How to command conversation: 3 Social Media Command Centres

We explore three very different approaches to managing social media interaction in real-time at the NRL, Telstra and MasterCard

Live support: Telstra’s 24/7 command centre

Social listening and interaction has proved a surprisingly innovative and engaging way to provide support to Telstra’s customers, its executive director of Telstra Digital, Gerd Shenkel, said. He claimed the telco giant has one of the oldest social media service teams in the country, evolving out of “geeky” online roots into a broader social media and forum offering that seeks to help customers find answers at any time.

Telstra’s social monitoring division was initially created as a support team for the Bigpond brand long before Twitter became a mainstream channel, Shenkel said. Just over two years ago, Telstra invested in making it a 24/7 social media support operation that could not only listen in to conversation, but also actively provide support for its full suite of products. ‘Telstra 24/7’ is now a team of 25 people based in Adelaide, who tune into Facebook, Twitter and online forums, as well as Telstra’s customer-fuelled Crowdsupport online community.


Some of the Telstra Crowdsupport team

The team utilises a recently updated workflow platform to monitor posts across all channels. Employees have a journalism background and receive basic service training on core products, and are also given access to CRM, much in the same way a call centre agent is. A key difference is that these staff members are uniquely networked across the company to find answers to customer questions.

“These people work the organisation for the benefit of customers, and can navigate the network,” Shenkel said. “There is a huge amount of interest across Telstra to get involved, and our teams might direct specialist questions internally to get answers.”

Staff are educated on ACCC rules and misleading statements, but have the freedom to interact with customers through social channels and the forums in a personal way. They are primarily there to provide support, but also create engaging posts and occasionally push out messages relating to new products and features. In the case of the Crowdsupport forum, customers talk to each other, but the 24/7 team steps in to moderate and comment if information is wrong, or hasn’t been responded to for a certain period of time, Shenkel explained.

“Our aim is to keep the conversation fresh,” he said. “Social is at the stage where many customers who haven’t used it before see it as a last resort to engage with us. They’re quite surprised someone is there to help but once they have had a good experience, they’ll come through those channels next time. It’s great to know we can still surprise customers and offer new services where they don’t expect it.”

Staff are gauged on a one-hour service turnaround, and typically achieve at least 90 per cent of the time, Shenkel continued. But he cautioned against too many metrics around social engagement. “Social is changing so much, having specific KPIs to manage it could be counter-productive,” he said. “Social is owned by our customers – they own our Facebook page and our forums and decide where they take it. We are actively resisting over-managing the channel.

“The best measure of success is built into the platforms themselves; the degree to which posts are viable shows by how many people liked, shared or commented on them. We talk to the team about the great posts, and Facebook provides data on likes down to a post level.”

Shenkel said Facebook is becoming a cultural change tool within Telstra, offering customers the ability to access executives and specialists in a direct way that was previously achievable. Telstra has expanded on this is through live blogs and making staff available on Facebook for live chat regularly.

“It allows us to live our values in a platform that makes conversations observable,” he said. “We like to share that with the broader group in Telstra and use what customers tell us in social channels to direct the company.”

Screens and visualisations, while great for the Web and app developers or keeping the customer in the room, aren’t necessary for a team that is living and breathing social every day, Shenkel added.

Social you can bank on: MasterCard’s Conversation Suite

MasterCard set-up its own social media command centre at its Purchase, New York headquarters in 2012 to bring more social thinking into the enterprise. The MasterCard Conversation Suite utilises a Web-based analytics tool supported by a global team of social experts that monitor, analyse and engage in social conversations around the world, in real-time, 24/7. Six dedicated desks are staffed full-time with a cross-functional team, while a 40-foot LED screen allows visitors to see what’s trending and influencing the content produced.


MasterCard Conversation Suite

MasterCard Worldwide vice-president, Marcy Cohen, said the team consists of members from worldwide communications, cardholder services and various product groups. The suite tracks Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, online boards, blogs and forums.

“These channels were chosen because they allow us to get a view into the most pervasive social channels where people are discussing MasterCard,” Cohen said. Traditional media monitoring is also now undertaken through the team.

A customised, proprietary system designed by Prime Research powers the Conversation Suite, which covers 43 markets and 26 languages. Advanced Web intelligence, sentiment analysis, human validation and in-house coding all contribute to making this system the hub of MasterCard’s engagement network, Cohen claimed. Data mining and analysis from the suite drive communications decision making, help set the communications roadmap, enable active response and engagement and serve as a barometer and resource to the business.

“The Conversation Suite represents the changing culture at MasterCard,” she said. “Three years ago, MasterCard CEO, Ajay Banga, challenged his team to transform the 45 year-old B2B financial services giant into a more consumer-focused payments technology company. From a communications standpoint, MasterCard was squarely B2B; the opportunity was to shift engagement online and develop a direct relationship and dialogue with consumers and influencers.”

Early data revealed more than 30 million online conversations were happening weekly about MasterCard and its industry, but MasterCard was engaged in just 1 per cent of these. “Further, commerce – the centre of MasterCard’s business – was shifting online and increasingly via social media channels,” Cohen said.

MasterCard tracks and reports but also aggregates and analyses in real time, building predictive capabilities and producing relevant content. From 30 million monthly touch points across social, digital and online 18 months ago, MasterCard is now seeing more than 40 million a week.

Within three months of implementing the suite, the company had driven a 400 per cent increase in online engagement. Cohen said has also launched a devoted customer service Twitter handle, @AskMasterCard.

MasterCard is now launching the third version of its tool to add new visual capabilities, and incorporate additional social media platforms including Weibo.

“The MasterCard Conversation Suite stands as a reminder that MasterCard continues to evolve and seeks to change the very nature of what people, business and government say about us and believe our value to be,” Cohen said.

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