In August 2011, I wrote a white paper about the shifting sands of social media converging in financial services markets. It amounted to a call-to-action for financial institutions on behalf of social media.
In April 2012, Ernst and Young released a global study of 20,500 retail banking customers titled ‘A new era of customer expectation’ suggesting that a new communication era would be fuelled by personal service and mobile technology.
Ernst & Young highlighted:
If these findings are representative of UK consumers there seems to be increasing demand for more personal attention and universal acceptance of the internet as a secure banking channel.
This week IBM released the findings of research based on 1709 face to face interviews with CEOs of global business, of which over 25% we in financial services. This gives more weight to the idea that customers and personal interaction are at the heart of a competitive offering. The graphic below shows that factors that the CEOs see as key sources of economic value.
Social media is the only existing communication channel where Human Capital, Customer relationships, Product innovation and Brand converge. This still offers UK financial services businesses an untapped competitive advantage.
As a banking CEO from Argentina acknowledged “To connect to a new generation of customers and employees we need to change communication methods. We are the email generation; they are the social network generation”
So, what is holding back financial services businesses? It would seem that fostering long-term, one-to-one relationships is a traditional strength and yet consistently social media activation is campaign based, fragmented and short-term. We at ISM have advised a number of financial services businesses and recognise a similar pattern. Here, I suggest the three biggest contributing factors that keep social media on the periphery of the communications strategy and more importantly a simple resolution for each.
Factor One – Command and Control
Solution One – Consensus about audiences and the user journey
Command and Control has underpinned business structure for over a century, no more so in businesses that are externally regulated. Brands used to rely on a static sales funnel, whereby they broadcast at consumers through controlled channels (TV, Radio, Print, email and DM) defining where any physical interaction should take place.
The tail is now definitely wagging the dog! The impact of social media is the user defines the channel and they expect to interact holistically with the brand when they get there. As user behaviour converges on single channels they become equally important and appropriate to PR, Marketing and Customer Services. In a command and control environment each department either competes for ownership, build their own channels or ignore social media all together. This may make sense internally, but users want to browse the business to get a feel for the overall offering and certainly not be corralled based on their first question.
To define the right structure strong leadership, customer data and online audience research all play a part. We always recommend a senior task-force be formed from all departments (PR, Marketing and CRM) to define a digital user-journey. This involves mapping the target audiences, defining their current location and where they need to end up. We find this process crystallises what the content needs to do and in most cases, who should produce it. More importantly it gives freedom to the social media team to extract, broadcast and create content for every corner of the organisation.
Factor two – collaborative workflows
Solution two – a robust and systematic infrastructure
Customers want information, delivered quickly and with humility. Whether PR, Marketing or Customer services takes the lead, genuine collaboration from within the business is required. In a collaborative environment, operating in a traditional business structure, the social media infrastructure requires a robust workflow management platform. This platform needs to operate across social media channels, across departments, across borders and with a mixture of agency and internal participants.
At the centre of the workflow are three elements. The audience map, the content plan and the user journey, with each needing to be measured to give a full picture of what is going on. We currently use up to nine different tools to produce this data internally but this is being reduced by the emergence of new technology providers.
IBM, Oracle and Salesforce have all purchased Content Management Systems for social media in 2012. These are potentially important for providing consistent data to the various department stakeholders and for recognising the contribution of multiple disciplines (PR, Marketing and CRM) but they do not replace the creative, audience knowledge or strategic thinking that underpins great communications.
Factor three – measuring ROI
Solution three – ROI based on Business Efficiency
Operationally we measure four classes of KPI (Exposure, Reach, Engagement, and Click-Through) regardless of the channel. These offer us a measure of the performance across the content plan.
Measuring Social Media ROI is different, but surprisingly easy if one sticks to meaningful business measures and things that can be benchmarked. While the ultimate result of any business activity may indeed be sales, the cost of each individual result is much more meaningful. ROI should include spend, time and results. This is critical to allow audience behaviour to be compared and activities benchmarked.
The regular mistake that we see made in social media, specifically in financial services, is to start with short-term brand awareness campaigns aimed at a new audience. If the activity is new, the audience is new and the result is subjective it makes it very difficult to assess the real impact of the campaign.
Social media audiences continue to grow in the UK and we are constantly evolving with the channels and adapting campaigns as new channels and audiences converge. We are passionate about the opportunity for financial services businesses to communicate with their target audiences and suggest the following action plan for those who feel their organisation is ready or for those disappointed by initial results.
By Dan Naylor, Services Director