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Bulk Of Social Conversations In Banking Aren’t On Facebook And Twitter

By Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer

When many banks and credit unions search for consumer conversations online, they probably think of Facebook and Twitter… and that’s it. These two popular social networks are the default for most financial marketers. Oh, and don’t forget the occasional blog.

But the truth is that most social conversations around banking take place somewhere else: on old-school social media sites known as “forums” and “message boards.”

Social Media Explorer’s Conversation Report: What Consumers Are Saying About Banking” took a look at millions of online conversations in the retail banking space and two important insights surfaced for financial institutions (as well as the agencies that serve them).

Key Insight #1: You’re Ignoring a Huge Chunk of the Social Conversation

What is a forum?

An internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They are like instant chat rooms except that messages are archived for anyone to read at any point in the future. Depending on the forum’s settings, users can be anonymous or have to register with the forum and then subsequently log in in order to post messages. On most forums, you don’t have to log in to read existing messages.

90% of the conversations studied (during the 2011 calendar year) took place on forums and message boards — not Facebook, not Twitter, not blogs.

Did you get that? 90%! Not nine-point-oh. Not nineteen. Ninety!

Financial marketers hoping to engage their customers or prospects via social media and online channels need to realize forums and message boards present an incredible untapped opportunity.

But before you dive in, you need to understand the etiquette and norms of forums. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could land in hot water. Forums often have strict policies prohibiting blatant promotional activities. At forums that are managed conservatively, that might mean no posts with links, no company- or marketing-related messages, no off-topic comments. For the traditional marketer, this is can be wildly unfamiliar territory. Stingy admins may guard their forums with an ever-watchful eye out for violators. Commit an offense and you could have your account suspended or even closed completely.

Bottom Line: If you pop into a forum and start talking about your products and services, or pushing a bunch of links to your website, people are going to see right through it. Forum users and admins alike will regard you as a spammer, and treat you accordingly. If you really want to have any success in forums, you have to genuinely help people with their questions, issues and needs.

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Patrick O’Keefe, author of the book Managing Online Forums and a respected expert on forums, offered these pointers to marketers wanting to tap this oft-ignored social media gold mine:

  • Understand the community guidelines
  • Contribute to the community, not just on the community
  • Don’t be the first to mention your stuff
  • When in doubt, ask the administrator

The key behavioral change for marketers is simply not leading with the sales pitch. Think of forums like a social club or networking event. Yes, you might get business there, but starting with your sales pitch means most people won’t want to talk to you. Have conversations about what the community is talking about, not your latest greatest deal or promotion.

Some banks maintain their own online discussion forums, like Amex with their OpenForum where small business owners can exchange ideas and insights. BofA has a similar forum for small businesses. And The Financial Brand recently wrote about a student lending forum Wells Fargo launched recently.

Key Insight #2: It’s Not Just Banking Forums

When we looked at the specific domains where banking conversations were taking place, the leading fertile ground was AR15.com – a forum for machine gun enthusiasts.

Consumers talk about a variety of things on forums and sometimes not the main topic area of the forum or website itself. AR15.com is a vibrant community of gun enthusiasts who come together to discuss guns (of course), but they also enjoy carrying on conversations with like-minded individuals on everything from cars to crafts and from sub sandwiches to sub-prime mortgages. It’s not that banking is a topic that leads on AR15.com, it’s just the common thread that binds its members. They feel a certain kinship with others in the community and thus talk openly about anything. Including banks, apparently.

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Bank marketers need to look in counter-intuitive places to find the vibrant conversations around their products, services and competition. While XYZ Bank in Tucson may not be the subject of specific conversations about banking, there very well may be people in Tucson talking about bank choices on a forum about crafting somewhere.

Forums like TheFinanceForums.com or AllBanks.org are obvious choices, but sticking only with popular financial forums may severely limit your efforts. Remember, most customers go to the internet to discuss products and services with like-minded people, not pushy bankers.

What Bank Marketers Should Do

The simple steps to incorporating these research insights into your approach to social media marketing are simple:

1. Understand that social conversations seldom start with your products and services. Participate in the chatter that the community has started and just be a relevant voice and perspective first.

2. Be smart about where you look to engage in conversations. Do some research of your own about where people in your community are discussing financial topics online. And don’t focus on solely bank related websites.


Jason FallsJason Falls is a leading digital strategist, author, speaker and thinker in the digital and social media marketing industry. He leads digital strategy for CafePress, a publicly-traded internet retailer consistently ranked as one of the top online shopping destinations. He also continues to serve as founder and chief instigator at SocialMediaExplorer.com, an industry-leading blog and digital marketing agency. An award-winning social media strategist and widely read industry pundit, Falls has been noted as a top influencer in the social technology and marketing space by Forbes, Entrepreneur, Advertising Age and others. He is the co-author of two books: No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing (Que 2011); and The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing (Que 2012).

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Comments

  1. Interesting study findings. Do you have any insight, or any from the referenced article, about the types of conversations in forums vs traditional social sites? I’m wondering if traditional social sites are used more for direct consumer-to-brand interaction when consumers reach out for support.

    -Bob

  2. Hey Bob. Great question. We found most conversations on both social networks and on forums to be consumer-to-consumer conversations. While I don’t know the quantifiable numbers, anecdotally, I would certainly guess that consumer to brand conversations are more apt to occur in social networks since that’s where they can easily find brands (on their Facebook or Twitter pages/accounts) and since brands are typically afraid of or unfamiliar with forums.

    And the forum conversations we found were mostly what you would think … lots of complaints about customer service … questions about what banks might be best if they wanted to switch … rants about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’m happy to shoot you a couple of screen shots of some examples we used in the report if you like. You can email me at jason – at – socialmediaexplorer – dot – com.

  3. This is an insightful article (I appreciate anything written by Jason Falls!). The only thing I am curious about now is how the author envisions that this main idea regarding forums could apply to smaller financial institutions. BofA and American Express host their own forums and these were great examples to cite for the context of this article. However, smaller FIs may be left out if they don’t have the resources to create and manage their own forums on the same level as the big banks…and it is not ideal for them to go on to the big bank sites looking to interact with folks on those forums. Smaller FIs need to be more targeted in their approach, so in their case perhaps social sites/channels are still the best option. Thoughts?

  4. Hi Jason,

    Great article hear. You’ve uncovered something which I suspected all along, but never really put voice to, or researched in the way that you’ve done. All credit unions spring from a common bond. For instance Financial Resources Federal Credit Union… (the most generically named CU on the face of the earth) comes from Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical corporation. These folks would not necessarily participate in financial conversation in a financial forum… they would likely talk about these things in a Johnson & Johnson employee’s discussion forum. A CU that serves a university would find their members talking about finances in an online forum for fellow staff at that university. The common bond can not be underestimated… one more reason that CUs lose effectiveness the more that they diversify their membership. Would love to chat more if you like sometime; I am morriss at everythingcu dot com.

    Morriss Partee
    EverythingCU.com

  5. Hi Kira,

    As a longtime reader of The Financial Brand, you’ve probably seen articles here saying small FIs (those with less than $500 million in assets) likely have more pressing priorities and bigger untapped opportunities than those involving social media. Small FIs, with their limited resources, need to choose what social channels they engage in carefully, because they can quickly turn into relatively unproductive sinkholes for staff time. Can a small FI effectively manage a Facebook page, Twitter stream, YouTube channel and involvement in forums? Probably not, at least not without compromising the efficacy of other, more critical marketing functions. Smaller FIs with capacity/appetite for social channels should be encouraged to pick one and stick with it. As The Financial Brand has previously noted, if you had to pick only one channel, it should probably be Facebook.

    If a small FI wants to pursue a forum strategy, the comments from Morriss make a lot of sense. Can you find a forum that has a local focus? (It’s worth pointing out the Morriss runs one of the oldest and most successful B2B forums in the banking world, EverythingCU.com.)

    The Financial Brand would not likely endorse a self-hosted forum for any FI except the very largest. First, if you don’t have hundreds of thousands of customers/members, it’s going to be very difficult building the user-base needed to keep a vibrant forum running (minimum of around 1,000 users). And moderating an active forum is essentially a full-time job.

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