Leaving Telecom

Last month I left Telecom – I was six weeks shy of completing ten years there. In that time, I reckon I had about seven jobs, in the retail business, then Telecom Wholesale, then in the corporate relations team, the last two and a bit as social media manager. I want to write some stuff down about it before it fades into `on to the next thing`.

I really loved it there – somehow, I got ample rope to hang myself with on a number of occasions. I went from being kind of buried deep, deep in the organisation (I wasn`t even sure what business unit I was in for the first couple of years, probably more reflective of my own lack of interest than anything) to working right where the shit was hitting the fan and the decisions were being made most days. I am very lucky to have been given the opportunities I was given – and I got to work with the most awesome bunch of people you could ever wish to have as colleagues, and I am not even just saying that.

I really enjoyed the Telco industry, there was much drama between the competitors, industry bodies, media, government. I particularly enjoyed getting to know people at other Telcos when I was at Wholesale, the dynamic of being both competitors and customers and having a beer with the next bloke anyway is unique, to an extent, in NZ.

 Evers Swindells
 Just hanging out with some colleagues.

The other awesome bunch I got to work with is the Online Response Team, Telecom`s famous(ish) group of volunteers that manage the social media accounts, largely out of the goodness of their hearts. I was part of the team, then became its `leader` (quotes very much intentional) when the social media manager role was created. The model is one I really believe in and I think it worked really well for Telecom, lending the dirty great corporate a little more humanity, which is important, especially in the early days of the ORT. The folk involved in setting  that up, not to mention the Telecom ONE unconferences that  happened each year despite  the political and resourcing  challenges involved, deserve much kudos.

It  was most fun when things went wrong. XT, Chch earthquakes, Abstain, Stephen Fry, network outages and Yahoo! Xtra, you name it. Social media and Twitter in particular were very much part of the front line response to all this, and it was exciting. I spent more hours than I care to think of at work and at home on audio conferences (I even discovered how useful bluetooth ear pieces are, to my shame) with dedicated, capable and passionate folk trying to put things right – we were really good when things were turning to custard. Crisis comms is something I really enjoy, and without being a dick, Telecom is one of the best places to do it –  it’s a New Zealand headquartered company, and we were it, there was no head office coming in to take over when things got interesting.

I guess the down side of doing social for such a large, service orientated company is the `always on` nature. There was never a moment, when I was with the kids at the beach, on the bus or out drinking when I wasn`t thinking `I wonder if something is kicking off on Twitter?` Often folk  in social media roles are their own worst enemies, preferring to spend their bus journey looking at the work Twitter instead of playing Angry Birds. It is a great and wonderful thing that folk have a public, social way of getting a company`s attention, but in darker moments it felt like a public 0800 complaint line. Corporate social media asks a lot of the people responsible for doing it, and while spreading the responsibility among, say, customer service or  marketing or PR or wherever may take away some of its charm, spontaneity and human-ness, it`s important for the people themselves` human-ness that this very public face of the company is empowered and well supported, both process-wise and emotionally. And they get an actual break every now and again (even if this must be rigorously policed!).

I`m not a legitimate geek by any stretch, barely able to operate a mouse properly, but I loved working at a tech company, with lots of people that Knew What They Were Talking About. In the social media role I got a deep appreciation for mobile technology – a good and fast smartphone with a sharp camera and decent connectivity is the knife and fork of the role. I was extremely lucky to be handed a succession of shiny toys to play with, and I`ll miss that a lot! I liked that at Telecom we worked on making people`s lives easier and better – although, going by my own experience, I sometimes worried that we were just making it easier for people to work *all the time*. Telecom is of course a large (by NZ standards) corporation, with all issues that brings – restructures are part of life, and we got used to them to an extent, but I`m feeling for my ex-colleagues now. I understand why, but it won`t be easy for those involved, something Telecom acknowledges themselves, of course.

Anyway – it was great, and it has taken something special to get me out of there. I`d like to thank (if they`re reading!) all my ex-colleagues and managers for being so cool. Thanks for having me.

6 responses

  1. Cate Avatar

    Richard, I think you are New Zealand’s best community manager. You understand the balance between building a community and fulfilling company objectives. You know how to manage social crisis comms like no other. You’ve seen every troll tactic going, and still remain human and delightful.

    Telecom’s great loss is the Blackcaps’ great gain.

    You don’t need our wishes of good luck – you’re going to be amazing in the new role, we all already know it.

  2. Peter Avatar

    And we miss you RI. I do however think you’re doing great for the blackcaps.

  3. Mike W Avatar

    Nice piece Rich. Missing the ^RI humour and digs…

  4. Richard Avatar

    Geez Cate, that is an awfully kind thing to say – I`m not sure it`s quite accurate, there are some extremely able folk out there.

    While I / we were careful to make sure SM was a tool for achieving business goals and had a clear idea of what I / we were trying to achieve at any point of time, there needs to be some room made for spontaneity / fun / making it up as you go along. And Telecom was wise / naive enough to give me / we that. Which was nice.

    Thanks 🙂

  5. Pete R Avatar
    Pete R

    Yeah, what Cate said too. You rocked it out… I hope that you’re already writing the “How to handle a Crisis in Social Media” eBook/eCourse. You have the experience to make $$$’s off it!

  6. Saxon Deck Avatar

    Finally got around to reading this – excellent post!

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