Wednesday, 13 May 2015


At the recent LGPro Social Media Conference in Melbourne we received a mind-boggling overview of Telstra's social media marketing paradigm from their Executive Director Communications and Chief Social Officer, Jason Laird. (All credit to Jennifer Bartlett at Red Rebel Communications for organising this.) This presentation became the back drop to all discussion that followed on the theme 'Transforming the way we do business.'

In recent years apparently Telstra decided to use its very scale to its advantage in social media, encouraging all 32,000 staff to use their networks to put out the word across an array of the company's brands. The reward for doing this might be a donation to their local preschool, for instance. Each store now also has its own facebook page. Some use this well, some don't. Telstra is running a numbers game and fielding enough horses in the race is part of the strategy. Most of us would worry about the risk management this approach involves, but Laird described mis-use of social media as a performance management issue like many others. Of those 32,000 only one person has been dismissed following misconduct, and in their view this particular incident could easily have happened on other channels instead. Tellingly, half of Telstra's customer interactions are digital and the rate of increase shows no sign of decline.

Various sessions at the conference looked at uses of social media in local government to meet key objectives - support disaster coordination, provide responsive customer service, promote events and services, engage people in decisions about their communities, give a human face to organisations and promote community spirit in local areas. Generally the people responsible for social media in local government juggled multiple roles and responsibilities and either monitored their channels on an unpaid volunteer basis after hours or not at all.

In some ways the concluding panel session was the most interesting. We considered the known facts, trends and threats:
  • Volumes of social media interactions will increase dramatically as more of the general public (and particularly young people) elect and expect to interact online with organisations; 
  • Social media is an opportunity for a conversation without media intermediaries; many Councils are releasing information on their facebook pages rather than via traditional media releases for this reason;
  • Posting information online is cheaper than newspaper advertisements or home letter drops and is a viable alternative in many instances;
  • We may need to rethink business processes as well as people go mobile - links to submit online are more user friendly than paper forms;
  • Social media engagement can be immediate and measurable;
  • Social media can allow extended conversations around complex issues and help Councils make better informed decisions;
  • Social media can be more effective in engaging particular audience segments (e.g. the young) than traditional channels
  • Social media communication is best harnessed with a whole of organisation approach, a diversity of voices and open two-way communication with audiences; 
  • To do nothing leaves us at risk of irrelevance and mediocrity.
It was a classic innovation dilemma. In this room full of social media practitioners, who was really prepared to let go of control and invite others, perhaps many others, in their organisation into the inner sanctum to post, tweet and respond to the general public? Best thinking indicates that we need to encourage everyone in our organisations to be leaders and nurture innovation. But at the top, we are risk averse and hesitate to let go.

It's a massive cultural shift to be willing to open the agenda to new possibilities, try new approaches, admit the possibility of failure, develop what works, and move on. Some of the younger people attending were quite pragmatic about this, advising that it's OK to make a mistake because it's ephemeral - the discussion moves on in a day or so - just don't 'hurt the brand'. For the older and more risk averse this is a new frontier with new rules, but even most savvy social media practitioners attending were reluctant to release control (even with appropriate user guidelines). We were all put on the spot and left to wonder if, how and why we could open these channels more to others, given the signposts we'd seen in the course of the day.

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