Alicia profile side low

Rentokil attracted some criticism last year on this blog for so-called ‘follow spam’, though the company has since attempted to learn from the experience. 

I interviewed Rentokil’s Social Media Manager Alicia Holbrook about the company’s approach to social media, and what has been learned from its mistakes on Twitter. 

What prompted the initial policy of following lots of people on Twitter? 

We followed people who detailed similar interests in their profile, such as those from the fields of science, nature, pest control or social media. Our aim was to engage with like-minded people to share information.

Rentokil tweets won’t appear in their stream unless they have chosen to follow us back. If someone wishes not to follow us back that’s fine – we don’t contact them again.

Twitter’s invitation spam rules state “you may not use’s address book contact import to send repeat, mass invitations.” We didn’t send out invitations or direct messages, we just simply chose to follow people.

You were criticised on this blog and elsewhere about your use of Twitter last year, what have you learned from this? 

Two things. Firstly that there is no substitute for one to one conversations and simply looking for people who list similar interests in their bio (i.e. pest control or social media marketing) is just not enough.

Secondly, forging relationships on Twitter takes time, unless you are the Stephen Fry or Barrack Obama of the Twitter-sphere that is! 

How would you describe Rentokil’s approach to Twitter and social media now? 

To sum it up in a single word: immediacy. Responding quickly to comments or questions is key to avoiding criticism and maintaining support in the fast world of online interaction.

In the old days of printed media, 24 hours or more was considered an acceptable length of time to reply to someone, nowadays it is not.

We have learned from the previous situation and have adapted our response plans accordingly. Let’s be honest, technology is only going to get quicker – so we have to adapt to this too.

Can you give me some examples of the way Rentokil now uses Twitter? 

We share information from our blog posts, but more importantly we try and engage with people who are talking about us on Twitter.

We are also using it for social media projects like #UKWaspWatch, which will be launching again this summer. We ask individuals who have spotted wasps or wasp nests to tweet their postcode along with an indication the severity of the sighting.

These tweets are plotted on a map, in a similar fashion to #uksnow which was hugely popular last year. The support campaign was carried out online and we managed to spread the message to approx 1m people via various groups on Facebook such as “I hate wasps.” 

How do you manage the Twitter account? What tools and strategies are you using to manage your social media presence? 

Aha, Hootsuite vs. Tweetdeck – that is the question. I personally use Hootsuite for monitoring Rentokil mentions and there are also a number of free tools (Social Mention, Trackur, etc.) that are providing us with a low-level analysis of Rentokil online.

But I am pleased to announce that since October we have been using Sentiment Metrics as our listening tool for the Rentokil brand being mentioned and discussed online.

Using this social media monitoring software has helped us greatly. We can find out earlier and faster if Rentokil is being mentioned. We can see where we have no presence, plus we will be alerted to any online buzz that needs responding to.

Where does social media sit within the company? Do various departments contribute? 

Well, my role is within the Global Marketing & Strategy Team and my line manager has responsibility for all 52 of the websites so it’s a good fit.

Globally, the UK, America, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Australia and South Africa all contribute content. We encourage everyone from scientists to surveyors to technicians to post blogs. Our technicians are out on the road every day and often have some interesting tales to tell…

But ultimately all online B2B strategy is about driving enquiry generation and for us social media is no exception. That’s why the Facebook page, Twitter account, You Tube channel and blog either have a strong CTA back to the various country sites or itself. Also, now that we are using Sentiment Metrics, the other divisions of Rentokil Initial will also be able to listen online. 

What are the challenges in implementing social media in a big company? 

Gosh, where to begin. Critical to the decision making process is buy-in, particularly more importantly from senior managers.

It took a little while, but we now have this so gradually the message is beginning to spread across the business that we are involved in Social Media projects. Our internal processes have also changed as a result of the criticism we received.

We had only recently started working with our Twitter account and were learning all the time. We now have experience of the pitfalls and challenges associated with online community building and are continuing to learn about how individuals engage online with a large corporate brand.

Do you actively monitor social media and respond to customer queries and complaints?

Great question. If the query or complaint is via Twitter, then yes we will respond.

I think running a fully integrated customer complaints service in this medium raises all kinds of questions, most notably around resources. Should it be a 24/7 service, or an office hours only service?

Our UK call centre based in Dudley handles nearly 240,000 calls a year so it would be interesting to understand what proportion of that communication would switch to Twitter if we offered it as an alternative. 

How do you measure and evaluate the value of your social media channels? 

I see online articles on almost a daily basis about the ROI of social media. I think the social media aims we have of increasing online brand awareness and educating people about pest control can be very hard to return actual figures on, but we did see a huge uplift in sales this last summer when we launched our #UKWaspWatch campaign. 

Our increasing blog visitor numbers year on year and each calendar month proves that we are sharing content that is of interest, likewise for Twitter followers and subscribers to our You Tube channel.

Also, we now have the added bonus of our online monitoring software which should give us a much clearer picture of online buzz – and the new channels we can engage in alongside the more traditional (is Twitter considered traditional now?) social media channels.