Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Social Media Experiment in South Africa

(This article will take 3 minutes to read)

It was whilst in Johannesburg at a conference that I made the discovery that many company’s create a social presence through various social media channels and then don’t monitor it nor as a result engage and respond.

This is what then spurred my idea to conduct a social experiment.  I am an avid social media fan and I engage on twitter, facebook, LinkedIn and FourSquare both in my personal capacity and also for the business that I work for.  As a result I regularly “check-in” to interesting places, tweet my experiences and generally share on the appropriate channels my actions or experiences, that are appropriate.

I arrived at the conference hotel, the Protea Wanderers in Johannesburg on Sunday 17th February and I automatically reached for my iPhone upon arrival to check in on FourSquare.  I have my FourSquare account associated with my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts so that I can choose when I check-in, which social media feed I want to post my check-in to.  I chose both Facebook and Twitter.  Within a few moments my twitter account jumped into life to show me a reply from @proteahotels wishing me a wonderful stay and asking me to let them know if there was anything I needed.   

Fantastic I thought – someone is actually monitoring their brand and the conversation that occurs around that brand and with real time response. 

My next experience occurred a few days later on Tuesday 19th February after my iPhone Vodacom 3G connection died.  No amount of restarting or resetting could get my device to reconnect to the 3G data network.  After the usual Google search and twitter search to see if it was a known issue I discovered four other people with a similar problem in the same geographic area on the Vodacom network. 

Enthused by my previous and very satisfying experience with @ProteaHotels I decided to tweet my issue to Vodacom at @Vodacom111.  I noted that @Vodacom111 state that they provide support up till 10pm so at 7pm I thought I was guaranteed a quick response.  Sadly it took @vodacom111 almost 3 hours to even acknowledge my issue. I noted that they had actually even answered other requests of help from other that had been posted after my post.  Not a great experience but at least I did get a response eventually.  As an aside, the problem resolved itself, so I actually tweeted them back to tell them such and then asked what the problem was.  I am still waiting…7hours later…

Enjoying my social experience and realising that I was actually embarking on a rather interesting and useful quest, I decided to consciously engage with the companies that I experienced and that had claimed their social media channels. 
I arrived at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg on Wednesday 20th February for my morning flight back to Cape Town.  I had just learnt that my Investec Bank account now provided me with access to the SAA Business Lounge at domestic departures.  Anything is better than sitting on plastic or metal seats listening to the inane announcements of flight delays and gate changes so I decided to head off to check out the lounge.

I checked in with FourSquare to the SAA Business Lounge and congratulated Investec in finally offering its customers a decent Lounge option.  Within minutes I received a twitter reply from @InvestecPB_SA wishing me a pleasant time in the Lounge and a good flight.  

What fantastic response and clearly Investec are monitoring keywords and not just mentions on the twitter waves.   Following this a friend of mine @PaulCartmel also an Investec customer tweeted a reply to me to ask about the lounge access.  Once again we didn’t use the twitter handle or a hashtag, and @InvestecPB SA picked up on the conversation and confirmed for us both that we could now use both the BidVest and SAA Business Lounges.  Well done @InvestecPB SA on your excellent social media engagement.

Both @PaulCartmel and I were so impressed with @InvestecPB_SA - here is the twitter conversation - read from bottom to top :)

My boarding card had stated gate C10, which in OR Tambo is a fair walk, so I headed off early to my gate.  As I arrived at the gate I discovered that actually the gate had been moved to C3, which was almost outside the lifts from the Lounge.  As I arrived at the correct gate I sat and listened to the cacophony of announcements, mainly all pertaining to changed gate numbers and some flights having sequential announcements about multiple changes.  I had time on my hands (because now the gate ‘closing time’ had passed and we hadn’t even started boarding yet!), so I decided to tweet my frustrations to @ORTambo_int about the fact that they have passengers running around the airport from gate to gate with changes to almost all flights.  I was really not expecting a reply never mind a prompt reply – I guess I thought that considering they couldn’t get the gates right that the chance of them actually delivering an effective social engagement would be unlikely. 

Well congratulations @ORTambo_int  you surpassed my expectations.  You apologised and told me that it wasn’t always possible in such a changing environment to get it right.  It felt like a stock standard response – the kind of response that an operator has stored and can choose from when they receive a complaint.  So I decided to push it a little further.  I asked @ORTambo_int why they couldn’t then send their passengers SMS’s or even make an app available to limit the number of lemmings running around the airport from gate to gate. 

Again within moments I had my reply, they are busy with an app and it will be launched soon and wished me a pleasant flight.  

Well done @ORTambo_int you guys are taking your social engagement seriously and whilst I was originally upset I now feel like a valued and listened to customer.

As a result of my few days in Johannesburg and my social experiment to test the levels of social engagement in South Africa’s businesses I have decided to continue and I will share my experiences further with the good, the bad and the ugly on the social scene.


  1. Interesting experiment Marc. I had the same experience that you had with Vodacom111. And one or two other companies that had similar poor communication.
    I think the problem is that they don't scale their social media teams as they grow their online presence/client base. Protea, Investec and O.R. Tambo probably do not have the same amount of tweets (twits) demanding attention as Vodacom for example. FNB seems to do a good job of handling it.
    Or maybe I'm wrong and some companies just don't care. :-)

  2. Agreed - I think also its a combination Christo - I think the intention starts well and then the volumes can grow and the expectation with social media is an instantaneous response - when that degrades then we feel like we may as well have used a call centre or other medium. Whereas some companies want to join the social media wagon but then don't actually apply resources or commitment to it and produce not even a slow response but a zero response.

  3. Nice Post Marc. Had the same experience with Spur. Was disappointing though. Would be great to have a twitter location flash mob, and see how the brand responds - ok that idea needs some fleshing out, but might be a nice experiment.

    Don't you think though that social should be pulled through top down though? In my experience, many brands/companies are great on social, but they don't answer their phones, or reply back to your customer care email for days. Consistency is key.

  4. Thanks Maliza - would like to hear more about your twitter location flash mob idea...