AT&T Fails, Engages on Twitter

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.

12 Responses

  1. Paula says:

    Go Honolulu Tweets! I wonder if the outage was linked to the power outage Central Oahu experienced last evening?
    Newsies like me can count on Twitter Friends for instantaneous situational awareness. Will there be a story in print?

  2. Ryan: I’m going to post this on my Facebook profile, LinkedIn, and retweet your message!
    This should be required reading for any company that ventures into social media thinking it’s only a one-way street.
    Thanks for the mention. It was great fun participating in an exercise of Twitter power!

  3. A Maui Blog says:

    did it happen again early Sunday morning? I couldn’t connect to many of you for a while…

  4. patrick says:

    If any one knows blogs that refer AT&T, and these questions; the type of “best practices” or productivity improvement projects that are actually being installed, the estimated cost of such projects, and their completion times. Please respond.

  5. “This should be required reading for any company that ventures into social media thinking it’s only a one-way street.”

    Completely agree, that’s why I referenced this story in a recent blog post. It’ll be interesting to see if AT&T will use more two-way Twitter power in the near future.

  6. Robert C. Sheets says:

    The @ATTNews link in the article actually goes to @fpizarro’s twitter page, just FYI.

  7. Ryan says:

    Thanks, Robert. Fixed!

  8. Bob Schulte says:

    And now, they have actual customer care on Twitter ( and even Facebook (

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