Aussie Corporate Social Media – Old business; big opportunity

A couple of days back a colleague mentioned that our organisation was considering what internal and external opportunity might existing in regards to Social Media. This is coming from an organisation who let HR shut down Yammer, so it’s fair to say we’re a pretty old-world operation here.

But it got me thinking, how can traditional business get itself started in the social space, and what are the opportunities and risks they will face venturing into this great unknown?

While some local industries (notably Telco’s, retailers and now the banks) have begun to embrace Social Media as a new customer interaction channel, the growing popularity of sites such as Twitter and Facebook has been largely ignored by Australia’s more traditional organisations.

This lack of interest is somewhat understandable; these businesses target an older demographic and the opportunities that appear obvious to Vodafone or David Jones (instant customer feedback, ability to push communication to a highly connected customer base) are less evident.

So are Australia’s business leaders able to ignore the push towards the social space, or should they be crafting and delivering a strategy now, or risk being left behind.

Not just for the kids

There is a prevalent fallacy that social media is only being used by Generation Y. Therefore, if your customer base isn’t made up of this demographic, there’s no point in trying to interact through these channels. However, in this case perception certainly does not represent reality. 


Social medai network age distributions


Pingdom has completed an excellent analysis of Social Media uptake across different age groups and wihle Gen Y are represented, surprisingly it’s 35-44 year olds that dominate usage.

This probably says as much about age distribution of the population as it does for Social Medua uptake; nonetheless the figures are pretty startling.

Equally interesting is the average age on specific social network sites:

Age distribution by service

This shows an even older demographic using traditionally favoured Social Media stalwarts such as Facebook and Twitter.

So if the average age of a Twitter user is now 40, which organisations are going to be best placed to offer the most complementary range of online and Social Media focused products and services to cover these customers’ needs?

External Opportunities

There are lots of ways in which your business might choose to interact with customers through Social Media.

This should be in no way read an exhaustive list of all the different opportunities Social Media may offer, but instead a couple of the most common paths I’m starting to see business make that first step towards engaging this channel.

Communicating to your customers

The most common way an organisation will dip its toes into new media is through Twitter or a blog as a one-way marketing channel to communicate news and announcements to customers.

This is the “safe” approach, as it allows the organisation to appear proactive, while really just recycling the current material they have produced for existing channels (emails, website notices etc).

Qantas attempted this approach to combat some of the negativity attacking its brand following recent controversy around exploding A380’s.

Launching a set of Twitter & Facebook accounts, Qantas started Tweeting progress updates on the A380 maintenance.

While this provided the brand an opportunity to add their own voice to the crowd, the immediately reaction from the Twittersphere was of dismay that Qantas had no interest in replying to direct queries.

Qantas quickly learnt that this one-way form of communication really doesn’t fly (much like their A380’s) with this segment, and have now started to respond to customer questions directly.

Responding to queries

For most organisations here is where the greatest value – and also the greatest degree of risk – will lay.

By opting to start real interaction with your customers through Social Media you are opening up a brand new channel where comments, complements and criticisms can come thick and fast, and where you can quickly and cheaply resolve a range of customer concerns.

This doesn’t mean you can shut down your call centre (yet), but social media fills a very specific sweet spot between queries the customer cannot immediately resolve their issue with a Google search (and yes, they using Google before they try your website), and picking up the phone to contact your call centre.

Exciting your customers

Pizza chains have started to battle each other online for the opportunity to build real brand engagement with their customers.

Crust Pizza offers its Twitter followers the chance to win five free Pizzas every Friday by re-tweeting a message, stating “I’m entering @Crustpizza #CrustFreePizzaFriday”.

Pizza Hut has gone even further with their “Feed a Friend” campaign, offering customers the chance to build up points (virtual pizza slices) which can then be redeemed to gift friends real pizza.

For the cost of a couple of free pizzas, both brands are generating deep, involved customer interaction with an infinitely longer lasting impact that traditional marketing.

Brand monitoring

Keeping an eye on what your customers are saying is essential to improving your offerings and protecting brand. To achieve this, Social Media chatter provides connected organisations real time feedback from potentially millions of customers.

Out of nowhere, a seemingly limitless number of analytical tools – and consultants to implement them – have popped up. While most of these will cost you, Twitter has now jumped onboard and will be offering a free analytics program to all users by the end of 2010.

Harvey Norman recently narrowly avoided PR disaster through Social Media brand monitoring, when the Twitterati began to revolt against ill-thought-out radio campaign involving lap dances and Santa.

Thanks to active monitoring and quick thinking by their Social Media manager, the business was able to respond to criticism, pull the campaign, and gain the respect of the previously hostile customers- all within 4 hours of the first play of the initial offending ad!

Internal Opportunities

Social Media doesn’t start and finish with external customers. Organisations can also leverage some of the same principles for internal audiences to improve engagement and get people talking.


Enterprise microblogging represents one of the most exciting changes to business communication I’ve seen in recent times.

Tools such as Yammer and SocialText deliver Twitter-like functionality into closed corporate networks to allow employees to share and ask questions.

Providing this capability can help the business move away from traditional one-way email conversation, and can help increase employee engagement, facilitate broad cross-silo knowledge sharing, and generate great discussion on a range of interesting topics.

Training, development and engagement platform

For most organisations, your training and career development are hidden behind a difficult to navigate CMS. Employees are required to log in, complete training/ compliance requirements, and then hop back out, never again to venture in unless directed by the risk team.

Why not make this a value-added experience?

People love to achieve, and love the recognition that comes with that. Why not build a training and development platform that rewards staff for completing a requirement and publishes that result to your colleagues. Create a foursquare like badge system or an OpenFeint leader board for people. Make it a challenge.

Some organisations are also building internal only Facebook platforms to facilitate sharing.

These can be updated with a wide range of business-context content to provide hiring managers a greater level of insight into a potential hires background prior to the interview stage.

They can also provide your people with the opportunity to gain better understanding of each other. Think about how beneficial it would be to be able to spend 90 seconds reviewing a new colleague’s internal profile prior to your first meeting away-from-keyboard.

Where to begin

From past experience, the key barrier to implementing any Social Media approach (really any change management activity I guess) is gaining engagement and understanding from all sides.

Social Media has the benefit of sounding sexy right now, so immediately that’s going to be of some assistance in getting any initiative off the ground. However, this needs to be balanced with considered delivery, and carefully embedding single initiatives, one at a time, to ensure each capability can be actively monitored, managed, and improved.

Create a working group from within the business. Ensure you have a wide berth of skills and background including IT, HR, marketing, and customer service. Talk about what Social Media means, and what opportunities it can offer the business. Build your strategy, and then choose one or two of the most valuable opportunities (low hanging fruit) and focus your energy on delivering that.

Once that’s up and running, it’s onto the next one.

How to screw it up

The quickest path to failure is by trying to be everything to everyone. Too often organisations will start a Twitter account, Facebook fan page, CEO blog, foursquare presence, and Youtube channel all in parallel.

They’ll then end up failing, discovering they have not resourced accordingly. As soon as you start interacting in one of these channels, you must be able to back it up with ongoing servicing. There’s nothing worse than seeing an inactive corporate Twitter account.

If you’re customers are asking you questions, you must be prepared to respond to them. This means enabled people, policies and procedures in place, and commitment to continued interaction.

There is no such thing as a pilot in the Social Media world. If you begin interacting, you better be comfortable to continue this for an indefinite period of time.

Recently, ANZ started a Twitter customer service account, and then, without warning pulled the service. This was universally panned by small but a very vocal customer segment, resulting in a tarnished brand. Now, should ANZ decide to revisit this channel, entry will be significantly more challenging.

Don’t let any single business unit own Social Media. This is not a marketing initiative, and just because it’s online does not mean it’s owned by the direct/digital team. Correct deployment of Social Media requires involvement from a diverse group of stakeholders within the business. Screw this up and you’re sure to get someone’s nose out of joint.

Where’s this going?

Marketing Mag recently reported that over 54% of Australian businesses plan on using Social Media as a customer engagement channel over the next 12 months. This is not going away. Organisations need to start embracing this opportunity now, or face the prospect of scrambling to deliver a half baked strategy after the horse has bolted.

It doesn’t need to be scary. Simply start small, find a couple of passionate people to get an initiative or two off the ground, and then build on that success.

And of course, if in doubt, you can always hire me to make it happen for you.


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Long Straws is the personal blog of Stephen Colman.

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