AFTER the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) cautioned police earlier this year against the negative impacts of social networking, it is also worth examining the positive implications of the various technologies for the nation's businesses and institutions.
Yes, employees are still playing Facebook games like Farmville and posting pictures from parties, but they also share useful information and in the case of businesses, they can use social media to interact directly with customers.
For many businesses social media has become more of a concern than an opportunity; often banning employees and having no corporate presence on popular social networks. A few years ago if you looked at the Jamaican Internet scene — apart from the blue chips such as LIME or NCB — there were few companies with websites, and if they had them they were hardly functional. Today things are slowly changing, social media marketing has provided companies with an easier means to reach customers and get instant feedback.
It cannot be overlooked that the most popular website in Jamaica is Facebook and companies are learning to interact with its vast audience, including Digicel Jamaica, which is closing on 300,000 fans — equivalent to more than one-tenth of the national population. However, the independent Jamaicans Music has done even better and has more than 340,000!
Five companies that get it
Palace Amusement: Has a website that would make a web designer cry but has branched off and been successful in social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare. They have a Facebook fan page that is easily accessible and much more aesthetically pleasing than the website. They are also very prominent on Twitter and have targeted the movie lovers with trivia, movie information and prizes. This personal approach has increased customer loyalty and interest.
The Jamaica Pegasus: Has a long-established and functional website but did not have a medium to reach consumers, especially young ones. The Pegasus really surprised me by bravely holding the first ever 'Tweet up' -- inviting users of that social network to meet at the hotel. This allowed the Pegasus to showcase its services to a younger generation and perhaps help it compete against other hotels such as the recently opened Spanish Court Hotel. Their second tweet up, to be held later this month, offered 200 spaces and was fully subscribed within just 15 minutes.
Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB): Last year the JTB took a bold step and invited bloggers from both overseas and Jamaica to experience the island's tourism product. They maintain a very active Facebook and Twitter presence with more than one account: one account shows hotel deals and the other highlights reasons to visit Jamaica. They also have their own blog, islandbuzzjamaica.com, and YouTube channel, complete with its Pon Di Road travel show.
Chilitos Mexican restaurant: Chilitos has used social media marketing to drive customers and get feedback. Chilitos recently began offering vegetarian tacos — a direct result of social media feedback. They also have deals exclusive to Foursquare where you can get a free item on your fifth 'check-in'.
Jamaica Observer: Now with more than 13,000 followers on Twitter, I first became aware of their Twitter presence during the civil unrest last year. I was in the United States and the Observer allowed me to get almost minute-to-minute updates. They did this also with the Buju trial having a reporter in the courthouse giving regular updates — despite rumours I didn't believe the result of the first trial until I saw the Observer tweet it. Readers can also have their questions answered by the newspaper via Twitter.
Five that should
The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM): I am glad to say that the ODPEM is on Twitter and on Facebook. They make regular updates and some of it is useful, but if I wasn't writing this I would have no clue that they existed. The ODPEM could find out what their followers want to know and provide regular updates. Next time there is a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tropical storm, perhaps people could look to ODPEM for reliable local information rather than rely on the likes of the Weather Channel.
National Water Commission (NWC): The NWC has a website but it is not particularly user-friendly. With regular disruptions and works (and consequent road works) the utility could use social media to send information to quickly notify customers and hear grievances. Facebook would also be a great way to answer questions.
Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF): During the holidays there were constant BlackBerry broadcasts of this vehicle of thieves, robbing people in a particular area. No one knew if it was true or not. Many had to either investigate further or just be safe rather than sorry. The JCF could use Facebook and Twitter to not only curb rumours, but also to ask the public for help with apprehending criminals and find missing persons. Interacting with users of social networks would also help improve relations between the Force and members of the public. If anyone should be using social media the JCF should.
Claro Jamaica: Claro Jamaica appears to have Twitter and Facebook accounts but neither seems to be active — the last tweet was sent on March 15, 2010. By contrast their competitors Digicel and LIME have invested heavily in social media, which gives them an advantage in targeting younger, more tech- savvy customers.
Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS): Of all the aforementioned I think this one surprises me the most. I will give them points for the website and timely text and bill emails. Similar to the NWC, the JPS could use social media marketing to help boost image: the utility could respond when there is a power outage and provide tips for energy conservation.
Chelan Smith is a Public Relations and Marketing professional. You can email her at email@example.com