As we are all aware, social media has radically altered the way businesses can market to their customer base. Some brands like Pringles and Skittles have been able to create a fan base that happily interacts with their various social media activities, but these tend to be in the FMCG sector where entertaining, shareable campaigns are more easily accepted by their customers. What about more “serious” sectors, how can they use social media to reach out to an audience?
This post presents findings I’ve discovered specifically about the issues facing financial services organisations with regard to social media marketing and offers some recommendations for how they can improve their activity.
What they want to achieve:
- To increase presence in natural search results
- Convert users to customers
- Online monitoring
- Engage with customers
- Educate customers
Their main issues are:
- They need measurable results
- Budgets are accountable
- FSA and other regulations
Financial services companies in general haven’t figured out the best approach to using social media to engage an audience. People get involved with financial services companies when they have a particular need, and at other times they don’t particularly want to engage with them. The companies recognise this and, as such, are slow to implement social media. Of social media Hiscox’s Mike Beddington says, “I think it’s only worth doing if you have something interesting to say, so we have to consider how we can add value to the conversation”. Paul Say of First Direct, “how many people would talk about banking?”
what are they currently doing?
The strategy financial services are using in social media is to avoid mentioning the products they produce and, instead, try to raise awareness through non-related activity.
This month saw the start of rugby’s 2012 Six Nations Championship sponsored by RBS (the Royal Bank of Scotland). Sports sponsorship is nothing new for financial brands, and it has evolved from pitch side billboards and branded jerseys to now include websites with associated social media channels. This enables financial organisations to promote their products by taking ownership of events that have mass appeal disassociated from their usual, less appealing, business.
The RBS Six Nations Facebook page has, at the time of writing, 654,287 likes. It features short posts which ask fans various rugby related questions in order to generate user content. Its Twitter page with 17,651 followers posts news items which link back to the main Six Nations website.
Again to deflect people away from their stuffy image financial brands have created characters that can engage an audience and help build brand awareness. Probably the best known is Compare the Market’s Aleksandr the meerkat.
Aleksandr has his own website, Compare the Meerkat, as well as a Facebook page that currently boasts 792,127 fans, a Twitter feed and YouTube channel. No attempt is made to sell directly on these social channels, they are purely meant for building brand equity.
what they should be doing
Rather than hiding behind sports events or comedy characters financial organisations should be using social media to engage directly with their customers to discuss real money matters.
Most comments about financial services raised in social media channels concern things like unexpected charges, normally arising because customers have misunderstood their policy or because they don’t understand the products they have bought. This suggests that there is a significant opportunity for businesses to provide educational content in the form of blogs, micro-blogs, articles or video.
By creating original content that offers genuine, non-marketing information to users, a brand not only presents its thought leadership credentials but establishes a platform where users can interact with it to learn about, and discuss, financial topics.
Financial organisations could consider crowd sourcing to discover their customers views on certain products or services . Here groups form online focus groups that feedback on propositions or ideas put forward by the company. Developing a trusted network, though, can potentially take many months.
A simpler approach would be to listen in on social channels to find out what people are talking about with regards to financial services. Using this technique companies can easily gain valuable market intelligence and competitor insight. This information could be compiled and form the basis of amendments to products or services that match their customers’ needs.
Online forums such as MoneySavingExpert have numerous posts that refer to topics relevant to financial services. In addition there are various blogs and questions posted on Linked In that cover financial issues. By becoming involved in these conversations and offering advice that adds to the discussion and is no way sales driven, a financial organisation can position themselves as a knowledge leader.
After some time giving such advice and gaining trust a company can begin to include links to their website or blog in their comments. It is vital to stress that this is a long-term tactic for driving traffic to a site and raising brand awareness. It will not happen overnight, nor will forum users tolerate sales pitches or attempts at disguising the poster’s identity. If a business is going to use this technique their staff must be open and honestly identify their employer.
There are definite opportunities for financial services organisations to implement social media strategies that involve direct interaction with their customers. What these organisations need to do is push their initial fear of personal contact aside and begin listening. From that foundation they can grow their activity to include answering questions, offering help and ultimately developing content in their own social channels.