The Great Blackberry Outage of ’11

Phones weren’t the only things that went silent

Blackberry users around the globe were fuming after email and messaging services went dead for four days. According to Wired, email and messaging services went dead in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East due to a failed core switch, and after a series of events that have yet to be explained, the service went down in the U.S. and Canada.

The AP reported that although the underlying issues were quickly repaired, the system had built up a backlog of emails and messages that needed to be wound down.

The way in which Research in Motion (RIM) – makers of the popular mobile phones – responded to the crisis drew sharp criticism from bloggers, and PR practitioners. Most acknowledge that RIM did a poor job in responding to a growing crisis by going silent.

RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that RIM wanted to wait until the problems were nearly fixed before coming out publicly in a bigger way to address the massive disruptions.

In an article from the CP, he said “It’s a priority, but I do want to say our priority right up until this moment was making sure the system was up and running and operating globally.”

However, going silent in a crisis situation is the last thing RIM should have done. At the very least RIM should have updated the public as to the technical issues it faced as often as possible, which would’ve helped the company come out of this crisis in a more positive way.

Blogger Gordon MacMillan was quick to declare RIM’s handling of the crisis situation a public relations fail. In an article posted on The Wall, he describes quite adeptly how RIM failed to communicate to its customers on multiple platforms.

MacMillan pointed out that there were no updates on the Blackberry help blog, staff weren’t responding to questions on help forums, Facebook questions were apparently being blocked and removed, and the company’s presence on Twitter was virtually non-existent.

I did however object to one of MacMillan’s comments:

“So what are we to learn from all of this other than Blackberry appears to be pursuing a text book version of how not to respond in a crisis. Maybe it is a Canadian thing. Maybe it is what failing companies do.”

– I can assure him that it’s not a “Canadian thing,” just a bad PR thing.

I have no doubt that Balsillie’s main priority was to get his system operational, but keeping his customers in the dark for days will undoubtedly hurt the company’s brand at a time when its market share is decreasing because of increased competition. Even a minor stumble can push Blackberry users to rivals.

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About David Driedger

I'm a Creative Communications student at Red River College majoring in public relations. I have a BA with a double major in political studies and history from the University of Manitoba. I'm also the news editor for The Projector.
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