BlackBerry Outage Comes at Worst Possible Time for Brand

As iPhone 4S Starts Shipping, Frustrated RIM Customers Lash Out on Social Media

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For a smart phone struggling to keep its foothold in the global market, Blackberry's service hiccups this week couldn't have had worse timing.

As millions of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion's customers continue to social-media broadcast trouble with the devices' email and messaging after days of major outages, Blackberry's competitors are flying high and maybe even enticing users away from the now old-hat smartphone. Apple , which will ship its new iPhone 4S on Friday, is raking in record-breaking pre-orders -- more than 1 million in 24 hours -- and is enticing customers with cut-rate older models and less expensive plans on its newest carrier Sprint.

Blackberry Storm
Blackberry Storm

"Dear BlackBerry. Please give me a refund so I can buy an iPhone," said one angry BlackBerry user on Twitter .

This comes on the heels of Research in Motion's global smartphone market share dropping to 12% in the second-quarter compared to 19% for the same period 2010, largely thanks to explosive iPhone and Android-device sales.

Blackberry's trouble began earlier this week when European users began experiencing trouble accessing emails and messages. The problem spread to North America early this morning and now affects users on all continents except Antarctica. As the service outages crossed the Atlantic, so did the tweets and Facebook posts.

"Bye [BlackBerry,] Hello Galaxy," wrote one Facebook user on BlackBerry's wall about a competitive Android-based smartphone. A hashtag for "Other Uses for Blackberry" in Spanish was trending on Twitter globally Wednesday.

It remains to be seen if RIM's crisis response will be enough to keep its shrinking customer base, which includes many business users unable to access work messages this week. So far, the company's done little outside of posting updates to its websites and Twitter to appease those customers, confirmed a RIM spokeswoman.

What's more, the angry BlackBerry users affected by the outages shouldn't expect any consolations such as complementary service or perks just yet. There's no appeasement plan in place at this point. "At this time, I'm just concentrating on getting the system up and running again," said David Yach, RIM's chief technology officer for software.

On a short call with reporters today, the company said fixing the outage, which was blamed on a failure of technology and backup systems in Europe, was its top priority and most likely not due to hackers or a security breech. For a company that 's gone after the business community to have outages in the middle of the work week, tweets and a short press conference may not be enough.

"They're doing crisis response the way they're designing their software these days -- it's outdated, slow and not being well-received by their customers," said Gene Grabowski, senior VP-chair of the crisis and litigation practice at Levick Strategic Communications. It also appears to be damaging the BlackBerry brand, which is already stumbling behind such powerhouses as iPhone.

So far, Blackberry has suffered significant declines in brand perception in the U.K., based on survey results from YouGov BrandIndex, which interviews 5,000 people each weekday online. The brand declined from somewhat positive response Friday before the outages to clearly negative Tuesday.

In Germany, declines were less pronounced with only a slight drop in perception. BlackBerry brand perception in the U.S. has remained flat by YouGov's measure because the outage didn't affect North America until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, iPhone brand perception is soaring in all three markets.

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