In this blog, I shall be using my analytical expertise to show that Johannesburg Water’s Social Media team recently did a sterling job with their social media communication related to the #Talavera crisis. I am also of the view that this case study carries practical social CRM learnings for all the other companies, in both private and public sectors, across the world.
How the #Talavera water interruption crisis communication came to my attention
The last 2 weeks have been among the busiest in my speaking calendar. I spoke at an African Renaissance event at the University of Pretoria on 31 July about the dying African languages and role of online media, and ran 2 action-packed sessions on Social Media Marketing in the Public Service to the Gauteng Provincial Health Communication and City of Ekurhuleni management teams on 1 and 7 August respectively.
Johannesburg Water came onto my radar when I was searching for a public service-related topic that trended in the last 2 weeks, for comparative analysis of key insights that I was going to share during the City of Ekurhuleni engagement.
What I learnt about how this Africa’s World-class city’s office handled a communication crisis on social media related to interruption of water services in some of suburbs between 18 July and 6 August lead to my conclusion that the insights are worth capturing.
Tracking Johannesburg Water's #Talavera crisis revealed this is an age-old problem
My analysis traces the first Johannesburg Water tweet about the most recent #Talavera water interruption crisis to Thursday the 18th of July.
1/3 There is a major burst on the 600mm main at the river behind #TalaveraComplex. A contractor has been appointed to complete repairs and will begin work on Monday morning, 22 July 2019. The depot will isolate water from Sunday morning. The job may take a minimum of 48 hours.^NN— Johannesburg Water (@JHBWater) July 18, 2019
Communication on the situation was broadened the following day.
As the water interruption issue persisted, Twitterers with long memories joined in, pulling old records to remind the Councillor for this area that we have been here before.
Johannesburg Water took an open and transparent approach to handling the water interruption crisis on social media
As the results of my analysis in the rest of this post will show, Johannesburg Water’s social media team worked very hard to keep the affected households informed as the water interruption issue was being attended to, almost on a blow-by-blow basis, for the most part of the 20-day period under review.
1/2 #TalaveraComplex update— Johannesburg Water (@JHBWater) August 1, 2019
The appointed contractor completed repairs yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, there has been another burst on the same line before the Talavera complex at Waterford estate. ^NN
There is no doubt that Johannesburg Water took a lot of abuse from the netizens, many of them residents of the affected areas, as judged by the replies to the status updates.
Proof of negative reaction to the crisis is captured in the Locowise sentiment graph, which recorded the highest level of unhappiness in social mentions of the Johannesburg Water account on the 2nd of August, as shown in the graph below.
It can be seen in the graph above that there was no recording of sentiment of Johannesburg Water mentions before 31 July. I guess the trigger was the continued #Talavera water outage problem that entered the 12th day without much progress in its resolution.
THE $1 MILLION Q: Did Johannesburg Water’s handling of #Talavera crisis communication on social media work?
Let's crunch the numbers to test for efficacy of social CRM
Q1: But first, did Johannesburg Water communicate actively about the #Talavera water interruptions?
To answer the question above, I analysed Johannesburg Water’s tweet volume for the period 6 July to 8 August, for which I used Social Bakers.
Findings and insights
- It appears that there was active communication on the part of this public office during the period under review, but especially from the 4th of August.
The simplest way to determine this is by analysing the tweet volume trend, which shows this account is normally active on weekdays, and this is common for public service accounts in this part of the world.
However, unlike for the past 3 Sundays where nothing was tweeted on the official handle, Sunday the 4th of August recorded one of the 2 most active days for the period under review.
The other day was Wednesday the 7th of August.
- The top 3 tweet by number of interactions was posted on the 4th of August.
- Analysis of the 3 top hashtags during the period under review confirm that the bulk of Johannesburg Water’s tweets were about the crisis that is the subject of this blog.
Q2: Did Johannesburg Water's social media crisis communication get reaction?
The answer is yes.
Findings and insights
- The graph above shows engagement with Johannesburg Water’s tweets jumped on the 4th of August, and peaked on the 6th. When comparing the Tweet Volume graph (under Q1 above) with the Interactions graph, it can be seen that is some relationship between the two.
- Do you notice the jump in daily contributions by Replies (marked by dark blue bar) in the Interactions graph before the 6th?
To make the point about the swing in contributions by Replies, lets compare contributions by the 3 types of interactions for the 2 periods:
- 6 July – 8 August
- 4 to 8 August
- Clearly, netizens were not interacting passively anymore in the last 5 days. They were actively (and passionately, I might add) engaging with the handle’s tweets, expressing frustrations and demanding action.
And what about mentions of the Johannesburg Water Twitter handle?
- As the graph shows, Twitters mentioning the public service handle in their tweets also jumped in direct correlation to the interactions trend in the last 5 days.
Q3: Was Johannesburg Water responding to questions during the crisis?
According to Social Bakers, 35 questions were tweeted to Johannesburg Water in the last 4 days of the period under review.
Findings and insights
- The account answered ALL the tweeted questions, according to Social Bakers.
- The bulk of the questions were tweeted on the 7th of August.
- Analysis of response times shows that all the questions were answered within an average of 1 hour per question.
Breaking down the response times paints an even better picture:
- The high response rates and times for the period review qualify the Johannesburg Water for Social Bakers’ #SocialDevoted badge.
Q4: Did Johannesburg Water get some millage from the #Talavera crisis communication?
Yes, the handle won some hearts. Here is proof.
The positive responses above lead to improvement in the sentiment score on the 7th of August.
Why is this #Talavera social CRM case worth blogging about?
It has become a trend that many companies – in both private and public sectors alike – run for cover when a crisis hits, especially on social media.
Seeing a public office communicate so readily and respond to questions in the way Johannesburg Water did is rare. As results show, a crisis can be turned around.
Here are key conditions for a successful social CRM, based on Johannesburg Water’s #Talavera crisis communication’s findings:
- Ensuring a closer working relationship between the Social Media team and the Operation teams;
- A company may not have all the answers, but it needs to be proactive, open and transparent in the communication of plans to address the criss, and report on progress frequently;
- Timeous responses to as many of the netizen questions and queries as possible; and
- There has to be the ability to track and measure effectiveness. Otherwise, valuable learnings and insights may not be captured for replication.
I am hoping that other companies can learn from this social CRM case.
So what has been the reaction by the netizens to this blog?
Updated 14 August
I curated the tweets that reacted to this post.
I wasn’t affected by the Talavera water outage but watched the progress reports and replies from the twitterverse. Jhb Water did a remarkable job of keeping people up to date. That the news often wasn’t positive didn’t stop them in spite of some haters doing what they do best. 👏— Mike Woolnough (@Ztangi) August 12, 2019
But most were not…
The article refers to how @JHBWater behaved on social media, in this case twitter. I agree @JHBWater couldn’t be updating status all the time, but to say they keep people up to date, it’s was only toward the end when we had over 100 hours of outage did they make more effort...— 10gosaurus (@Tengosaurus) August 12, 2019
… and I understand. Water outage is an emotive issue. And yes, communication is one thing. Effective maintenance is another.
Click here to view the full collection of the tweet responses as at 14 August.