Why some sectors are running from social; and why they will come back

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  • August 17, 2012
Stephen Creek

Stephen Creek

Content Manager

The news that financial services companies are turning their backs on social media, as reported by Anthony Cooper of Pearlfinders, was no shock to anyone who has witnessed the very public shattering of the banking industry’s reputation in the UK and across the globe.

Royal Bank of Scotland has a huge customer base, but only a small number of people engage with the brand on Facebook.

For any organisations facing crises in the mainstream media, social media channels can quickly become a very sharp thorn in the side.

Negative publicity on social media grows exponentially – or even virally – in much the same way as any other form of engaging content.
Users make posts that are visible to their friends and family, who then have the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and twist the knife if they feel like it.

With people all over the world only too eager to vent spleen on social channels about the banking crisis, it is little wonder that only 6 per cent of financial services companies invested in social media in Q2 this year, compared to 22 per cent in Q4 last year.


However, the lack of investment in social media is leaving large banks exposed. After all, people will discuss the banking crisis on social channels whether the banks choose to engage in conversation or not.

Earlier this year, HSBC’s group marketing director Chris Clark openly spoke about his responsibility to engage in “potentially difficult conversations” with customers, but he also alluded to scepticism towards channels like Facebook within his company.

The Co-operative is just one of the organisations seeking to capitalise on disenfranchised customers of the ‘big five’ banks

He told Brand Republic: “What we often worry about is the stuff that’s outside of our control. We’re looking at it in the sense of how we make sure we’re looking after our customers. We don’t want to be taking part in marketing through Facebook if what happens is that those things feel intrusive or unfair. We undoubtedly need to look long and hard at how we get the best out of those platforms. We need to be clear how our customers feel first.”

Mr Clark might need to move quickly. As Anthony Cooper rightly indicated in his article, brands and organisations cannot afford to remove themselves from the social media mix for long. Even large financial institutions are vulnerable to the danger of social media savvy retailers entering their markets.

The Social Future

A report by technology research firm Gartner this month urged organisations of all sizes to overcome fear of criticism and negative publicity and “implement approaches to handling social media now”.

Wells Fargo demonstrate good social media practice
Carol Rozwell, vice president at Garner, said: “We urge organisations to do three things. Firstly, participate — it’s important that organisations don’t let a fear of someone saying something bad about them stop them from participating in social media.”

A Brandwatch study earlier this year found that 50 per cent of Twitter users complain because they want brands to learn from their mistakes. In this way, social media can help increase corporate responsibility, and organisations should look to take advantage of this invaluable source of feedback, rather than run from it.

The financial services industry has a lot of work to do in repairing its reputation with the public. The sooner it re-engages meaningfully with its social media audience, the sooner that process can begin.

Who is getting it right?

As highlighted by Mashable some three years ago, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo is a great example of a bank ‘getting it right’ on social media.

By utilising a Twitter account to actively encourage feedback from customers, the bank has made itself approachable and personable. Regular tweets offering advice and engaging customers in competitions and campaigns ensure that the bank’s feed is much more than just a customer service stream. https://twitter.com/Ask_WellsFargo

Given that 60% of consumers expect brands to respond via social media, banks must grasp the opportunity not only to minimise the damage of negative online PR, but also to increase their brand equity through meaningful engagement with a customer base for whom trust is all important.

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