When the news about tweeting CEO Pieter Uys on behalf of Vodacom - the South Africa´s largest cellphone Company - spread out on Twitter early July, I was happy there is the first CEO herald, who takes social media opportunities seriously.
Pieter has not just installed internal effective monitoring systems to track the Company´s reputation on 24/7 scale. When he got alert about connectivity issues being discussed on Twitter and Facebook, he immediately took the time to personally respond to subscribers of Vodacom, who experienced the service downtime. To an angry customer tweet: "@Vodacom are you ignoring my last tweet. If we don't pay you chop us. If you don't provide service we don't pay! @uyspj", Pieter Uys himself wrote back: "@marknel1. Hi Mark. I am not ignoring you. Working on making you smile again :-)". And later that night, Pieter continued to keep his customers aware, he is there for them to solve the issues: “Words can’t express how sorry I am about today’s problem. Flat out working at making sure all is 100%. Pieter.” He shared updates until the problems were solved.
Instead of probable consequent negative press coverage and a stream of customers leaving to competition, Uys not just attracted positive international attention, he won the respect of the hard to persuade tweeting community: “The fact that you are still working at 11pm speaks volumes Pieter -- as does your apology. Bravo,” Chris Moerdyk.
Customers were astonished, that a CEO himself took the time to speak with them. They got reassurance that the problems are temporary and being solved with high priority, as the CEO himself puts his credit into the game. And because Pieter Uys listened and cared enough, because his tweets were authentic and with clear intentions, he was able to switch opinions.
As Vodacom case shows, nowadays there is a huge benefit when a CEO acts as the public face of the company to both the customer community as well as the marketplace as a whole, when he shifts the emphasis from a broadcast and self-centered mentality to one of listening and serving the community.
Vodacom´s CEO clearly understood, that social conversations nowadays have turned the tables. Customers are more and more empowered to publish their thoughts, there is no way to stop or control them. Brands and companies are no longer expected to be perfect, quite the opposite. And the ones that continue to repeat the good old message of "You - customer- are lucky we exist. We are perfect. It is you that is not" are definitely heading to face a big surprise.
Reputation is not just something to "protect". Reputation is something to be built - every day, each moment, every single step. Social media offer a great opportunity to enhance it for brands and companies, especially if they are led by brave and progressive CEOs.