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AT&T Fails, Engages on Twitter

November 20th, 2008 by Ryan Ozawa · 12 Comments · Business, Hawaii, Technology, The Web

AT&T’s cellular network in Honolulu failed this morning, disconnecting thousands of customers for at least six hours. (As I type this, service is restored in some areas, like downtown, but not in Mililani.)  At first I thought I just missed a bill payment, but it didn’t take long to realize it was a significant service outage.  Local users of the Twitter service were chattering and griping about their dead cell phones and iPhones.

Journalist Fernando Pizarro noticed that AT&T had a Twitter account: @ATTNews.  He directed a message at the account, and others followed suit. But it became clear that the AT&T Twitter account was being used largely to post links to news releases, much to the frustration of customers who expected a response.

“Excuse me, but is there someone monitoring this account?” Pizarro tweeted. “I’m glad to read about holiday tips, but can I get a response?”

“You’ve got big problems in Hawaii right now. Are you aware/working on it?” tweeted Star-Bulletin business reporter Erika Engle. “I mean, seriously, Twitter is all about engagement, not seagulling messages and ignoring your Tweeps. I’m a customer!”

Fortunately, someone at AT&T was monitoring Twitter for mentions, and soon Lisa Weser replied to Pizarro: “I’m working on a Hawaii ATT contact for you.

Within the hour, the @ATTNews account on Twitter responded. “Hawaii Customers: Our technicians are working as quickly as possible to restore service. We apologize for this disruption of service.” A subsequent update minutes later explained the outage was caused by a power issue in the Mililani area. And the latest note invited feedback: “We’re working on it. Tweet us when you notice service is back up.

Ultimately, it looks like the largely one-way, press-release driven AT&T Twitter account not only “woke up” and became responsive, but went a step further to ask customers for updates — all within a couple of hours.

Engagement is what Twitter’s all about. Also, accountability when things go wrong,” Engle later tweeted to @ATTNews. “Thx for engaging w/your Hawaii customer base!”

Of course, KGMB and KITV, also active on Twitter, were part of the conversation as well. As their newsrooms got updates from their own AT&T contacts, they instantly passed the information along. Twitter users were thus among the first to know that the system should be back up by 1 p.m., and that customer service would give one-day service credits ($3 to $25) upon request.

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