Graphic: Harvard Business Review

What one Jamaican CEO gets about social media that leaves others behind

A few weeks after an employee brought down the wrath of Twitter upon his company after sending a discriminatory tweet from the corporate account, many CEOs still do not seem to be taking social media seriously. Last weekend Twitter threw me an interesting challenge of my own:

As it happens the chairman of that beleaguered company did immediately make himself available to the media. Many companies since reached out to agencies or consultants such as myself, acknowledging a fear that they too could find themselves in a similar situation. Even though the motivation came from disaster, the incident did at least lead to increased awareness of the role of social media within company operations and the impact of today’s mobile, connected customer.

The ‘human operating system’ is how many are referring to mobile now since most daily interactions or functions a person needs to do are increasingly done on that blinking screen in their hands.

Yet a number of glaring challenges still cause social media to be ghettoise inside many organisations. While mobile, the platform where most engagements happen, tends not to directly considered other than if the leadership of a company decides ‘We must have an app!’ — often necessarily more for the sake of having one rather than being grounded in a wholistic mobile-digital-social strategy. Often social is run by junior staff members; its scope restricted to marketing; professional-level training being minimal; and with marketing often being the least respected area of operations — in one old job the finance colleagues dismissed us as the ‘colouring in department’. And as a Harvard Business Review (HBR) headline puts it for more constructive reasons: “Social Media Is Too Important to Be Left to the Marketing Department.”

Now while many CEOs might not listen to their social media agency, advice from HBR might be more respected. In a nutshell what the Harvard boffins are saying is that social media isn’t just a one-way marketing platform, but one that allows companies and customers to engage for many different reasons, and has so for years.

In the United States, and more competitive economies, ‘social CEOs’ are at the forefront of their companies social media presence. On social media T-Mobile USA CEO John Legerre leads his company’s all out attack on rival mobile networks and CEO’s — albeit a strategy less suited to Jamaica’s smaller business community. But the point is that he is leading on social. In that same industry the equally oft-cited example of giffgaff is so social that the CEO is not leading but rather the customers are given incentives to do actions on behalf of the company — a perfect example of a business using social media to build a truly ‘level’ business model. Immense customer loyalty is the reward.

Towards the end of the previous decade when I was a journalist at The Jamaica Observer running the newspaper’s Twitter account, it would field inquiries ranging from: yes, editorial, but also advertising, subscription, or with the passage of a hurricane, ‘How to make safe drinking water?’ There wasn’t one department we somehow didn’t receive a customer enquiry for through social media.

Social media and the digital world is growing up. KLM airlines for instance is moving so fast that soon as a passenger you can conduct your entire transaction via Facebook Messenger. Here in the Caribbean, digital agency *Silverstone Solutions has been running campaigns connecting call-to-actions on physical products to mobile-optimised communities e.g. under-the-cap codes with a short code call-to-action connecting the customer to more information on a mobile web platform, such as those Silverstone has built for DigicelMORE/Trend clients.

Customers interacting with a given campaign might be able to receive coupons, redeem product, share back to social media and be awarded with Digicel credit, strategies which Silverstone have been implementing with great success. Resultantly, core digital strategy becomes more than marketing and engagement, but rather specifically about driving key business objectives and promoting sales themselves. These kind of campaigns result in a positive and easily measureable ROI. They also leverage readily available and still highly effective tools: email, SMS and mobile web.

The fact is, social media ceased to be marketing-only the moment the first person clicked the ‘reply’ button with a question for customer care. It is an opportunity for the entire business. This is why an organisation as serious as PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC) has become one of the world’s leaders in the field Digital Transformation — auditing not just your company’s books but how digital can be maximised. While PwC doesn’t yet offer that the service in Jamaica, in a country where smartphone users stare into their screen 3.8 hours a day, they might look to pretty soon!

Software for social media is already available to enable this new way of work that enables departments to work together and at the very least to share data and insights gathered. Tools such as Hootsuite enable each department to have its own team helping to manage each social network, complete with collaboration, reporting and workflow features. So setting up a cross-department team with shared goals need not be rocket science; or dismissed as foreign.

Just recently I was asked to do a cross-department social media customer care workshop in Kingston by a long-established brand. During this session the CEO popped in, spoke at length and with a solid grasp about why digital is the here and now and transforming customer experience — across their business. I cannot name the client but many other CEOs might be shocked into action if they knew!

  • The writer is a Strategic Services Consultant at Silverstone Solutions based in Kingston, Jamaica. Unashamed fan of Giff Gaff and John Legerre.

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