I was recently asked to take part in a PRCA panel debate on social media in a B2B context. I used my ‘slot’ to outline the work that I had undertaken at Legal & General and the challenges facing large financial services providers operating within the tight constraints of financial regulation. I explained that Legal & General knew that people were talking about them on social media platforms but they didn’t really know what was being said or what the sentiment was. In a sense, only half the dialogue was taking place because Legal & General wasn’t participating.
I then went on to outline the importance of robust monitoring to alert the company to potential opportunities and threats, as well as having a crisis management plan detailing who is responsible for what. In terms of who ‘owns’ social media, it is different for every company and really depends where the early adopters and the social media advocates/ evangelists sit. It is likely to be one of three areas that take the lead: PR, Marketing or the Web team, but no-one can realistically expect to totally control it. For Legal & General, it seemed natural for corporate communications to drive the social media stream because, from a risk management point of view, it was seen as a reputation management issue.
However, my view is that you need a multi-disciplinary working party drawing on multiple areas and skill sets to drive social media forward. Ultimately, it is imperative that HR, legal, compliance and customer services are involved as well as the external communicators, marketers and techies.
It’s also important that staff know the parameters in which they can operate, so proper guidelines are essential. In the same way that there are rules around what is acceptable for email and internet use, there must also be for social media use. My view is that social media sites should not be blocked for staff as they can be ambassadors for your brand. Any fears that everyone will spend their whole time on Facebook is archaic. Empower and trust your staff – just let them know exactly where they stand.
I concluded by summarising my thoughts on social media for B2B financial services providers into ten tips. I hope you find them useful:
- Listen and learn – don’t act without knowing the full picture. It takes time to get familiar with social media sites because they communities.
- Understand your customers’ media habits – as with any PR, target the most relevant media as a priority
- Start a multi-disciplinary working party – meet regularly, pool resources, share what you have learnt
- Get compliance and legal on board early – without them, you’re finished
- Prepare for the worst – if nothing else, you must make sure that you can fight fires effectively
- Appreciate that it is a long haul – you might get social media, but lots of people don’t. Prepare to sound like a broken record
- Get a business case and a senior sponsor – ideally a board-level colleague
- Don’t start what you can’t finish – you can’t really have a social media campaign with a defined start and finish because once you ‘activate’ something it’s got to run and run. So don’t start that community or build that blog if you are going to give up on it in six months’ time.
- Guide not control – the concept of owning social media is as daft as owning the internet. No-one does, because it is integrated. So try to guide other areas of the business.
- Chill out! – the principles of communication and relationship building are pretty much the same as traditional PR, so if you are well versed in them, then you’ve got a pretty good set of core skills