarmed onto twitter in their thousands, and focused all their attention on the twitter.com/o2 user for answers.
Engagement at first went fine, as news trickled down through twitter users . Main questions would be when where and how can they buy it. What about existing contract users. Right from the minute the Apple announcements were over O2 did not have the pricing and phone information up on their website, they were unprepared for the backlash from the frustrated users not getting answers.
O2 twitter tried to respond to the demands for pricing information, by later that evening they had another 2,000 followers. Some asking when the pricing information would be live.
@ichilton I don’t have the exact time, but it’ll be morning12:43 PM Jun 8th
their final tweet that night was at around 8PM UK time
Our price changes will be live on the site soon, we’re logging now but will be back tomorrow. More question answering then!1:19 PM Jun 8th
When the Pricing pages went up later that evening there was uproar – Existing users (the early adopters and brand ambassadors who’d bought into the 3G) discovered that iPhone’s for existing users wouldn’t be subsidized by O2, to make matters worse in order to own a new iPhone those users could either buy themselves out of their existing contract at a cost of around £200 and then pay a further £170 to upgrade and re-sign an 18 month contract – or they could keep paying O2 their monthly rental and buy a PAYG handset at over £400. Even for users interested in data tethering had to pay further for a service that they expected for free. Either way they looked at it, it seemed like O2 were screwing them over, and they couldn’t contact O2’s twitter account to talk about it.
As far as O2 was concerned, this was and still is a completely standard practice, they did however set a dangerous precedent the year before when they allowed existing iPhone users to get a discounted iPhone if they re-signed their contract.
Throughout the night hashtags started appearing for #O2fail a twittition was setup for disgruntled users to sign http://twitition.com/owzm4 , and when O2’s twitter persona arrived into work the next day they had thousands of complaints, rants, and users frustrated about lack of response. From then on it appears that O2 backed off from twitter. As it failed to get the way the mobile business model works through to it’s users. Every network operator in the UK uses the same kind of tactics, however the iPhones hardware upgrades tend to emphasis this more, as if users take out an existing contract a new iPhone will always be out before their old contract ends. It may not be fair – but it’s the way they’ve done it for years.
I don’t need to repost too many of the #o2fail tweets, but they range from
iFatty: Apple, ditch @O2 and find a fairer network for iPhone in the UK #O2fail …http://twitition.com/q76uj @MarkCorrigan
James132465: #squarespace I wan’t an iPhone lol – and shitty O2 won’t let me upgrade #o2fail
EpicO2Fail: #O2Fail It just shows you how seriously out of touch o2 really are. Money talks, Make the silence deafening by witholding it from them.
The twitter account could do nothing against the tirade of frustration, there were plenty of blog articles and responses that sprung up, all mirroring the anger felt by existing users. O2 should then have responded quickly by pointing users at a central information site where they could understand O2’s upgrade procedure and why they couldn’t subsidize the upgrade costs. Finally they should have empathised with their consumers and won a huge pr battle by offering some sort of concession to existing users.
The o2 twitter account was frequently absent during peak UK viewing times leaving users no focus for their attention but to re-design the o2 logo with a subtle addition.
Even when the stores opened on the 19th June the twitter information was wrong:-
O2: 15 mins to go until stores open!
Friday, 7:47 AM
It was wrong as there were plenty of stores around that didn’t open at 8AM to sell the phone, and there was no central source of information such a s a UK map to say which store was opening early. this time around there was certainly no shortage of stock.
The exact same situation was happening with AT&T who were trying the same trick, although at greatly reduced costs due to the exchange rate. After 5,000 signatures on the twittition website AT&T agreed to allow iPhone users to roll into newer contracts early. UK users spurred on by this expected O2 to follow suit. They didn’t, which meant more negative online vibe. Very few companies are geared for rapid response in order to mitigate brand damage caused by a social backlash, we’re continuing to see a cutting down of the barriers between companies, their brands, and their users. For a lot of brands it’s going to get really ugly. Watch this space.