Going Digital: From websites to social media and the story of how we got there

The start of a new year is the perfect time to reflect on past accomplishments, plan our direction for the future and take stock of the areas where we have experienced the most growth. One of these areas of substantial growth, for us as an organisation, has been the evolution of our online presence. We started our year with a new digital milestone with the change of our email domain name from @republictt.com to @rfhl.com. Thinking about how such a seemingly small can play such an important role in our identity as an organisation and as a Group made me think of all the others ways in which our digital identity has evolved over the years and I realised that there are lessons in our experience and many stories I could share that would be of value to anyone who may be in the process of either building or just starting out with building or improving their organisation’s presence online.

So, over the next four weeks, I’d like to share our journey with you, in four parts, starting from the very beginning in the earliest days of our website to where we are now with a growing social media following and many plans for the future.

Part 1: In the beginning…

From the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s – the earliest days of our digital transformation – we had a website and… not much else. We weren’t exactly alone here, these were the days before the rise of social media. Mark Zuckerberg may have been coding but he also had yet to finish secondary school and Facebook wasn’t even a dream. Communicating with your audience meant putting an ad in the newspapers, on television or radio or on your website if you had one. Even that word ‘audience’ tells you a lot about the communication style that was common back when we used media to talk at, rather than with, our stakeholders about our products and services with few opportunities in the digital world to hear their feedback or engage in conversation.

Still, even then we felt the need to connect more deeply with our customers and to bring a more focussed approached to effort to market our products online. So, in addition to our main website, we came up with the idea to create a website just for young persons between the ages of 13 and 19 called RSTeen after our Right Start Teen savings accounts and the site quickly became a one-stop shop for information on our products and services relevant to that age group. It also became our first real attempt at using digital media to build some semblance of an online community. In addition to product and service information, the site featured games, regular chats hosted by local celebrities and fashion battles where members shared and compared their personal styles. In other words, it was a virtual space where people with similar interests could engage each other and it was an early accomplishment in our digital journey that we are still really proud of.

Our first Facebook page came much later on and was an altogether more complicated venture. When we launched our first Facebook page we understood the value in the opportunity to connect with our stakeholders through a social media platform, but we did not fully appreciate the scope and reach that social media could have or how we, as a Bank, could capitalise on the opportunities it presented. So we went about our efforts without any real plan clearly defined strategy and without the internal structure required to sustain a social media page and to run it smoothly.

When it came to creating content, not only were we committing the cardinal sin of repurposing content we created for traditional media like print ads as posts for our Facebook page but we also weren’t planning out our content in the way we do now. We were posting on an ad-hoc basis whenever a unit had the need to communicate and we still hadn’t quite broken the traditional pattern of speaking at an audience when we really should have been trying to engage our followers in a two-way conversation.

You could say we had a lot to learn and, because hindsight is 20-20, looking back it’s easy to see the mistakes that we were making at the time and how they contributed to both our Facebook page and our RSTeen website eventually falling into disuse.

Still, as is our way, we walked away from these setbacks with a better understanding of what not to do and a new resolve to try again. Next week, I’ll share how we took these lessons and used them to grow the online following that we have today.

If you’d like to take a look at what the earlier versions of our website looked like try searching for our URL in the Wayback Machine’s internet archives. It’s a trip to see how far we’ve come since the days when we first started out!

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