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!
    Fernando

  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.
    (patsanders55@yahoo.com)

  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 (http://www.twitter.com/ATTCustomerCare) and even Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ATT#/ATT?v=app_10467688569)

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