Sunday, May 10, 2009

Duality of Social Media in Banking

With banks working double time to squeeze value out from every last penny, many bankers are taking a closer look at social media and the value it can bring to an organization.

For about a year and a half references have been made increasingly regarding MySpace and Facebook and how businesses can appeal to the masses that visit these sites. Then a couple weeks ago it all broke loose when Ashton Kutcher battled CNN for the first to hold one million followers on Twitter. And then it happened, the tipping point, the day everything changed. The day Twitter became a household word.

Since that day I have been approached by banker acquaintances asking me how they can use Twitter to make them heroes. And in these discussions I found the duality of social media.

The banking industry is one of a handful of industries that is overly regulated and becoming more so every day (thanks TARP!). While bankers see the benefits of using Twitter and social media, they often find it very difficult to get past the associated risks. On the other hand, bankers make their living dealing in risk. As such, it would appear to me that banking is one of only a few industries that is well suited to incorporate the use of social media, warts and all.

So to my banker friends I say, get over it and do what you do best - assess your risks. The first step in any new bank product/service launch is the risk assessment. Risks can originate from the statutory liability and regulatory penalties that are specified by law, or from reputational damage that could result from publicity of noncompliance (see Social Media and Bank Compliance Requirements). Once you get your arms around the risks and feel warm and fuzzy about dipping your ties, get to it.

Of course, as with any implementation, you must have a plan that is well thought our and clearly defined. This involves doing your homework. Speak to experienced social media practitioners by researching them on the Web or meeting them at social media conferences, see what the competition is doing, see what other industries are doing, read The Community Banker's Guide to Social Network Marketing (disclosure: I wrote this free ebook), get the green light from the right people and put your team together.

Unfortunately, today, everyone is still largely feeling their way around. The use of social media in a commercial setting has only just begun. However, there is a large global community that actively supports this effort. So, while the model has not been entirely proven, the successes to date, the support network and the masses of consumers taking to social media should make dipping your toes at least something to consider.

Anyone up for a swim?!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Banking is Our Business, and We Think Our Business Needs to Be Wherever People are Talking About Banking

"Banking is our business, and we think our business needs to be wherever people are talking about banking."

The quote above was provided by Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada in an interview with Bank Technology News Magazine. Mr. Aceto, an active tweeter, expresses an opinion held by many "enlightened" bankers. But banker beware: if you build it, they may not come.

Rebecca Sausner says "just because there are millions of people at a concert doesn't mean they want to see a banker take the stage." This is a great point. However, I would counter her by saying that banks should have some form of presence for the ocassion in which a client or potential clients needs to reach out. It is during those opportunities that banks will earn the points that put them over the top in the hearts and minds of consumers.

I am a tremendous fan of social media and the many benefits it brings to the banking environment. However, I recognize the many nuances that need to be considered in developing and implementing a social media plan. I agree that a bank's place within social media is not in-your-face. In fact, that is probably the last thing you want to do. Having said that, there are many ways in which banks may leverage social media while playing a role in the background and staying prepared to pounce on opportunities as they come up.

A good example is Bank of America's social network for small business operators. Bank of America has created a space on its dime that draws customers and non-customers together to share ideas and leverage from each other. As conversations take place, BofA is prepared to jump in to provide answers. Also, BofA is along the way collecting information that will assist in the development or improvement of new products and services. So, going back to Rebecca's analogy, while BofA may have built the stage, they are not on the stage but are instead backstage prepared to deal with any questions that may pop up as well as out in the stands listening to the crowds reactions.

Rebecca also made a point about the current financial viability of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, et al, and whether their inability to create income is worthy of steering clear. My immediate response is "so what!" Applications like Facebook and Twitter are drawing in batches of people by the millions. Banks should do what they can to leverage their brand. However, banks should also be sure that their commitments take into consideration the fact that a specific platform or the social network/media industry as a whole may dramatically change over time. But the fact the Twitter may be here today and gone next year should not keep me away from taking advantage of the asset (e.g., people). I just need to make sure that my return in consistent with the investment made.

I think Rebeccas was spot on when she said, "the larger point is that understanding your customers is key. If your customers are addicted to Facebook, texting, tweeting, or LinkedIn groups, you should at least have first-hand knowledge of how and why. " That's pretty much it in a nutshell. Know your customers, know what makes them tick and you'll be able to appeal to them and develop products and services that they will be unable to live without.

For more information on the nuances of social media, download a free copy of The Community Banker's Guide to Social Network Marketing.