Sodexo UK & Ireland asked It's Open to create a strategy for how to communicate with students, using social media
Services industry, Catering, Hospitality
The meteoric rise and impact of social media the world over has brought about a revolution in communication. But how do large companies embrace it?
Many companies – and Sodexo is no exception – have been slow to see and harness the benefits of Twitter and Facebook to talk to and with customers.
Social media is all about instant two-way dialogue and, in a large corporation, rapidly changing longstanding ways of communicating doesn’t happen overnight.
That is beginning to change within Sodexo though and the pace of change will increase, because the business is now committed to using these interactive tools to engage better with students.
Sodexo Education is in the vanguard. Students are the e-generation. Computer literate and smartphone savvy, they use social media to communicate daily.
It is so important in their lives now that a recent survey by Dream Systems Media found 56 per cent of college students said if they were offered a job by a company that banned social media use, they’d turn it down!
If that’s how they talk to each other, it is not surprising that Sodexo wants to talk the same language.
Marketing Director Claire Morris said: “A lot of our sites are now using Twitter to communicate with customers: telling them what is on the menu, running competitions and asking for feedback.”
For example, Sodexo’s Twitter account has created a great buzz amongst Southampton Solent University (SSU) students. Offers and prize draws, as well as information, are being tweeted by Sodexo’s team at the university, where Sodexo has a contract to manage catering and hospitality services.
“It is driving engagement with the students, generating topics for communication and getting a buzz going,” said Claire.
Sodexo has a website, linked to the SSU intranet, in which students use a Quick Response (QR) code to go directly to a microsite called theunity, where they can get details of menus, opening hours, special offers and other information on catering.
Claire added: “It is important that we use the means of communications that this generation of students is using.
“We decided at the end of last year that we would not run any more satisfaction surveys using paper but all electronic, so that they can be completed using iPads, websites or QR.”
Lars Kavli, a social media consultant with It’s Open, has been working with Phil Hooper, Corporate Affairs Director and Sodexo’s UK and Ireland Marketing team, to see how social media can benefit communication in various sectors, starting with universities.
He said: “Technical innovation has brought about cultural change in which media users and practitioners have started to expect different interactions from media. They expect two-way interaction and some way of making their voices heard.”
Today, he says, one per cent of communicators create new content, nine per cent interact with that content, by responding to it or passing it on, while 90 per cent observe that content, so may also be influenced by it. “This is the ripple effect that is happening and while some companies have looked on this as a big threat, it is actually a huge opportunity to hold a very different relationship with service users or customers.”
Companies like Sodexo are now embracing social media and beginning to move away from the traditional corporate, reactive and defensive style of communication.
“We have seen at SSU you can have a very different kind of dialogue with your service users,” said Lars.
After researching how universities around the world are using social media, Twitter, because it is newsorientated, was found to be the best way to get the information directly to someone you are not familiar with.
“Your voice has to be authentic because you cannot manage an experience someone has of your services, if what you are saying bears no relation to what is actually happening,” said Lars.
“You can use video and photography too but the important thing is to tell it like it is.
“In the early stages, one of the challenges is to help Sodexo feel like they are not opening a can of worms, to let everyone have their say and comment on different
issues. But that is going to happen anyway, so it is better to be proactive to benefit the wider protection of the company.”
Claire’s colleagues in the USA say Facebook is becoming ‘old hat’ with students there, because everyone, including their parents, are using it. “For us, instant, short, effective communication with Twitter is much better.”
Lars said: “The litmus test for all media is ‘is it still useful and does it provide benefits to users?’ If the answer is yes, it will remain alive. Students are fickle and so big trends tend to work for three or four years.”
He added: “Facebook requires much more content and is a good tool for reflecting who you are and how you want to be perceived, but Twitter is better for quick communications. It is becoming the default media because it is like texting to a wider public.”
SSU’s retail development manager Marc Jaytin took to the use of Twitter fast. “He had some training but he’s a natural. He understands the messages that
work and the interactions you need,” said Lars.
Sodexo is also using LinkedIn, the professional network for job hunters, to cut its recruitment costs and find the right people.
The move into social media is not an exact science.
“It is a learning curve but you just have to start using it and learn from experience,” said Lars.
Written by Bob Roxburgh