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The danger for RIM: Compounding negative press stories

I’m a big, big fan of RIM, makers of BlackBerry. Huge fan. Their devices and their services irrevocably changed my life for the better.

In today’s fast paced, always-on connected environment, it’s super-important for RIM to continue to manage their reputation aggressively and offensively (as apposed to playing defence — or, in some cases not bothering with defence at all).

The recent news of RIM’s network failing on Monday and Tuesday, however intermittent, are the proverbial nails in coffins that a lot of people have been searching around for.

The media has understandably seized on the downtime, highlighting this issue as ‘yet another misstep’. That, I don’t agree with. However I can’t argue with the fact that the timing is significantly inconvenient.

A catastrophic network failure really doesn’t help RIM’s image.

What’s worse, though, is that all the mainstream media reporting I’ve seen contains phrases like, “RIM could not be reached for comment,” or “RIM declined to comment on the issue.” This is the last thing folk want to be hearing, especially the fans, and especially the customers.

The design of the RIM infrastructure offers seriously advantages to end consumers, especially in the context of data consumption and compression. This is why so many operators are absolutely delighted to offer their consumers ‘unlimited’ fair use data on their BlackBerry service plans for next to nothing. Or, at the very least, unlimited email data — the point being that because most of the data is super-compressed and travels across RIM’s own networks, it’s fairly easy to deal with.

Historically, too, it’s been rather difficult to use a lot of data on your BlackBerry. Take the previous generation Curve — playing Youtube or streaming anything on it is rather complicated. It’s possible, but on an EDGE connection, the amount of time you waste staring at the little data arrows going back and forth is a great encouragement not to bother.

It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a significant RIM outage so I wonder how user tolerance has changed over say, the last few years. How many RIM customers were mildly annoyed or supremely inconvenienced by a loss of connectivity? I suspect a lot more than, say, two or three years ago. A delay in email arriving is one thing, having your whole device basically switch off (from a data context) for a number of hours is a serious issue.

I doubt that the outage has done much to damage RIM’s on-going fortunes with those consumers impacted over the last few days. I reckon most people will be *annoyed* in bold, italics and possibly capital letters, but annoyed enough to change platform? I don’t think so. That’s a big decision, a big step — and only likely to impact RIM at the contract/device change point. So there’s time for people to forget.

I worry that RIM isn’t doing all it could be to counter the mainstream media. I almost wish that the company had been conducting crisis-PR operations 24/7 for the last year. The company can’t afford to be operating business as usual public relations outreach.

To allow the media to report that RIM’s EMEA network has been down and that the company ‘couldn’t be reached for comment’ is unacceptable. Here’s how the Telegraph recorded the news of Tuesday’s failure:

“A spokesman for RIM declined to comment on the latest technical failure, which struck at around 1PM.”

And here’s a hugely damaging statement from the Telegraph:

RIM has also been criticised for its public response to the failures. It only acknowledged the yesterday’s crash after millions of users had been without services for several hours and it has made no statement on the cause.

Dear me!

I’m off to the BlackBerry DevCon Americas event next week — I’m hugely excited to go along and see what they’ve got coming. It’s going to be interesting to take the temperature of audience there.

Come on RIM!

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