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How Telkom changed consumer perception on social media

Leading South African telecommunications provider, Telkom, offers data, broadband and Internet services to business and residential customers. Born out of the government-owned Department of Posts and Telecommunications (DPT), the company traces its history all the way back to 1898 but was officially incorporated as Telkom SA SOC Limited in 1991.

Telkom has successfully transformed from a fixed-line telecommunications provider to a fully-fledged information and communications technology (ICT) services supplier.


At the start of 2020, as the novel coronavirus was fast developing into a global pandemic, Telkom was facing a brand perception crisis. The telecoms provider was performing consistently below competitors in the eyes of consumers.

telkom monthly net sentiment sa telecoms

As a customer-facing business, consumers had always been at the heart of what Telkom did, but its service functionality had changed significantly over the years. With demand for online and self-service opportunities increasing amid looming national lockdowns, the business recognised a need to change outdated perceptions and showcase the value it can offer across a broad spectrum of services and products.

To do this effectively, Telkom needed to understand the true voice of its customers – particularly the digital-savvy consumers who made up this growing self-service market.

Recognising that customer feedback on social media offers a valuable, largely untapped dataset, Telkom’s digital team set out to not only better understand the voice of its customers, but incorporate KPIs that would allow them - and all teams that impact customer experience - to accurately hone in on consumers’ online conversations and perceptions for strategic alignment.

This realisation required us to move the dial on our metrics due to various strategic requirements and needs. We needed to shift our strategic approach into the brand perception and conversation space, in order to improve the brand’s salience with both current and prospective audiences.”

Gugu Mthembu, Chief Marketing Officer


Telkom enlisted social data and analytics company, DataEQ, to help turn its unstructured online consumer feedback into actionable insights that would drive meaningful decision-making across multiple levels of the business.

The first step was to begin actively monitoring the customer satisfaction metric, Net Sentiment*, which offers a real-time and leading indicator of public opinion, based on unsolicited consumer conversations occurring online.

Telkom then went a step further and set sentiment targets for the whole business, allowing customer feedback to inform strategic business decisions and monitoring Net Sentiment to measure the success of these interventions.

After the first year of implementing this strategy, Telkom fell just shy of their target but started to see improvements in overall sentiment from consumers.

By incorporating KPI’s around these targets, Telkom was able to channel all social media efforts – be it tactics, technology and innovation, or influencer work – to gradually improve the brand’s salience with online audiences over time.

This was a deliberate slow process, being reviewed and revised, planned, monitored, and implemented. We had various strategies and a solid plan with our agencies of what we wanted to achieve, as well as a roadmap of how it would be done, and items we needed to keep a lookout for.” Michel Holworthy Senior Manager, Digital, Social and Content Marketing

The process resulted in a number of interventions across the broader business, which ultimately stemmed from the following strategic focus areas:

strategic focus areas telkom

"Far more customers are using social media as a customer service channel today than a decade ago. With this shift, customers want instant resolution, in a space where multiple people and stakeholders can see their challenges, at their convenience. This is a trend that we see lasting and even growing, and as such, we are gearing up for a heavier reliance on social customer service in the future.”

Michel Holworthy, Senior Manager, Digital, Social and Content Marketing


By 2021, Telkom saw a drastic improvement in consumers’ Net Sentiment, having outperformed all of its targets.

For the most part, this was achieved by gradually reducing the level and volume of negative sentiment being directed towards the brand each year – something that would not have been possible without a detailed root cause analysis of customer pain points and a joint team effort to intervene where required.

quarterly net sentiment performance for Telkom

DataEQ has aided the business and agency partners by offering real-time accurate data and insights about reputational risks, purchase opportunities, service quality and cancellation threats. This has enabled us to make data-informed decisions and transform information into actionable outcomes that need to be factored into our strategies.”

Michel Holworthy, Senior Manager, Digital, Social and Content Marketing

By the time it came to setting targets for 2023, Telkom had already improved beyond their expectations and decided to set a stretch target for themselves as well. By Jan 2023, they had exceeded both targets and were more closely aligned with the industry as a whole.


By taking a data-led approach to assess customer sentiment about its products and services, Telkom was able to drastically improve their brand reputation online. From trailing the industry in 2019, the brand has made exceptional progress in Net Sentiment, climbing 38.2 percentage points in three years.

Competitor comparison year on year Net Sentiment SA telecoms industry

This data has been critical in highlighting any dated perceptions in order to effectively develop a responsive client-centric strategy that can be used consistently across the marketing, product and customer experience teams, as well as by senior management for strategic decision making.

"Viewing our customers’ feedback offers key insight into critical pain points and challenges, as well as things the business is doing correctly and areas that are beneficial to the end consumer. It aids us in giving feedback to the business from an operational perspective and offers completely objective information on customers’ needs, challenges, and successes.”

Gugu Mthembu, Chief Marketing Officer