Apr 262011

I want to follow up on yesterday’s post with a question: What would the past week have looked like if Sony actually understood the current research into effective, real-world crisis management? How could Sony have handled this situation if they’d wanted to, you know, do a good job?

Let’s see how things might have turned out differently.


Within an hour of the outage, Sony posts an official statement on its PSN blog and Twitter feed – maybe something like, “PSN is currently down. We hate downtime, and we’re working as hard as we can to get things running again. A lot of new games came out this week, including PS3-exclusive SOCOM 4 and Valve’s Portal 2, which has exclusive multiplayer with PC and Mac gamers. We want you to be able to get back to your games, movies, and other entertainment as quickly as possible!”

Regular Twitter updates are posted every few hours throughout Thursday, reinforcing the message that Sony network engineers are working around the clock. Each update is another opportunity to acknowledge additional, specific customer frustrations, like the lack of Netflix availability in the US. This focus on Twitter updates also affords Sony PR staff the time to begin networking with gaming journalism sites, so that the company’s viewpoint will be fully represented in blog posts and news stories going forward.

By the end of Thursday, Sony realizes that the situation is more complex than originally hoped. A more detailed statement is needed: “Our engineers are still working on restoring PSN, and they think this might take an additional day or two. They’re doing the best they can, but we’re frustrated by this delay because we know it has a big impact on all of our customers. We know you’re waiting on us so you can play games like SOCOM 4 online, or participate in the beta program for upcoming PS3 exclusive Infamous 2. You want to access your music through Qriocity or your HD video streaming through Netflix. We know this is frustrating for a lot of our 70 million customers worldwide, and we’ll keep working around the clock to restore all of the services you rely on.”

At this point, company PR staff arrange for journalists to interview Sony execs and team leaders. All spokespeople follow the same message playbook, while still contributing unique perspectives from their individual roles. For example, a lead network engineer is available for interviews alongside a top company executive. This shows the world that Sony is addressing this challenge at all levels, and that everyone inside the company recognizes the negative impact on customers.

This is also the right time for the company to contact all of its PSN users by email, with a more formal version of their Thursday night message. The important thing is for Sony to broadcast its message via all available outlets, including direct contact with customers. The latter medium will be especially vital once Sony recognizes that private data – including credit card numbers – may have been compromised for tens of millions of customers worldwide.

Because Sony responded to the outage immediately, accurately, and consistently, they’ve built credibility for their continued handling of the situation. They’ve showcased their concern for customers, and they’ve cultivated relationships with journalists to ensure that the unfolding story will centrally feature Sony’s perspective. Sony has a strong foundation for its evolving response to the crisis.

Reality check

I could go on, but it’s pretty tiring to see the vast gulf between efficient, effective handling of this situation and Sony’s actual response.

My point is that this stuff isn’t rocket surgery. Sure, it might help to have a little bit of management training and experience, but Sony is one of the largest multinationals on Earth. It’s crazy to think they don’t have the resources or know-how to do this right.

It’s also crazy to think they weren’t prepared for this outage before it even happened. I don’t just mean on the technical side, tho that’s obviously a fair point. I mean that Sony should have had a detailed crisis management plan in place, ready to execute at the proverbial press of a button. Crises are a common fact of global business, and Sony’s approach has been bush-league.

Especially now that customer privacy may be at stake, this situation perfectly illustrates one of the basic rules of crisis management: respond early and often. Customers and journalists decide within hours whether the crisis is your fault and whether you’re acting in the public interest. Once the story gets written without you, good luck getting your spokespeople any significant airtime until the lawsuits hit.

Oh, and failing to plan might just be planning to fail, epicly.


  4 Responses to “Sony Through the Looking-Glass”

Comments (4)
  1. This also illustrates a common occurrence of corporate PR that drives me nuts: “We once again thank you for your patience.” Actually, I’m not patient. I’ve moved past “frustrated” and am on the way toward “fuming”. That line only makes customers feel that their issues and feelings aren’t being acknowledged.

    News flash: there’s really no cost to acknowledging and respecting customer frustration, and it’ll get you ahead in the long run.

  2. The US Congress loves to “look into stuff” — just ask Apple, and now apparently at least one senator has publicly said something about Sony:

    Not that it means anything other than Sony is getting a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons.

  3. Looks like Sony may have lost your PII & CC information.


  4. Yes – you, me, and about 70 million other people around the world.

    Funk suggested on IRC that this might be the biggest customer data breach ever. In any case, Sony had better ramp up its legal department about 10000% – because it’ll be entangled with consumer privacy laws in every nation on Earth that has them.

    Here’s the US PSN link:

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