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Does Google+ Matter to Retail Financial Institutions?

Technophiles across the internet have made much hullabaloo about Google+, a new social sharing service intended to compete with platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The main components of Google+ include:

  • Circles – a tool that makes it easy to share different items with different groups of people (think: “lists of friends or followers” such as “press contacts” or “senior management”)
  • Hangouts – allows smart phone users to hold videoconferences with up to nine of their friends or co-workers
  • Messenger – a centralized chat service

Companies that wish to participate in Google+ can create a “page,” much like a Facebook page but only much simpler. Google users can then +1 the page to express their approval, and/or opt to follow along with any updates the company may post.

While the usual army of social media zealots are abuzz over the rollout of Google+, there are more skeptics making noise than you usually see with new online tools. Not everyone is convinced the world needs yet another social media sharing service.

“We don’t have to jump onto every new network that comes out, exclaiming ‘No, No, NO! THIS ONE changes everything!’” wrote Daniel Agee in response to the hype surrounding Google+.

Some go further an say the service is already doomed.

While the debate over the significance of Google+ rages on, some banks have already rushed out to create pages, including BofA, NAB and ASB. (Tip to those launching Google+ pages: here’s a way to replace those hideously cryptic URLs with something more branded and attractive.)

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Critical Analysis

A handful of financial institutions want to cultivate a reputation for being on the forefront of social media, so they are willing to experiment with pretty much anything that comes along. But what about everyone else? Do all the other retail banks and credit unions need to hop on the bandwagon and create Google+ pages too? Is Google+ a game changer? It doesn’t seem like it. At least not for now.

With each new social media tool that comes along, there are those who rush to label whatever it is a “complete and utter game changer.” Within two weeks of Google+’s release, social media mega-man Chris Brogan started writing a book titled “Google+ for Business: How Google’s Social Network Changes Everything.” Seriously?? With so much hyperbole surrounding the debut of every single development in social media, how can financial marketers discern the difference between an innovation they absolutely must embrace, those that might possibly be helpful, and those they can pass over (at least for the time being)?

If every financial institution took the advice of every social media expert out there, they’d have a Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, blog, LinkedIn presence, Foursquare connection …and now a Google+ page? Where does it end? It’s as if social media consultants believe that their clients’ time, staff and budgets are limitless. You can’t argue that setting up and managing a Google+ presence “only takes a few minutes,” because all this social media stuff “only take a few minutes” that — by the end of each week — adds up to quite a few hours. If you’re active in social media, you’re already well on your way to one full-time employee, and maybe two or three. For what, exactly? And now social media gurus expect companies to double-down? Adding yet another channel? And another? Until hopefully someday that elusive ROI thingy kicks in?

The Financial Brand’s advice? Wait and see if Google+ gains any steam and reaches critical mass. You won’t be missing much by holding off for a while, nor is there much to gain by jumping on board early — just a little knowledge about what works… or more likely, what doesn’t.

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  1. Nice take, Jeffry. I think a lot of people are suffering from social media exhaustion right now. I know I am. But after checking out G+ for biz, I’m considering taking a deep breath diving in. Simply dig Hangouts and being able to integrate Google’s apps with G+ shows great promise.

    To your point, whether people have the stamina or bandwidth to give another SM network a shot is the big question. For SM gurus and related marketers, there’s definitely time. They live for this stuff — and rightly so. But for the mass majority who need to get those “TPS Reports” completed, not sure if there are enough hours on the clock. Also, anything less than huge numbers jumping aboard G+ and putting a huge dent in Facebook’s 800-million-user world domination will be a failure. A big risk for them. We all saw how well Buzz worked out.

  2. Very much agree with a lot of what you said. Though, I think you missed an important point when scolding social media consultants for advising their clients to go out and set up a page (admittedly speaking as a social media strategist who has pretty much HAD to go out and advise clients to set up a page). 🙂

    Google+ has essentially forced brands to at least claim their space and have a presence. If you look at Bank of America, for example, you’ll see that someone used their name and logo and set up a spoof account that was starting to get recognition and activity ( Given that this is Google and will effect search, it probably wouldn’t have been wise of them to just let that sit out there without at least claiming the name and creating a basic “real” presence for the brand.

    It’s similar to what happens on other channels. If a popular platform is void of a brand, others often fill the void. You can choose not to be on Twitter, but if there’s a huge conversation happening there about your brand without you, do you continue to ignore it? What if there are tons of videos about your brand on YouTube that always come up in search about your brand? Granted, Google+ isn’t there yet, and may never be. But, it does exist and that existence will effect search, so….

    This reminds me of when Facebook launched ‘community pages’ for brands. Suddenly, if you were a brand, you had a presence on Facebook whether you liked it or not, whether you had the organizational structure to support it or not, whether it was the right thing to do strategically or not. It didn’t matter. You were on Facebook. Yes, the pages say, “Community Pages are not affiliated with, or endorsed by, anyone associated with the topic,” but that doesn’t matter to a user who’s on there and thinks they’re talking to the brand and wonder why no one’s paying attention, or when it’s the only page that comes up when someone searches for your brand on Facebook and it’s just filled with misinformation and unanswered questions. The alternative is to go onto Facebook and at least claim the page, even if you don’t do a lot with it.

    So, with Google+, I think it will be interesting to follow who merely ‘claims’ their page versus who jumps in and starts ‘using’ it. Right now, I’d advise most organizations to only do the former. Again, it’s not because I think the companies I work with need to have a robust presence on every single social platform, but because depending on the unique characteristics, penetration, and user behaviors of the specific platform, the amount of conversation about the brand on the specific platform, and other important factors like SEO that the specific platform effects, sometimes a brand simply ‘has’ to be there in one way or another.

  3. Hi Brad,

    Thanks for the comment. I saw the BofA spoof page but decided to exclude it from the article. First, most financial institutions can only dream that their brands would ever be noteworthy (or distinct) enough to parody. Second, Google+ seems to be clamping down on both cybersquatters and spoof pages. That said, it certainly doesn’t hurt to go reserve your Google+ page name. But locking down your page name doesn’t require any further work (e.g., customizing profile or posting updates).

  4. Great point that most brands could only dream of that. So, seems for most brands, the right thing to do is just set up that simple page (like you said, it doesn’t hurt) and get the basic information up there just to help, or not hurt, search. Sounds like we’re in agreement overall. You might appreciate my colleague’s recent post which is very much in line with what we were both saying (you know, if you want to reinforce your own opinions anyway…and isn’t that what social media is for? ha).

  5. The fact is that we really don’t know what G+ will be, so claiming your “domain” now, just to do it, makes sense.

    But more than that, G+ doesn’t profess to be a MySpace or Facebook. It’s evolving the definition of social. G+ encourages dialogue and interaction – it encourages relationship building, beyond your “Friend”. Eventually, your entire online experience (interaction, shopping, off-site business meetings) could revolve around G+ and the host of Google tools.

    You can check your Facebook account once a day or once a week and not miss anything. But G+ creates a better experience the more it’s used. It helps create a truer online identify for those who want to dive in.

    G+ will quickly hit 100 million users (yes, techies and others) and getting in now makes sense. How much time is allocated is a different story – but I think the overwhelming majority would agree that the consumer is becoming much more savvy with social platforms and businesses need to address their role in social commerce for the long-term success of their business.

  6. I understand the concerns expressed in the article. As a social media nerd and explorer, I hear them all the time, but as both Randy and Brad stated, having a presence doesn’t hurt. In the very least, dive into any social media platform (not as a business, but a person) and see what your audience and customers (new and potential) are saying about your company and industry. What you find may surprise you.

    Social media is not about jumping into every single platform out there. It’s about building relationships and community (off and online).

  7. I agree that social media is generally about building relationships and a sense of community. But as you know, doing this well takes a lot more work than just “having a presence.”

    For financial institutions “diving in,” The Financial Brand has found that financial institutions can expect one relevant social mention per month for every $100 million in assets they have. For the vast majority of retail banks and credit unions — those with less than $500 million in assets — that doesn’t work out to a lot of social chatter, especially considering how many channels they have to monitor to find even that many.

    There are a lot of things financial institutions can do that “don’t hurt.” One could argue, for instance, that printing and mailing traditional newsletters “doesn’t hurt.” The question facing managers is how to utilize all their resources with maximum impact. Most have little- to nothing they can spare for speculative endeavors bearing a squishy ROI, and feel compelled to concentrate their energy on things that definitely work.

  8. Good points but I think social media can work if your audience is ready and most are. Again, the key word is “ready”. Although individuals may not be talking about the credit union I work for (for example), I have no problem being the first to take charge and start the dialogue. However, this has to be done after a strategy is laid out, and this can be hard for companies that don’t have the resources or a social media person – I’m sure folks will agree with this statement. However, this shouldn’t stop marketing managers/directors from starting the research early. Not every social media platform has to be explored. Start the research now and start small.

  9. This is a very solid piece, as are a lot of the pieces on here. But, I do have to recommend getting Google+ and Google Places set up for one reason: to prevent someone else from getting them first. I know that Places have certain issues regarding user updates, such as “Location Closed.” A pair of bloggers, did this to Google’s headquarters just recently in an effort to get the attention of Google. If you do a Google search, the Places help forum has a few posts regarding the issue as well. If you have the Places and G+ set up, you gain control over that through verification emails that Google has put in place. Also, Google is putting some emphasis on the +1 feature into search results. So the more +1 data they have, the higher in search rankings you go. This could be useful for SEO efforts.

    Regarding setting up the pages, my experience has not been positive. I didn’t find the process to be straightforward or easy, no where near like setting up a page on Facebook. Just some more user feedback!

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