It is widely acknowledged that social media offers brands the chance to connect with customers and prospects on a personal level whilst also allowing them to build strong relationships through genuine one-to-one communication. So why have financial services (FS) brands been so slow to join the party?
One reason could be the unique challenge faced by FS brands – that the transparency and openness of social media can sometimes seem at odds with the regulatory environment. Despite efforts by the industry to improve, FS remains the least trusted industry worldwide according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2014, and this lack of trust in the FS category means that social media isn’t a natural fit for the sector. In order to achieve success, financial services providers have to overcome the lack of trust that the public generally have of the sector. Social media offers FS brands the opportunity to build a digital presence that allows them to begin two-way conversations with customers and engage with them in a less formal manner. Social interactions help to build a more personalised and trusting relationship with customers, and present the brand as open, trustworthy and honest, rather than closed, irresponsible and reckless – attributes all too often associated with the FS industry.
To add to this, security and privacy are also major issues facing financial brands looking to develop their social media strategies. With so much of the communication between customers and organisations in this sector hanging on these important factors, staying away from social media often seems like a safer play. However, as customers demand further information, transparency and a more personalised dialogue with the businesses they associate with, this might not be so much the case any more.
While FS brands shouldn’t enter social media communications lightly, enter they must. More of us are conducting at least some of our financial affairs on the go through mobile banking and home budgeting apps, while half of us who use Facebook access the site from our mobiles. It’s clear that consumers want their banks to be where they are online, and the opportunities for banks to engage with consumers are enormous.
A growing number of FS brands are throwing their hats in the social media ring by creating Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Pinterest accounts, but customers aren’t permitted to transfer money, make payments, or even check their balances on these channels. They are instead to educate, provide help and respond to customer enquiries in real time. Social media is the perfect medium for brands to provide customer service, and when done successfully can positively build a company’s reputation as a trusted brand and go-to source for useful information. Social media offers FS brands the opportunity to engender loyalty by being useful and adding value at the right touchpoints when people are looking for help.
Consumers share huge amounts of personal information on social networks, which opens up an entire world of data for businesses. By putting this data to use, brands can deliver personalised products and services and build lasting relationships with customers. FS brands already have access to large volumes of customer data which puts them in a great position to deliver successful social strategies.
FS brands that can leverage their brand equity and provide a familiar and helpful voice online will be the most successful on social channels. However, before undertaking any social activity, FS marketers need to ask themselves the following; will this activity be of use to the consumer and will it add value? What are people looking for and where? How can I provide the information that is helpful at the moment that it is needed?
Peter Markey, formerly chief marketing officer of the RSA Group (now Post Office CMO), knew that the 20 million customers across 30 markets were talking about RSA Group. He also knew they wanted real time responses to their problems. RSA’s strong brand presence on social and smart social media activities is helping it boost its brand reputation while fundamentally changing the way it markets its products and services. “FS brands can’t afford not to be visible on social and if you’re not talking about your brand you can be sure someone else,” he says.
However it’s not just global FS brands that stand to gain; local firms who master the art of social can extend their reach far beyond the geographical limits of their business. Pete Matthews, managing director of Jacksons Wealth Management, a small FS firm based in Penzance, believes the key to social media success is to give value, keep giving value, listen to people and then act on what they are saying. “The clue is in the name – social – people want to connect with you,” he says. “If you’re faceless, bland and just keep pumping out information people won’t want to connect with you. They want to get to know you, like you, follow you and eventually...trust you.”
As marketers know, there is no ‘one-size-fits- all’ strategy when it comes to engaging in social activity for brands, and the financial services industry is no different. Social media can play a key role in building brand trust through engagement, and as the year progresses we can expect to see more and more FS brands broadening their social media strategies. The key challenge for FS brands will be to strike the right balance between meeting the demands of their consumers and adhering to strict regulatory policy.
Julie Atherton is chief strategy officer at Indicia. She can be contacted on +44 (0)20 7406 1900 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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