Why business needs to be social and embrace new ways of working Article icon

Why Helen Dunne reviews a lively morning discussion


Last year we ran the Pestaurant campaign; in a number of countries around the world, we set up pop up restaurants. We fed people bugs. We gave them pigeon burgers. And the first thing they all did when we put the burgers in their hands, they put it to their tongue, they had a photograph taken, they put it on social media, they tweeted about it.

Social media made a huge difference to Pestaurant. The knock-on effect in terms of digital traffic led to a direct increase in the number of sales enquiries, going up by 38 per cent. We just saw the obvious links between social media and sales, which is important.

But where we’re really using social media is internally. We’re one of Google’s biggest customers. Google+ is our social media channel. If a technician is on the roof of a building and they spot a nasty spider and they can’t work out what it is, they can get their phone, take a picture, take a video, post it and the global technical community can help them out. If that doesn’t work, they can get on a Hangout with their technical manager. They see it as having a technical expert by their sides at all times. Hangouts are also used to reduce travel time. Our Australian business has cut down the amount of cost on things like air fares and hotels by 40 per cent in the last 12 months through the use of Hangouts.

The whole social piece has become really important to us, because we want to improve service and we want to reduce costs. That’s the sort of stuff that’s really important to a business.

Choose what’s right for you and do it really well rather than trying to do too much. I don’t, by any means, claim that we’re doing things perfectly. We’re learning an awful lot along the way. But I think as demographics change, people have to think about how they train people in the use of social media and social technologies in different ways as well.

We’ve got our Debugged blog. It’s a great channel to open the door to the company as there’s only so much you can say in a press release. There are some great stories in our company. We’re using internal social media to deliver stories for external audiences.

Some of our guys in Singapore recently got rid of a snake in a car park that’s probably as long as this table. There’s this picture of them holding the snake on our internal Google+ account; it was just brilliant. And it’s great external stuff as well. We [recently] won a contract with the Hoover Dam in North America; I read about it [the next] morning. Fantastic. Get this stuff out of the company as well as sharing it inside the company.

Seeing the photographs that people [in Rentokil] are taking around the world – Singapore Harbour, the Hoover Dam – just brings the company to life. There’s a real cultural piece internally in terms of the pace and energy that social has given our organisation.

There’s a debate internally at the moment about [whether everyone working for Rentokil can be online and talking to customers]. Personally, I think it would be terrific. But how far do you want to let that go? Our technicians have one-to-one relationships with their customers, they turn up every week, they know them, and therefore if they’re followed by the customer and they are getting slaughtered on a Friday night, is there an issue? These are the sort of debates you need to have internally before you open things up.

When you become a social organisation, and we’re just scratching the surface in many respects, it’s not just about the communications team. It’s everyone. Our UK managing director will come out of a management meeting and within minutes, he’ll be putting a post up Here’s the latest numbers, targets, service levels..., that sort of stuff. I think it’s more than just the comms team that should be doing that.

However, in terms of our official channels, it’s our comms team. [Being social] has pushed managers to be more open. Things that happen in the organisation are communicated much more quickly and much more effectively. So from that perspective, I think it’s helped enormously. There’s always that balance between what you want to control and what you want to open up, but I think you have to go for it. It’s made a real difference.

We have a lot of people on the road. A lot of people work from home and see their manager only once every couple of weeks or so. Creating a virtual community has made a real difference. We held an internal event six months ago. There were about 88 people in the room; within two days, we had 38,000 views. It just opens it up.

We measure employee engagement every year. We’ve seen engagement levels rise, but also enablement. You’ve got engagement, with hearts and minds, and you’ve got enablement, with the right tools to do the job.

Before we launched Google+, our IT department said the networks would all fall over. We would lose customer accounts, sales would go down and it was going to be a complete nightmare. But our

IT director said Come on, let’s just give it a go. I think one of the challenges for us in communications is that we’ve got to get all the other functions lined up behind it if we’re going to become truly social organisations. It comes down to leadership.

We’ve got a £50 Find an App scheme. Our technicians are fantastic. They’re always looking for new things. They found an app which would do a room map so they could say We’re going to put a trap there and we’ll sort the door out there, but it didn’t have the colour coding they needed. So the guys phoned the app producer and said Look, we can put 3,000 people on; within 24 hours, they’d added colour. People are just getting on and delivering, which is fantastic. Whether or not we set out to say We must empower all our people, it’s just developing momentum.


You have to pick something that’s right for you. If your consumers, customers, your audience are using social media, or a particular social network, I think it’s really important that you are on there as well.

We use [social media] as a reputation thing and for brand awareness. We’re on Twitter a lot, answering customer queries. Our chief executive [Paul Pester] is also on Twitter, and earlier this year City AM put him as number five on its list of top chief executives/chairmen to follow. He used it last year when we had some IT issues. He was answering customer queries, updating people on Twitter, telling them what was going on and how quickly it would be fixed, that sort of thing. When we did analysis on this, we found that, in terms of sentiment, we actually got more positive and neutral coverage about his use of Twitter than negative coverage overall that we even had an issue. I think there is an expectation now from customers that your company needs to address problems head on and basically share on Twitter what you’re doing.

The good thing with our chief executive is that he does write [his tweets] himself, and that comes across. I think that’s why, when there are issues and he deals with it, he gets positive feedback. If your CEO is going to be Twitter, it needs to be genuine.

As a media team, we’re trying to emphasise the local aspect of TSB. We do a lot of work in the community space. We’re asking branches to send their own news releases to us about the community work that they’re doing, we issue it on their behalf. We also encourage them to send pictures of their fundraising, what events they’re doing. We can share that on their behalf on Twitter. There’s nothing to stop them from sharing that sort of stuff as well. When we get coverage, we like to share that. We think that when you share what other people are saying about you, it’s effectively more powerful than what you say about yourself.

One of the key areas of improvement for a lot of companies is to utilise your employees, who are all potentially really good advocates for your brand. [TSB branches don’t have individual Twitter feeds] but that is something I’m really interested in, and want to improve upon in terms of increasing advocacy via our employees.

Does social media help democratise things? To an extent, yes, because you get instant feedback. As long as you’ve got the right listening tools, you can find out how people are reacting to, say, a new service or a new product. But you also have to be aware that the people who are loudest on social media don’t necessarily tell the whole story.

We started doing #AskTSB campaigns last year. It was my suggestion, but I was aware of disasters that had happened with other companies. So rather than just saying #AskTSB and making it a free for all, I made sure it was focussed on mortgages. It was a success because we got some really useful questions, we got to engage with people and we got to show people, who weren’t necessarily asking questions but could still learn from it.


Not every solution is right for everybody and ever y company. Would I recommend to an industrials client that they should be on Pinterest? Absolutely not. But it’s about finding and embracing social technology in a way that is useful for dif ferent companies. It could be recruitment through LinkedIn, using social technologies to recruit people in a more efficient and effective way. It probably will save you money and you might find better candidates.

You’ve got to weigh up the risks and weigh up, ultimately, what the benefits are to the business. But it’s also got to be right for the audience. So everybody knows that candidates are on LinkedIn for example. So it’s about matching the needs of the business with where your audience are and what they’re doing.

We have to be careful though that we’re not saying that chief executives tweeting is right for everybody.

If I had a pound for every time the CEO, said So I’ve heard about this thing called Twitter, should I be tweeting? I think The very fact that you’ve asked that question sort of says not really. If you’re genuinely interested in engaging, and you’re genuinely interested in being open and transparent and learning about social media, then be an egg for six months on Twitter.

One CEO had been told by someone at a cocktail party that she should be on Twitter. She said What shall I do? How do I log on? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Spend six months learning about the platform and then discover whether you want to want to do it. She said Well, can’t you just do it for me? It’s not going to work like that. [Ultimately, her reason for tweeting was to engage more with her employees and, to some extent, investors.] We decided that blogging was probably a much better, safer platform for her. She would be able to write 400 word pieces herself, which was kind of what she wanted to do anyway but she just didn’t think that blogging sounded as cool as Twitter.

She is on Twitter now; she’s following and monitoring. But she’s finding that there’ll be weeks where she doesn’t log in and then she’ll have a look and try and catch up on all her tweets, which is not really how the platform works. I think she’s come to recognise that Twitter wasn’t right for her. She likes that it’s on her phone when she’s in an airport lounge, she can have a look, but she’s not got the time to be active.

When we set up the Talking Shop blog at Tesco, the main thinking behind it was People don’t really understand what we’re trying to do here with the business but it would allow us to explain more and provide more colour to what’s going on. When Tesco was making big announcements about CSR and positive announcements, we were able to provide more information in the way that we wanted and to talk directly to our audience without having to go through the media.

It allows us to communicate directly with our audience. But equally, it’s going to be a platform for when the shit hits the fan. It’s about finding the right medium, and having as many dif ferent channels open to you as possible really to be able to communicate.

When people talk about innovations, they talk about huge things. But some of the best innovations are really small, piecemeal improvements. Internal social networks are not just useful for collecting information to use externally, they are useful in terms of collaboration. One of my clients, a retail bank, uses Yammer. It’s a relatively lonely job if you’re a branch manager stuck in Fife and only speak to other branch managers once a week on a conference call with your area manager. A system like Yammer enables you to discuss with somebody else, who might be at the other end of the country, who is facing the same challenges and same edicts from head office. You can share how you’re making the changes, how you’re implementing a new system, how things are going. It brings people together and actually can help drive the business and not just drive communications.

[Should every branch or retail store have its own Facebook page?] I’d probably say no. I would rather have one page with two million followers than lots of pages with 100 followers, which are poorly managed, don’t have the right offers on and might be illegal because they’re putting out false advertising, because people aren’t trained to do that.


You need to understand whether you’re a business that uses social media or you’re genuinely going to be a social business.

Rentokil is a prime example of a company that has social at the heart of everything it does. It’s ingrained in the business. It is used to genuinely empower staf f and improve the service they give to their customers. There are other businesses that might use social media for recruitment or for their chief executive to improve their profile. If you are going to be a social business, you need to commit to it and get the data, get the insight and make sure it’s fed back into the whole business process. So you’re informing product development, you’re informing customer service, you’re informing the way employees behave. And I think it’s quite important to distinguish between the two.

You have to be prepared to let go. It is about training and empowering staff and if you do that, you need to let go. You can’t control them and you need to understand that there may be slip ups along the way. It’s slightly different with a chief executive, particularly of a FTSE 100 business, as they are inherently linked to the business, its reputation and, perhaps, the share price. So you have to be slightly more careful with chief executives; I know some who have PR teams or individuals who write their tweets or who feeds them data and suggests You should be tweeting them about this.

Steve Holliday, [chief executive] at National Grid, discloses in his bio that sometimes [his Twitter account] is run by the office and any tweets by him are signed off. I personally believe that the CEO should do it themselves, but they should have the right training and guidance.

For a business like TSB, where there’s a retail and a customer service element, it’s tricky to know when to get a PR team involved and when to get a customer service team involved. If you add another layer of complexity with an agency, what does the agency do? What does the PR team do? What does the customer service team do? Sometimes if there’s a customer complaint, a customer service manager or member of staff would know how to respond straight away whereas a PR person might not necessarily know.

Being on social and embracing many different elements does create a lot of internal and structural organisation. If you are going to be a social business, you need to think about it in a slightly different way than what you would do if you were just going to be a business that uses social media.