The social media crisis showdown: O2 vs Progressive Insurance

Last week we shared our top tips for preparing your social media for crisis response. This week we take a look at two recent corporate crises and how they approached social media as part of their crisis communications strategy, and decide who came out on top.

In the blue corner we have O2’s network blackout in July, which left O2, GiffGaff and Tesco Mobile customers across the UK unable to call, text or use data services for 24 hours. And in the red corner we have Progressive Insurance, who suffered a major reputational blow when Matt Fisher’s Tumblr entitled “My sister paid Progressive Insurance to defend her killer in court” went viral. This post claimed that the under-insured driver who killed Katie Fisher in a car accident was represented in court by a Progressive attorney so that the insurance company could avoid paying $75,000 of life insurance.

O2 began slow and steady, replying to individual Tweets in a cautious ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ style. However, the gloves quickly came off and the rulebook was thrown out the window as O2 began favouring humour and wit over grovelling tweets in reply to the thousands of angry customers taking to Twitter. These shocked many into admiration, and the funniest replies were re-tweeted across the network. Here are a couple of personal favourites:

In sharp contrast, Progressive Insurance dealt a swift, scattergun response to their detractors on Facebook and Twitter, repeating identical messages across the social networks. There were almost as many negative comments about their impersonal and legalistic response as there were regarding the original case. The robotic response stuck out in stark contrast to their branding, with the ditsy but loveable Flo and an effective business-as-usual social media team with personality.

Throughout the crisis, Progressive Insurance backed themselves into a corner by abandoning their humanity in favour of robotic, corporate and legal language when this was the very aspect of their organisation that was being criticised. Negative comments about the company snowballed as the crisis escalated.

While O2’s strategy was risky (and didn’t win over everyone) they succeeded in converting critics into supporters and gaining huge numbers of followers, whilst maintaining and enhancing their reputation for forward-thinking strategy and a humorous, human brand image. Progressive Insurance, on the other hand, dealt themselves a massive PR blow and undermined the hard work Flo and the advertising team had been doing to create a human face for the company.

The champions in this social media showdown were undeniably O2

So what can we learn from them?

  1. Be human – don’t let the legal team take control of communication channels! Progressive’s “Robo Response” did nothing to dispel their ‘corporate monster’ position.
  2. Don’t abandon your identity – this can only undermine your brand in the long-run, and an abrupt change in tone will sound alarm bells for customers.
  3. Judge when humour is appropriate – it worked for O2, but this is a sensitive and risky tactic. Assess the gravity of the situation and match your tone accordingly.
  4. Social media is not the only channel – so O2 did a great job on Twitter, but many customers were left in the dark. The first acknowledgment of the crisis for non-Twitter users came in a text one week later.
  5. A crisis really can be an opportunity – O2 demonstrated their social media prowess, took risks and gained a large following and overwhelmingly positive sentiment towards the brand.

————————— UPDATE —————————

28th September 2012

O2’s director of communications and reputation, Nicola Green, spoke to Marketing Week UK about how her team use social media, and how they responded to the network outage:

“Of course we do get customers who are not happy with us on Twitter. We are monitoring Twitter all the time so if a customer gets in touch with Ronan [CEO] with a problem then we can step in and help. For us, Twitter is also a customer service tool and we have a dedicated team to look after that side of things. It’s better to be on social media so you can be part of the conversation rather than not at all.

“We never would have been able to communicate in the way that we did if we weren’t already well established on social media. We were able to respond in a funny way because we had established that sort of tone of voice before the network outage so we could be authentic in how we responded and not be corporate in the way we communicated about the issue.”

About Dominic Cockram

Founder and MD of Steelhenge. Pioneer of simulation exercises with over 20 years experience in business continuity and crisis management. Dominic is an experienced speaker determined to make the world a more resilient place.

2 thoughts on “The social media crisis showdown: O2 vs Progressive Insurance

  1. Pingback: Crisis Lesson #3 – Communication Integration | Crisis Management

  2. Pingback: The 8 1/2 Cs of Crisis Communications | Crisis Management

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