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Keep Cocktail Talk Out of Your Social Media Content

Trite, inane, inappropriate and off-topic. That’s how you could describe the capricious chit chat spewing from banks and credit unions on social networks.

By Tom Glatt, Jr., Founder of Glatt Consulting

A random audit of some credit union and bank Twitter accounts revealed these interesting — and in one case unintelligible — tweets:

  • Any big plans for the weekend?
  • If you loved that video of the elephant, then you’ll probably love this video of a baby rhino! (included link)
  • Rain, rain go away. Come again another day!
  • Ready for some radio? (included link to a radio station)
  • I posted a new photo to Facebook (included Facebook link)
  • If you need your lawn mowed call these guys! (included link)
  • Will we get more snow this winter, or do you think #spring is on its way? (it’s already summer)

This is what happens when you just “dive in and join the conversation,” like so many financial institutions did. But these tweets highlight a broader problem with banks and credit unions on social networks: A disconnect between the source, the content and the context.

Before we go any further, let’s clarify exactly what these terms mean. The “source” refers to the organization or person sharing the message. The “content” covers both the subject matter and the message itself. “Context” includes the environment and circumstances within which a message is shared.

Let’s talk about context first.


( Read More: 10 Tweets You Shouldn’t Send and Why )

Would an exchange like this happen in a branch environment? Can you imagine someone walking in and having one of the tellers say, “Hey, want to take a look at a baby elephant video? How about a baby rhino?!” It sounds ridiculous — online or off.

Context of the engagement is critical. The consumer is in a branch environment. Even in the most causal of banking situations, consumers expect some modicum of relevancy and professionalism. Baby animal videos likely fall outside the range of appropriate context for most consumers. Even if someone finds the video amusing they still might be scratching their chin — What did I just watch and why?? Unless your financial institution builds its brand around “having fun,” this type of off-topic jocularity is likely to create a jarring experience undermining your image.

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As you can see, the context of a message is highly dependent on the source. Most people don’t have a problem with doctors telling jokes, just not while they’re undergoing a colonoscopy. And like doctors, financial institutions share a higher level of fiduciary responsibility, as is always the case with people’s private details.

This next tweet is terribly embarrassing:


That’s a real tweet from a real bank.

What’s it even mean? Who knows? It’s just gibberish, like the incoherent ramblings of a drunken intern. It’s likely the result of a simple careless mistake, such as a too-quick click of the tweet button, but it is out there and it may be negatively impacting consumer perceptions of the organization.

Again consider source, context and subject. The source of this message was the branded twitter account of a bank, therefore consumers are likely to expect that the brand will speak with professional intelligence. The tweet violates consumer confidence. Someone made a big mistake — way more than a mere typo.

With regard to subject of this tweet… well, there isn’t one. This means that this bank is firing off tweets without paying attention. Tweets like this clearly indicate there is no social media strategy in place nor content guidelines to provide focus. It’s pure whimsy.

Worse still, the tweet is just hanging out there… unnoticed by the bank’s Twitter manager… for how long? Consumers could reasonably conclude that a bank making such blatant mistakes in a tweet is careless in other (all?) areas.

( Read More: Reality Check 2.0: Social Media Myths & Facts )

Lite Fare

There’s nothing wrong with a financial institution exchanging pleasantries with consumers. For example, a teller might ask a consumer at the tail end of a transaction whether they have any big plans for the weekend. That is normal dialogue.

There’s a big difference between asking a question like that of a specific customer in a specific context. But chucking the question out to no one in particular on Twitter isn’t appropriate. Back to the brick-and-mortar analogy. What if a teller stood in a branch lobby asking everyone in the queue if they had any weekend plans. A little awkward, don’t you think?

It’d be like that dweeb at cocktail parties who tries to spark up conversations with vapid rhetoric like “How ‘bout that weather? and “Who’s seen that new Brad Pitt movie?”

Some may argue that the “channel context” of social media allows the rules that typically govern brand/consumer interactions to be relaxed, therefore you can’t compare how people communicate in social channels using criteria for real-world interactions. So maybe it is okay to let your hair down with social media communications. A light touch of frivolity won’t hurt anyone. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ask banal questions of no-one in particular, post unintelligible nonsense and make fundamental spelling mistakes.

( Read More: 5 Reasons Banks Suck at Blogging )

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Refining Your Social Media Content Strategy

Financial institutions need to clarify their expectations in light of the source, context, and subject of the messages they intend to send — sound advice for every communications channel, not just social media. They should define the parameters for their social media content strategy, including their focus, personality and “voice.”

A consistent voice and content focus helps consumers understand how the brand should be approached, perceived and experienced.

Consumers generally fall into three communications categories:

  1. Learn and Ask Questions
  2. Complain
  3. Purchase

A comprehensive social media strategy will address communications standards for each of these three consumer categories. This is what it means to control the context of your conversations. Having focus means establishing boundaries, rules and limitations.

Social interaction isn’t new. From the first account opened at a financial institution, social interactions between financial brands and consumer have existed. What these new tools have given us are simply more points of interaction. Whereas we used to only have one point of interaction (in-branch), which expanded to two points (in-branch and mail), and then three (phone), we now have multiple channels all demanding contributions of time commitment and content. For many people this proliferation of channels is dizzying and difficult to manage.

To avoid missing out on powerful platforms for consumer engagement, to avoid embarrassing mistakes, or even simply to make sense of all the options, financial brands must define a comprehensive strategy — one that identifies the proper context of interaction, an appropriate organizational voice, and the ideal areas of informational interest that are appropriate to both consumer and brand.

tom_glatt_jrTom Glatt, Jr. is the founder of Glatt Consulting, a credit union consulting firm specializing in distinctive strategy consulting for credit union boards and management teams. Tom has over 18 years of strategy consulting experience in the credit union community. His primary consulting focus is working with clients to develop corporate and associated execution and budgeting strategies.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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  1. I agree with many of your points Tom. Many credit unions and banks must stop viewing social media as social conversations but began to figure out how they fit into the bigger part of digital marketing and sales systems. At the end of the day, all roads will lead to some kind of digital engagement. (webinar)

    The comprehensive strategy you discuss involves more than just digital and social tools but actual digital business systems. Working with tools without a clear cut strategy or plan just won’t cut it anymore. (article)

    To your point, “There’s a big difference between asking a question like that of a specific customer in a specific context. But chucking the question out to no one in particular on Twitter isn’t appropriate.”

    However, directly asking this question to identified social influences might be applicable as it could possibly stir up some good social conversation. This however requires a strategy and identifying social influencers something many banks and credit unions can not do at this point based upon some of our recent research.

    Social media can be used as a viable lead generation channel. (article)

  2. Leigh Enselman says:

    Banks need to find a balance in their social media use between relating to customers and maintaining professionalism. If managed appropriately, there is huge potential for enhancing customer service through social media. However, banks should avoid being that awkward person that sees their way into a conversation where they aren’t welcome. I do think social media allows banks to be creative with their customer interaction, but let’s not overdo it here. It’s simple; banks must be relatable to consumers financially first, then socially second.

  3. These are all bad examples of informal chit-chat for financial services organizations, particularly under corporately branded Twitter handles.

    But there is an underlying issue: how does a corporate brand truly act “social” in social media and maintain credibility? Because social media is about people connecting with people. It is inherently social and there is a place for small talk. The challenge is how does the esteemed financial brand get off it’s pedestal and actually engage with the people?

    In a nutshell, I think the answer is personal brand ambassadors. Financial brands need people who engage people on their behalf. Think of them as rock star customer service people. Intelligent and engaging, able to curate relevant content while engaging in insightful follow-up conversations, the personal brand ambassador represents the brand in social networks, but is able to act like a real person and engage.

    In the next stage of social engagement, banks and financial institutions will realize they should stop trying to “humanize” their brand with inane chit-chat and just let smart people be engaging on their behalf online.

  4. Great points made both in this article and the comments above. I think the challenge here is that regardless of how engaging the social media environment is, most people are not looking for this type of relationship with their financial institution. When consumers interact with brands on social media, it’s generally to get something—deals, information, problem resolution, etc. Trying to be something else just seems forced and leads to the examples cited.

  5. Paul Stull says:

    Tom makes some brilliant points, but in the end doesn’t it all come down to getting a return on what you invest? Most financial institutions turn inexperienced people loose on social media with the idea that anyone can do it. Investing in seasoned communications professional is what’s needed, but often the duty falls to a 20 something intern or other employee that is seen to have a gift for gab. Until financial institutions get serious and invest in this channel, it will never be more than Tom’s excellent examples.

    Not investing in social media is like serving an elegant dinner on cheap paper plates. You get a big mess everywhere.

  6. Paul Stull says:

    Apologies for my typing. It appears that driving continues to be a distraction while composing a message.

    (Editor: What typos Paul? I don’t see any 😉 )

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