When I first started working at Cathay Pacific many years ago, I would try to explain to my grandmother what I did for a living.  As a new sales executive she could not understand what I actually sold.

Was it airplanes? Was it airplane seats? How about tickets?

After a couple of years of the periodic questions about what I did and the confused looks I would get when I would try to explain I finally gave up and said “Yes grandmother, I’m a pilot.”  That was just easier and it was the one thing that she could understand. So I just went with it. Fortunately she never asked to see my pilot hat.

Today, I probably find myself in a similar situation being in charge of social media. Questions include:

What do you do all day?  Do you post  clever posts around Cathay Pacific or Dragonair?  Do you play on Facebook all day and pretend it’s a job?  Do  you  watch travel videos on YouTube?

Actually I do none of that, although I do make suggestions on some of it to the individuals that handle the various social media channels.

What I do is look at social media from a much higher and broader perspective.  It involves looking at social media at an enterprise level and understanding and implementing policies around it in the most effective way, as well as keeping an eye out as to what the future holds in the area of social media and incorporating it within the company when it makes sense.

In the early days with most companies, social media either sat in  marketing or corporate communication departments and individuals in those departments dealt with all aspects of it.  And many companies continue to operate that way to this day.

But as social media evolves, companies need to mature in terms of how they view the discipline. No longer is social media just about clever marketing campaigns or gathering as many fans as you can on Facebook.

Social media touches virtually every department

Today social media touches so many different departments in a variety of ways. In the airline industry, social media is increasingly used for customer service via reservations teams, and using social technologies to recruit the right kind of employee via HR departments, or as I once heard “turning recruitment from a farming mentality and throwing out seeds to a hunting mentality and targeting the exact people you want.”

Social media also involves communicating with customers effectively and quickly during disruptions such as storms.  Customers are increasingly social-savvy and look to social media for the latest updates on airlines.  In Hong Kong during the summer months, we have to deal with typhoons that can cause major disruptions for thousands of people.  We recently had one in Taiwan and tools like Twitter and Facebook were absolutely essential to get disruption messages out to the public  in a timely fashion for our customers to make the best decisions about their travel arrangements.

Wait … social media touches sales now?

Social media even touches sales departments through the concept of social selling, moving away from the concept of cold calling and using tools to  target customers who may not be doing business with you, or taking on more of a consultative role and sharing with corporate customers articles that may help them travel better, such as tipping rules in Southeast Asia.

For corporate communication departments, we have seen the rise of social media usage around crisis communications.  The unfortunate recent Air Asia incident comes to mind.  In this case, social media was used extensively to inform the public of what was happening and they handled the communications aspect well.  However, if you get the communications efforts wrong it can be deadly for brands in the eyes of the public.  From my current perspective, this is the most important department around social media and we cannot afford to get social media wrong in cases of crisis communications.

Social Media: Internal vs. external partners

These topics I just mentioned largely involve communication with the external customer. But social media also involves internal communications in companies through tools such as Yammer or Chatter (or the increasingly popular Slack).  Tools like these are tearing down silos between departments and allowing crowdsourcing to gather ideas and collaborating in ways that weren’t possible a few years ago. These tools are now being used at Cathay Pacific.

To give you an example, we recently opened a new first class lounge at Hong Kong International.  We have a signature scent as you enter the lounge that has subtle scents of lemongrass and lavender.  We recently posted on Yammer a story on this scent and have asked our staff to help us come up with a name for it.

Another fairly new area of social media communications is the development of internal brand advocates who are voluntarily sharing company news with their friends and family via social media channels.  This is commonly called ’employee advocacy.’ This too is being developed at Cathay Pacific and is turning into a great tool for staff engagement.

It’s given us the ability to see who our true brand advocates are — and there have been some surprises.  You might expect the natural brand advocates to come from marketing or sales. But in our case the two most prolific sharers come from our call centre in Mumbai, and an engineer in Hong Kong.

What are the main ways to consider enterprise-level social media?

The list goes on in terms of how social media is used for both internal and external customers within companies.  And coordinating actives around this requires someone to manage it from a central point.  And that’s what I do.  My role is to understand where those opportunities lie, how to approach them in a coordinated and efficient way, as well as looking at the risks of social media and ensuring we understand and are prepared as much as we can be around those risks.

For me it boils down to two main areas: brand protection and brand promotion.  Brand protection involves the corporate communication department where I now sit.  Brand promotion touches this department as well as other departments like sales, HR, reservations, marketing and more.

One thing I am sure of as I head this area is that social media will continue to evolve and change, and what I do today may look very different in 5 years.

It will be an interesting journey to ensure that Cathay Pacific as a company is at the forefront in the area of social media.

About Dennis Owen

Social media is constantly and rapidly changing how companies do business. It is no longer about just marketing or corporate communications anymore. Social media touches many more departments within companies, such as sales, HR, operations, customer relations, and more.

Social media is about two-way communications, both internally within Cathay Pacific as well as externally with our customers and partners.

My role is to understand how social media is evolving as a discipline, and incorporate that into Cathay Pacific in ways that meet our strategic objectives on a global basis.

Being enthusiastic about social media, I am constantly looking for new and innovative ways to raise the company profile in this area.

I am focused on this ever-changing airline world with extensive and well-round experience in marketing, sales, cargo, operations and corporate communications.

With a multifaceted background in the aviation/travel industry and progressive job promotions in airline management I look at opportunities with a broad perspective. With combined knowledge from my various positions I ensure a holistic approach to project management.

My ambition as a leader is to always articulate clear strategies and communicate in a way that is understood by all. Team and individual career development for my staff is a core focus in any position I have.


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