What Rogers’ Nationwide Cell Outage Can Teach Us About Social Media Crisis Communications

It’s almost 7PM here. We’ve been without cell service for over 2 hours. People are FREAKING OUT! Rogers, one of the three cell service providers in Canada has had a nation-wide outage and Twitter has erupted!

Here are three quick social media crisis communication lessons we can learn from their fail:

Prioritize situation updates

Make a switch to crisis mode – Rather than trying to respond to everyone, or even a small portion of the tweets, comments, posts and so forth – focus on providing relevant, timely information. The network is down? Fine, then let your customers know what you are doing about it right now. Treat it as a “developing story” and provide situation updates as they happen.

Carnival Cruise Lines did an excellent job with their social media PR during the 7 day “poop cruise”. They kept media and travellers’ families updated through Twitter and Facebook every step of the way. The CEO even created a status update video, which was shared on their YouTube “news” channel.


Turn Twitter into a crisis hotline

At 6:30PM, RogersHelps was still inviting people to DM them to solve problems – in the midst of a torrent of incoming tweets. In fact, they were trending at #1 Canada-wide because of the amount of tweets.

Rogers Outage Trending Twitter

If you were to take away mobile service – the first place most tech-savvy people will turn to is Twitter. There will be a flood of negative, silly or downright stupid tweets, but it’s where your customers expect to hear from you. Turn Twitter into a crisis hotline and provide situation updates there. You may even consider updating the bio to reflect the situation, and changing it back once the crisis is over.

Many of the tweets were asking basically the same questions – so consider creating an online resource where you can point them to. In this case, having a page on “what to do if you need to dial 911” would be smart thing to share.


Open a vent on Facebook

The next place we’ll go is likely Facebook. At the time of this writing there are over 800 comments on a single (and crappy) post the Rogers social media team shared about 2 hours into the outage. Turn Facebook into a newsroom and share the latest updates on what you are doing to solve the problem. Or even just letting customers know what the problem is in the first place.

Let customers share their situation and vent their frustration there and embrace it. It’s better than having someone create an I Hate Rogers page.

Most regular users rarely click on the “recent posts by others” section, and even the comments on your own post get clipped to show just a few. So embrace the discussion and respond to what you can within the post itself. Consider directing customers to the online resource discussed above.


Have a crisis plan ready

Most organizations are caught off guard when a crisis happens. And that’s normal. However, you can be prepared by having a “red folder” ready that clearly outlines what you should do in case of an emergency or crisis. Jay Baer wrote an excellent post on managing a social media crisis. Read it. Then put together a plan so when shit hits the fan you will at least know what to do. Rather than being pointed out as another PR fail.


Hope that helps… and I hope our service comes back soon.

– ernest

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5 thoughts on “What Rogers’ Nationwide Cell Outage Can Teach Us About Social Media Crisis Communications”

  1. Nice article. I’m President of a Social Media and Crisis Communication firm and I agree with all your points here. Of all companies out there, cell phone companies take the biggest beating on social media. Just have a look through there social media even when there isn’t a crisis. At first glance you’d think they must be terrible because of the flood of negative comments, but Social Media Managers with these cell phone companies are actually some of the most seasoned crisis communication professionals out there. It’s not their social media department that creates these crisis, but when they do strike, they have a policy and they stick to it in a calm and cool demeanor.

    • Hi Shawn – thanks for the note. I’d have to disagree with you on sticking to it in a cool and calm demeanour. By not providing anything past “we’re experiencing outages”, it only fuels the fire of negative comments and tweets. In my opinion, it would have been smarter to to provide at least some details about what went down (we believe a lighting struck one of our main centers), what is happening to fix the problem (our technicians have been rushed out to the Toronto network hub) or what kind of atonement customers may expect (we will be offering a 50% discount to affected customers on October’s bill).

      Granted, this hardly classifies as a “crisis” – however I’m sure large number of the tweeters would disagree with me. From businesses relying entirely on their cell service to people needing emergency help.

      It’s also easier to hate on a company that doesn’t have a stellar reputation. So, when this kind of event happens, there is a lot of “told you so” and “I’m tired of this, I’m switching to Bell / Telus / Whatever”. If a company has built up a positive and helpful reputation – there would be much less backlash. However, this takes a significant amount of time and positive experiences, moving the needle one tiny notch at a time. Just like turning the tide at Sunshine.

      One advantage larger companies have is time. Eventually, this also will blow over and most of us will forget about the incident and go about our daily lives. There isn’t a lot of choice of providers in Canada, so some customers will just chalk it up as a negative experience and move on.

      • Hey Ernest, yes you’re right I must have missed that part by them not sharing much information. My guess is at the time they probably didn’t know any details so they should have said that, something like “We’re experiencing outages right now & currently trying to locate the source. We’ll keep you updated.” Brutal honesty is the way to go.

  2. Hi Ernest, this is Sarah from the social media team at Rogers. Thanks for your feedback about the outage we experienced last week.

    We started communicating reactively to customers, then went proactive with the news of the outage as soon as we realized the scope. We also continued to respond reactively to people, so that those who were not affected by the outage could still receive customer service support.

    We did not know the root cause of the outage, which is why we did not share that during the outage on Wednesday night. I’m sure you can appreciate these things take time to investigate. However, we did try to keep our customers updated and informed them of the credit we planned to offer them proactively as a result of this outage. We continued to update throughout the day on Thursday.

    We also shared how customers could call 911 via a news release, but your feedback on sharing these tips on our social networks is great feedback, and I thank you for that.

    As you know, you cannot plan for situations, such as the one we experienced last week. But we are always looking to learn from them and better the communication process. Thank you for your time and feedback.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. Every one of these situations should make the comm team better prepared for the next one – glad I was able to offer at least one insight.


      – ernest.

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