Social Media Do's And Don'ts (For Banks)

I attended the Efma (European Financial Marketing Association) Online Banking conference in Paris last week. An excellent conference, very good speakers, and a very senior-level audience.

Probably not very surprisingly, social media was a popular topic. A number of presenters talked about their organization’s social media efforts, and there were some recurring challenges, issues and concerns. They got me thinking about some do’s and don’ts of social media for banks (and credit unions):

1. Don’t just “join” the conversation, start one.

If there’s any phrase more overused and so poorly defined in the social media space than “join the conversation,” I challenge you to find it.

As it relates to the financial services space, tell me again exactly what “conversation” it is that banks and credit unions are supposed to join?

You don’t mean the customer service requests that are posted on Twitter because someone can’t get service online or from the call center, do you? That’s not a conversation.

You don’t mean the “conversation” on Facebook like HSBC’s page where they post pictures of their headquarters and the comments run from “I am so freaking pissed off at HSBC..” to “HSBC IS THE WORST BANK EVER AND THEIR CUSTOMER SERVICE SUCKS ..SUCKS…SUCKS….”, do you?

If that’s your idea of a conversation, I hope we never meet at a party. You’ll bore me to tears within 5 seconds, and my wife will get pissed at me for being anti-social and inconsiderate by walking away from you in the middle of our “conversation.”

While there might be great conversations happening on the Facebook pages of companies from other industries, they’re not so easy to find in financial services. In fact, if you look at Visible Banking’s list of the FIs with the most liked pages, you’ll notice that at the top of the list is Chase’s Community Giving page, followed by Barclay’s Football page. Geico’s Gecko page is liked by 60% more people than the firm’s corporate page.

What do these firms have in common? The “conversations” have nothing to do with financial services.

Banks and credit unions have to accept a reality about social media and then make a choice. The reality is: There is no conversation, and if they’re going to do anything, they’ll have to start one. The choice: Start a conversation about financial services topics, or start one about something else.

It’s not a trivial choice. The amount of people who want to converse about financial services topics isn’t as large as the number who want to talk about…well, about anything else.

Joining — I mean, starting — the conversation means making a segmentation decision.

In addition,  making this decision will help determine the right platform. Facebook might not be the best place for a financial services discussion. Your bank’s PFM platform might be the better place for that conversation. Or starting a forum like what E*Trade has done might be what’s right for your firm.

2. Don’t just “engage” customers, define and measure engagement.

There wasn’t a single presenter at the conference who didn’t mention the word “engagement” when describing their social media efforts. Wasn’t a surprise to me, since “engaging customers” was the most frequently cited objective of banks’ social media efforts in the research I conducted last fall.

But after presenting that piece of data, a conference attendee asked me: What are these banks thinking about when they use the term “engagement”?

Liking a bank on Facebook because you’ll get a chance to win something is not engagement.

Viewing a funny, viral YouTube for amusement purposes is not a great example of engagement.

Engagement is about creating a strong emotional connection with customers. How do you do this with social media? I don’t know. Depends what kind of conversation you’re having with them, doesn’t it?

If engagement is one of your important business objectives for social media, then how in the world will you know if you’re doing a good job of it, if you haven’t defined what exactly engagement is, and — just as importantly — measured and benchmarked how engaged customers are today?

By the way, if you’re inclined to believe that engagement isn’t measurable, you’re wrong. Here’s why.

3. Don’t just “experiment” with SM, test and measure.

There’s no better way to explain your failures in the business world than by claiming your efforts were just “experiments.”

I don’t think that there was a single presenter that did not mention the word experiment in association with their firm’s social media efforts. I also don’t think that there was a single presenter who talked about his or her firm’s efforts to measure the relative impact of the channel versus other channels.

If I were running social media initiatives at a bank or credit union, here’s what I would do. After reaching a certain number of FB fans (let’s call it 500), I would:

  • Profile the fan base. For each fan (or maybe even for 250 of them), I would identify the age, income, # and types of products owned, tenure with the bank, channel behavior (e.g., online banking, online bill pay, PFM, etc.). Then I would tell IT to go find me 5 other customers from the existing customer population with the same exact profile. What I would have is two databases: One with the 250 or 500 Facebook fans, the other with the 1250 to 5000 identical customers who aren’t FB fans.
  • Track usage and relationship changes. For a period of a year (or at least six months), I would track the channel use and relationship history of the two databases. Over time, some of the customers in the second database might become FB fans — you can continue to track them, but their results are of no interest.
  • Trumpet — or bury — the results. After a year, you should be able to compare the relationship trends of the two groups. And begin to determine if social media interaction had a meaningful impact on the relationships.  If not, feel free to hide the results of your test.

I’m sure that there are a million other social media do’s and don’ts for banks and credit unions. But if you get these right, I’d bet that your efforts will be a lot more successful than if you focus on the other 999,997. 

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