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Confessions Of A Social Media Skeptic

[Editor’s Note: This letter to the editor was submitted by a marketing coordinator at a bank. He previously worked as a marketing specialist at a credit union, his first job after graduating from college. At the age of 25, the author is as Gen-Y as they come, but his feelings towards social media in financial services don’t reflect the widely accepted Gen-Y stereotype. The author agreed to have their letter published here under condition of anonymity.]

I like to think of myself as a 25 year old who doesn’t pretend to know everything, and I understand I have a whole lot more to learn, but I am surprised by how much completely irrational stuff financial marketers buy into these days.

I went to a conference last year and had to sit through these ridiculous speakers telling everyone they needed a Facebook page or else all of their customers were going to leave, and so on. None of it was about how to make more money for your bank, or how to raise your ROI, or anything like that. Just a bunch of marketing and advertising firms selling themselves as social media experts… and people were eating out of their hands.

My boss at the credit union I worked for had a brilliant marketing mind. He always reminded me that the goal was always to make money, save money and/or increase share-of-wallet while sustaining our brand standards. It wasn’t about Facebook Likes or Twitter followers. Why is this not the focus of more marketing people within the financial industry?

When it comes to social media, I do not understand why so many people are eager to force it on financial institutions. I was in college when Facebook was only for college students. Back then, the only reason people were on Facebook was to communicate with members of the opposite sex — nothing more. And its exclusivity was what made it cool. Now, not only is my grandmother on Facebook, but my two grandmother-in-laws as well. I could deal with my grandparents being on Facebook, but when I got a friend request from my mother-in-law, I deleted my account.

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Banking is not inherently “social.” Since the beginning of time, people’s finances have not been something they like to share, and the industry has stressed the importance of making sure information is private, and telling their customers to keep it private. People go to Facebook and Twitter to talk about Lady Gaga’s latest egocentric PR stunt and to see party photos of their drunk friends. They are not logging into Facebook to think about their banking relationship, or to inquire about checking accounts. They are in a different mindset. They go on Facebook to avoid thinking about the reality of their finances. This is where the financial industry so badly misunderstands social media. No one cares about your shredding event next week, or the fact that you stood on the side of the road with girls scouts selling cookies.

And if I have to hear the argument one more time that “people are already talking about you on social media so you might as well join the conversation!” I might lose my mind. No one — and I mean no one — hardly ever talks about our bank. In fact, I have never seen any bank’s social media page that had more than a couple comments on the entire Wall (although the numbers will go up with some of the bigger banks). All you’ve done by creating a Facebook page is give the kind of people who sit on their computers 10 hours a day one more forum where they can bash you and tell everyone how much they hate you for not letting them overdraft their account every week… for free.

I am not saying financial institutions should write off social media completely (yes, the bank I currently work for has a Facebook and we have yet to address many of the issues above), but I need to get some of this off my chest. While the world goes bananas for social media and many banks are too eager to drink the Kool-Aid, I am trying to keep my head focused on facts, and base marketing decisions on data that drive bottom-line results.

Yours truly,

Dave M., Marketing Coordinator
Undisclosed bank with $400 million assets

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Comments

  1. I believe some of the uses of Social media have been missed here …

    The uses of Social Media isn’t simply about screaming about what one has eaten for breakfast, when I’ll next be visiting the toilet or even how much I hate my mother-in-law.

    A lot of corporates (rightly or wrongly) are choosing to adopt a social media approach to stay in touch with their customers,and subsequently their wants and needs – this helps them understand the ‘pain’, thus aiding in the creation of greater and more targeted marketing; will that not allow for reduced marketing costs and a greater ROI?

    I believe Mr and Mrs Jones now to have a voice to be reckoned with, if HSBC, Barclays, AMEX, LloydsTSB choose to join the social arena then so be it, but customer service plays a great part in that too, as a result a tweet is usually responded to in a timely manner, a fan page commented upon, people begin to feel they’re getting something for their money – something I feel they certainly haven’t in recent years.

    Skeptics exist in all markets, all businesses and are down a lot of ideas, why should social media be any different!

    I urge you all, both businesses and individuals alike to look at your SM profiles, make them work for you, encourage conversation and you will encourage growth and brand experience!

  2. Being a skeptic with a prove-it-to-me mindset, I am somewhat sympathetic to this post, it is sometimes difficult to find the needle in the social media haystack. That being said, I think social media is here to stay, so figuring out how to use it productively is important. There was a book, I think it was wiki-brands but I am not 100% positive, that talked about a small credit union using social media assets for their community outreach initiatives to great success.

  3. To some extent I agree with this (and I am a social media consultant!).

    Too many marketeers have seen having a presence on social networks as just another box to tick – they don’t really know what to do on these spaces or have a social strategy to guide where and what their social activity should achieve.

    Hence you end up with Banks that have Facebook pages that aren’t interesting and don’t bring any ROI.

    The thing is, Social Media and Social technologies and principles do offer real opportunities for financial services.

    The thing is, you need to be clever to use them well.

    You need to understand your audience and address their needs to realise real ROI.

    Amex’s Link, Like, Love loyalty campaign on Facebook is a good example – it uses customer’s social data (their interests and ‘likes’) to offer rewards that are relevant to them.

    Banks using Twitter to offer live customer service and support is another great example of using Social Media to add value.

    Or how about Barclays’ PingIt app that allows peer-to-peer payments by mobile (you could argue that this is not strictly social media but my guess is that if Barclays’ innovation team weren’t on board with social technologies, this would have never seen the light of day).

    There are examples of banks using social well and seeing real results.

    But you are right, using social just for the sake of it won’t do you any favours.

  4. While there are days we see those more negative comments appear on our Facebook page…we also have days when positive comments are posted by our credit union members and it reminds us why we’re investing our time in social media in the first place. I also believe that with those negative comments, comes an opportunity for us to respond, providing yet another channel to educate and inform our members. For example, when a member complains about overdraft fees, we can respond with a few options that might prevent those overdraft fees in the future. We also use our Facebook page to share photos of our employees and celebrate community fundraisers and causes. Having a social media presence isn’t just about communicating with the members but also a platform to share internal successes with our employees.

  5. Credit unions are about people. People helping people. We’re about establishing and building win-win relationships for the long haul. If we can effectively begin and/or strengthen relationships with our employees, members, volunteers, communities and SEGs via social media, then we should include that medium in our overall communications plan.

  6. David Kreiman says:

    I agree with a lot of what is stated here … a lot. There is some truth in every thing mentioned. There is, however, one thing missing here (missing or just an inaccuracy).

    For me, the decision to have a Facebook page for my bank has nothing at all to do with Gen Y. Just as I am not foolish enough to believe that online banking is just for the young, I am also not naive enough to think that many Gen Y customers care about a bank’s Facebook page.

    Don’t get me wrong – I want to talk to Gen Y … I want to appeal to Gen Y. But, as the author stated, Facebook is not just a college forum anymore.

    Social Media, for me, is simply another way to communicate with my customers and prospects. I am under no illusion that when posting on Facebook that I am speaking with a swarm of Gen Y customers and prospects.

    That is ok with me.

    There are plenty of Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers and other generations I want to communicate with too, and guess what? They are on Facebook … they use Twitter … they even read blogs.

  7. Being close to the same age as this guy and on the “up and up” with technology, I totally disagree with this post.Social Media is a great way to connect with your existing and potential customers, especially for smaller banks. It may not work for all banks, but it has certainly worked for ours.

    Who cares if your grandmother uses facebook? She has every right to, and good for her. If your grandmother uses google, will you then not use google anymore too?

    If you have the ability to communicate with hundreds of thousands of your customers/fans on new products and services, bank news and community service efforts FOR FREE, you would be crazy not to.

  8. As an in house creative for a $2 bil bank ( and a proud skeptic ) I often feel like the lone blasphemer whenever I question social media–or any new shiny thing the consultants pitch as “do or die”. Much respect for speaking your mind.

    I really relate to the gripe that the search for the magic bullet, easy button, etc. in any shape or form can be a frustrating distraction. Don’t confuse me with the facts!

    We ( banks )shouldn’t burden SM with the expectation of making it a revenue stream. It’s a great, chaotic place to keep an ear to the ground or have a conversation about your brand–but proceed with caution and drop your expectations at the mouse.

    David K’s post is spot on– the mobile-wired-world is the new reality and will blow up the way we think about demography. That’s exciting.

  9. All I can say to this post is that it is completely wrong.

    I work at Queenslanders Credit Union (in Australia) as their online coordinator and all I have to say is that social media is a boon to credit unions and other mutuals.

    I am not going to speak on behalf of the banks (especially the Big Banks) but I would say the same applies to them.

    We have seen great awareness of our brand through social media, and we have built up a great community of regular contributors on our Facebook page, and are getting some traction on Twitter as well.

    As a smaller credit union, we don’t have a huge budget for advertising and so social media fits us perfectly. While social media marketing is not free, it is inexpensive (compared to traditional forms of marketing), and it allows us to move quickly in the market place.

    A great example of this is when the Big 4 banks in Australia recently raised interest rates and we managed to give people a better option with a cash back and no establishment fee deal if they switched to us.

    We got this out online, via social media, with 2 hours of making the decision to do it. And we saw results that same day.

    But social media isn’t all about direct sales either. It’s about brand recognition, customer service, and networking – within the industry and outside of it.

    I have made many new contacts that I would never of made via Twitter, and those have gone on to be a great benefit to our business.

    Social Media also allows us to move into communities we would otherwise have no direct contact with.

    For example, we are organising a free Etsy Workshop for people in the community, all organised and marketed via social media and online. That means we will have 30 new people who now know us and will be talking to their friends about us after the workshop.

    To those (especially in marketing) who say that social media is a dead end, I would say that you aren’t being creative enough, and lack real understand about its potential.

    And I would agree with Diana above, who said that credit unions are about people. And where are people today? On social media. It’s a no-brainer to be there as well.

    One last point on giving voices to those negative comments: if banks are getting slammed, it’s because of their view in society. Social Media is a reflection of what the real world is thinking. And most people do not trust or like big banks at the moment, and to be honest, I don’t blame them either.

    The odd issue or negative comment we get, we can quickly respond to and fix immediately, turning that customers into a life-long friend.

    Social media is a great way for small and medium business to grow.

    Russell Allert

    [Editor's Note: Queenslanders CU has $325 million in assets, 1,390 Likes on Facebook and 225 followers on Twitter.]

  10. Dale Cruickshank says:

    The author is a marketer, so I’ll forgive some of the bottom-line thinking and singular focus on sales, but business is about so much more. Organizations that will thrive in the 21st century will realize that business is about creating value for stakeholders, not about making money. Yes, obviously we all want to make money, but making money is a result of value creation – not the other way around. Banks need to learn this most of all.
    There are so many things wrong with this position so I’m just going to address a few.

    Author: “None of it was about how to make more money for your bank, or how to raise your ROI, or anything like that”.

    Did you consider customer retention, brand awareness, issue management? Keeping existing customers satisfied presents a return on investment and contributes to the bottom line. This is basic business. There are plenty examples of banks doing this via social media today.

    Author: “Banking is not inherently “social.” Since the beginning of time, people’s finances have not been something they like to share”.

    Newsflash – things have changed since the ‘beginning of time’, and pretty much everything is social today.

    Author: “If I have to hear the argument one more time that “people are already talking about you on social media so you might as well join the conversation!” I might lose my mind. No one — and I mean no one — hardly ever talks about our bank. In fact, I have never seen any bank’s social media page that had more than a couple comments on the entire Wall (although the numbers will go up with some of the bigger banks)”.

    First of all, people are talking on social media (about everything including banking), so you should be involved in shaping, managing, and monitoring those conversations. You are correct that smaller institutions have much less traffic, and some have almost none. However, as a MARKETER, this is your opportunity to get people interested and talking. Start with your staff – one of the best marketing/PR vehicles available to you. Is your bank a great place to work? Get your staff talking. There are plenty of examples of banks doing this already. It’s no coincidence that people are increasingly doing business at organizations that are great employers.

  11. @Dale – While there are many diverse and strongly-held opinions about social media, few are supported by facts and hardline data. Which is why The Financial Brand is always looking for social media case studies with a solid strategy, defined goals and measured results. If you have any such examples you or your PR firm would like to share, please reach out.

  12. Dale Cruickshank says:

    @Editor: Thanks for your comment, I enjoy the site, and I too am always interested in proven results from the successful strategies of others.
    Was there anything in particular from my post for which you’d be interested in seeing stats/cases? Or just inquiring in general?
    I ask as I’m not sure I’ve made any claims that necessitate hardline data support, or that differ widely from other posters.

  13. @Dale – Don’t worry, no one’s asking you to validate your arguments. Readers of The Financial Brand simply devour social media articles addressing the criteria outlined in the previous comment. You sound like a guy with the kind of confidence that comes from experience, so if you have something you can share, please do.

    Financial institutions are often reminded of the many things they could do with social media, but there is a severe shortage of case studies demonstrating how it really works, what it really accomplishes. Certainly there are some über huge banks that have had some success in social media channels, but do such case studies serve as helpful parables for the majority of retail banks and credit unions? Those with under $1 billion in assets? That’s why The Financial Brand is always on the lookout for social media case studies from regional, medium- and small-sized banking institutions.

  14. Dale Cruickshank says:

    No, not worried, was genuinely curious. I agree, one of the challenges of social media, and PR in general, is answering those questions. Especially in terms of overall social media strategy vs. a targeted social media marketing campaign.

    My background is stakeholder relations/issue mgmt, and there are certainly studies that show success using social media to engage stakeholders, and separate studies linking engaged stakeholders to business success. In my personal experience it is a matter of linking A-to-B-to-C, rather than A-to-C.

    Anecdotally, one of my personal favourite regional approaches to social media is Vancity, but unfortunately neither I (nor they that I’m aware of) have linked A directly to C (i.e. proven ROI). Their Director of Digital and Community engagement doesn’t even think we need to try.

    https://www.vancity.com/AboutUs/SocialMedia/

    http://azaroff.com/?p=5520

  15. @Dale – I’m friends with William :)

  16. Dale Cruickshank says:

    @Editor: I can’t make the same claim, never met the man, but from what I’ve seen he’s doing good work at Vancity, and I enjoy his blog.

  17. Is it possible that Bank and Credit Union Marketers are simply ineffective in the use of social media and are talking down the benefits of Social Media to cover up their failures? Or it is possible that Banking is so unique that it does not lend itself to Social Media unlike virtually every other industry segment, including famously exciting / social products such as toothpaste, detergents, diapers, soap, etc.

    Let’s face it — most Community Banks and Credit Unions are still using playbooks developed in the 1990′s (if not before). Financial Brand’s recent articles speak loudly to this:
    - Credit Unions Struggle With Twitter, One In Five Abandon Accounts (http://thefinancialbrand.com/22482/ultimate-credit-union-twitter-study/)
    - Peek Inside series (http://thefinancialbrand.com/22189/sunova-credit-union-in-house-marketing-department/, http://thefinancialbrand.com/22114/tri-counties-bank-in-house-marketing-department-profile/, and http://thefinancialbrand.com/22056/sound-credit-union-marketing-department/)

    Go it alone, execute worn-out business & marketing plans, hope for the best are not strategies for success. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that Community Banks and Credit Unions have only themselves to blame for lack of success in Social Media (although social media is not the sole area of performance gaps).

    Success is not out of reach… but it does require a different mindset, one of new thinking, one where data & trends are central to decision making, one where the use of partners based on realization of tangible benefits is welcomed. Of the nearly 15,000 Community Banks and Credit Unions in the country today, how many fit this description?

  18. Finally some realism and context about SM from someone who gets paid to do it. Let’s face it, SM people are conflicted (biased) by their salary/commissions in the same way that commission based financial planners are conflicted.

    The hardest thing to believe is not that SM is a hyped bubble, but that a 25yo could make the astute observations.

    Perhaps Dave is like guys who said “All these subprime loans are just a bubble”, and got pilloried by his peers and ratings agencies before they were proven right a few years later.

    Go Dave!

  19. @Dale – The reason Vancity stands out is its brand strategy. They are one of the few financial institutions in North America to have a brand that is differentiated, relevant and compelling. Everything gets easier when you have a strong, solid, strategic brand in place.

  20. I think the term “social media” gets abused pretty badly. People aren’t interested in connecting with their banks where they go to network with friends. Having said that, there are other relevant opportunities outside of Facebook and Twitter where banks can find their audience. It’s still very early for banks. Marketers want to keep up with where social is going, but not a lot of people have cracked the nut on how to deliver an ROI. It’s coming though.

  21. Four… Five… Six… Seven years into this, everyone’s still looking for ROI. How long’s this wait supposed to last?

  22. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU I could not agree more! I am so tired of social media being jammed down my throat for every industry. It is not enough to have a FB page and be on Twitter, but now there are close to 50 other channels. I think social media managers are so caught up in relationship marketing that they have no idea what real ROI driven based marketing is about. In all the years I have been in business, I have not had any customers that can SHOW me and profit from working endless hours or paying someone else to create the hype on social media.

  23. Social media is not so much a marketing strategy. It is a communication channel. I’ve been able to help a lot of people through Facebook and Twitter that otherwise might not have been helped. And people DO share about their bank or credit union – IF they believe in what their institution is doing. If your bank or CU is only there to make money for themselves, then, sure… why care about that. But, at least in the CU realm, we help our communities in ways that are significant. And people care about that. They also care about being able to get help where they are at.

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