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Frank Eliason, senior vice president for social media at Citigroup, is not only a believer in social media, but also has put social media to work. Eliason recently joined Citi after making a reputation as a change agent at Comcast. FedInsider spoke with him following his presentation at last week’s Federal Senior Management Conference (FedSMC) in Cambridge, Md. Learn about Eliason’s social media guidelines and how engaging in “social customer service” can benefit your organization. FedInsider News Magazine

When a company like Citigroup has a senior vice president for social media, you know social media has moved into the mainstream of large organizations. But Frank Eliason is not only a believer, he is one of the people who has put social media to work. He recently joined Citi after making a reputation as a change agent at Comcast. I spoke with him following his presentation at last week’s Federal Senior Management Conference (FedSMC) in Cambridge, Md.

“Comcast struggled with customer service,” Eliason said. “Then we started engaging in dialog with our customers.” Sounds simple but for the company it was urgent. Web sites with titles such as “Comcast Must Die” were popping up. Today the company has extensive user forums and discussion groups. In fact, even ComcastMustDie.com is acknowledging the progress Comcast has made.

Eliason said social media can improve the chances of ensuring initial customer encounters are positive. Plus, it enables customers to talk to one another more readily in a way that lets the company listen and gauge the zeitgeist. Still another benefit, Eliason said, is that within the social media provided by Comcast, customers were helping another with technical issues. As the customer service situation turned around, Eliason himself become a trusted figure among online users. In one instance, he took a rare day off — a day that, among other things, commemorated the death of a daughter. He found the online people sending messages to one another saying, “Let Frank have his day.” And they filled in by helping one another.

But deploying social feedback tools in a publicly traded company or in a federal agency, Eliason said, is not just a matter of installing collaboration tools and letting ‘er rip. He advises:

  • Start with the free, downloadable social media tools. Later, when you start to get larger numbers of users and more activity, consider investing in more industrial grade tools such as Radian6. A tool called Lithium can help with monitoring of social media activity.
  • Avoid confusing social CRM (customer relationship management) with social customer service. CRM lets you know what people are saying and what is important to them. Customer service is aimed at specific problem-solving.
  • Invest in training for people in your agency in the use of social media. Speaking on behalf of the organization means there are things they can’t say. “Many rules are not enforceable. It’s better to teach people how what they say can impact things,” Eliason said.
  • Partner with the legal and compliance staffs to make sure what you are doing with social media meets the agency’s regulatory and legal requirements.
  • Listen not just for what is being said specifically about your agency, for example, “FCC”, but also for what people are saying about the topic, such as “broadband.” That can lead you to trends you can respond to earlier than you might otherwise.
  • Tap into social media’s power to connect your own people. Said Eliason, “Look at how social media tools are changing the world. They are also connecting employees regardless of their silos. It makes the enterprise seem smaller.” The organization’s goal should be what he called the Zappos online clothing retailer model, where every employee knows the rules and is engaged.
  • Remember that there is more to be gleaned from social media interactions than metrics or dashboard information. Clients’ stories and knowledge of the misinformation that might be out there are equally important, Eliason said.

Eliason said that among the agencies engaging in social media, some are doing a particularly good job.

“Transportation Security Administration is engaged with detractors. They have conversations in their blog about topics,” he said. In fact, just this week TSA in its blog took on the widely circulated story about the pat-down of a six year old girl.

Eliason also mentioned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Individuals there are actively tweeting,” he said, referring to use of the micro-blogging site Twitter. “They are using social data to know what they should be doing,” he said of the still-forming agency.

Ultimately, Eliason said, he hopes his jobs and jobs like it will disappear. “My role here may not be long term, once the company is socialized. We don’t have a chief fax officer.

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