Western Union Social Business Summit Case Study: Donna Rossi

Western Union Social Business Case StudyContinuing the social business Engaging Times Summit,┬áDonna shared Western Union’s social media journey thus far and where they are going. They are still in the early stages, having been limited by regulation (in the financial services industry). Spun off from erstwhile parent First Data in 2006, Western Union has more room to maneuver, and its CEO and CMO have become social media enthusiasts.

  • Donna began her remarks by pointing out that Western Union had a heritage of disruptive technology, although that included their share of missteps. For example, early in the 20th century, their CEO rejected the telephone with this comment: “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
  • Western Union has a history of reinventing itself; where it was a communications company, today it is a money transfer company 430,000 agents in more than 200 countries. As a part of First Union it was highly regulated, employees were locked out of the Internet, and all social media was forbidden. All processes and communications were controlled, which made it (impossible) for social media. The spinoff from First Union in 2006 made Western Union independent.
  • After the spinoff, they begin social media with the “X Team,” a skunk works supported by the new CMO. There was no continuity, though; a year later, the CEO read about social media and started blogging.
  • They struggled with the question, “Who owns social media?” They created employee guidelines. Their vintage 2006 intranet started adding social media bolt-ons. [I’ll bet it was Lotus Notes ,-) ]
  • Donna will start blogging this fall, in 2010. They are in the due diligence and preparation phase. They began with a Facebook Page in February 2009 to raise brand awareness. The French team is very excited about Facebook.
  • They have featured social media in some campaigns: “Just say yes” and “Random acts of giving” on Flickr and Facebook are two examples.
  • Donna shared some impressive videos, one of which went viral, especially due to the music; it really humanized the brand and was made by an employee in India.
  • Listening is powerful and revealing. For example, they discovered that 35% of brand mentions were about fraud (i.e. London scams; here’s one I personally experienced), and only 6% were about pricing. LinkedIn is excellent for listening to executives’ thoughts.
  • They are empowering employees who respond to customers to follow through the process to get the customer taken care of, no matter where employees sit in the organization. They are creating a social network for employees (internal). This introduces accountability and, from the customer’s point of view, a more personalized single point of contact.
  • They have noticed that cross-promotion is key to success.


  • Donna emphasized that “money transfer” is the service, but what’s more important is what that money means to people. It is often life changing or life sustaining. It’s a connection with families far away.
  • She shared examples and videos that showed that customers could say this very effectively, and the company’s understanding is excellent grounding for social business initiatives because it’s based on something real, meaningful and universal.
  • Large service firms are too often like factories. “I’m sorry, but that’s not my department, can you hold while I transfer you?” Donna’s remark about the single point of contact was intriguing, and I’d like to ask her more about it. It suggests that WU has a vision for a more personalized service, which could be effective at showing customers that the company understands the personal significance of what they do. Not easy to pull off operationally, but very worthwhile and in sync with social business. A key part of the success of Twitter customer service is single point of contact.
  • Empowering employees can be liberating and give the company more energy and initiative. When done right, it gives employees have a greater sense of ownership over process and service. Coupled with social technologies and guidance, employees’ and customers’ energy can be magnified many times.

This is part of a series of my notes and thoughts on Alterian’s Social Business Summit 2010. To see all of them, hit the Alterian tag (also under the title of any post in the series). Next up: Panel discussion on the risks brands are taking by remaining mired in the past.

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