I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how financial services companies in the UK could use location-based services to enhance their brand. (Note, I’m going to focus on foursquare here, rather than Facebook places or Gowalla, as this is the one that I have most experience with.)
The key thing to remember is that you don’t actually need to have geographically diverse locations, such as branches, in order to use location-based services effectively.
Here’s an example – AmEx teamed up with foursquare this month for a trial to offer its card users cashback when they paid using AmEx at participating merchants. All you do is sign up your card via the AmEx foursquare page, check in to the location as normal, ‘load’ the deal to your card via your smartphone, then pay as normal. The money gets credited to your statement within a few days. It’s easy, straightforward, fun, creates a bit of buzz and you get a special badge too. The added bonus is that AmEx donates some money to charity when you complete your first transaction – probably not the main reason why you would do all this, but a nice touch all the same.
What a fantastic example of a financial services brand engaging with consumers in an innovative way!
So, with that in mind, here are some things that could be done in this country right now. The first, and most obvious one, would be a high street bank because of the physical presence that they have around the UK. If such a bank were to set up a foursquare presence, then it could create a range of badges for customers such as ‘SuperSaver’ (for when you make 10 deposits into an ISA); ‘First-time buyer’ (for when you take out a mortgage); ‘KidsFund’ (for when you open a CTF; or ‘Chequing In’ for when you have to deposit a pesky cheque.
As we all move more towards a scenario where purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by your online networks, by social media sites and by online reviews, wouldn’t this be fantastic PR for a bank to have a certain section of its customers talking about its products and services via foursquare. The big benefit comes when these users’ foursquare accounts are linked to their twitter and facebook profiles, which I’m assuming most are.
You could make more of this, of course, by introducing discounts or special offers for whichever user is the ‘mayor’ of a branch, although I suspect that this would be a logistical nightmare for the product development and administration teams. So, why not invite all the mayors of all your locations to take part in feedback sessions to help improve customer service and develop new products or propositions? This could be a virtual or real-world event, but it would be a really valuable focus group.
Extending this example further, if this bank was a sponsor in the sporting or musical world, as many are, then you could leverage that sponsorship even more through foursquare. Santander sponsors the McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team, of course. What if you could check in to a Grand Prix circuit and then get a discount off your purchase of Team McLaren Mercedes merchandise if you pay with your Santander card?
The idea of badges would work quite well with a company like AVIVA too, given its sponsorship of athletics. VISA could, of course, do something similar to AmEx and also has a golden opportunity (forgive the pun) to capitalise on its involvement in London 2012. The London 2012 foursquare site is well-established and looks very impressive.
So, there you’ve got banks, payments providers and insurance companies, particularly those that put money into sponsorship as part of their marketing, which can amplify their reach through the use of foursquare. I hope to see developments in this area in the not-too distant future.
[Image credit Nan Palermo.]
Social commerce in financial services
Social commerce can be defined as ‘the use of social technologies to connect, listen, understand, and engage to improve the shopping experience’. Altimeter Group says that there are four stages of social commerce:
- Let’s Be Social – simply using social technology to build the brand and community
- Enlightened Engagement – informing customers through reviews, experts or other respected sources
- Store of the Community – customers help drive product selection assortment and merchandising
- Frictionless Commerce – the buying experience is completely redesigned to create a fully customer-centric experience
How is this relevant to retail financial services? Well, a shopper is a shopper, no matter whether they are looking for a personal loan, a savings account, some IT hardware or an airline ticket. Believe it or not, social commerce is changing the way we shop, and this is already affecting the financial services sector.
Most financial services companies have not progressed beyond the first stage of simply being social. First Direct are using Twitter, Flickr and YouTube and Barclaycard are using Twitter and Facebook to connect and engage with their customers. These are big steps in the right direction and very innovative for the sector.
How might social commerce go beyond that though? Stage two, ‘Enlightened Engagement’ could include customer case studies on YouTube or Flickr, for example. Imagine how powerful it would be if you were looking for home or car insurance and you could view video clips from people extolling the virtues of your claims management service. (Too much emphasis is placed on cost these days anyway.) You could also have experts from outside your organisation, such as financial commentators, provide video or audio clips to help inform people. Or, you could have a forum where potential customers can discuss amongst themselves what they think of the product or service before purchase.
Stage 3, ‘Store of the Community’ could be a product or product range that is influenced by consumers via social media channels such as Facebook or Twitter. Imagine a simplified, stripped down mortgage or insurance product designed by product and propositions people as a direct response to what they gathered from Twitter and twitpolls.
How about product and proposition teams stop guessing what people want and just ask them? Social media is a rich vein of feedback and intelligence waiting to be tapped. Taking it a step further, you could even part develop two propositions, video them and get people to vote for their favourite, a bit like Google Slam.
Stage 4, ‘Frictionless Commerce’ is a tough one. Is it even possible for an existing financial services firm to start from scratch to put the customer at the heart of the experience? I suspect not and I think that the only organisations that will be able to achieve this nirvana will be new ones. However, here I defer to a higher authority, Brett King, and his post on the prototype bank.
Must try harder
This is the first in a series of blogs looking at the online media capabilities of various types of financial services provider and the first organisations I’m looking at are the Building Societies. I’m a big fan of the mutual sector, having worked for Nationwide Building Society in the past and I am fully behind the concept of putting members’ interests above shareholders. However, it is disappointing to see that Building Societies fall short when it comes to online media centres and using their website to communicate with journalists.
For this blog I analysed the websites of all 56 Building Society brands, even though recent mergers mean that strictly speaking there are only now 49 Building Societies. The results were quite eye-opening and I imagine if I were a journalist looking for information on these organisations I might have to work quite hard to get it.
48 of the 56 Building Societies provided links to news about their organisation. That’s 86% but it really should be 100%. Every organisation has news of some sort or another, even the tiniest Building Society with a handful or branches. At the very least, they should showcase their community involvement.
Next up, I looked at the availability of contact details for PR contacts. This is where things start to go downhill for Building Societies, because just 30 of them (54%) listed a phone number for a journalist to call. Of course, I understand that only the larger Societies have dedicated PR people, with Nationwide the only one to have a press office of a significant size. However, there should be someone, potentially the Sales & Marketing Director or the CEO who should be listed. Likewise, email contact details were slightly worse, with 29 Societies (52%) listing them.
Finally, I looked at social media capabilities and, frankly, this is laughable. Building Societies have a strong role to play in their communities and now is a good time to promote the mutual model. Creating and taking part in communities is important online as it is offline so Building Societies should recognise that. Just four Societies are involved in social media at all, that’s a lowly 7%. Respect is due to Saffron Building Society for their blog, facebook page and twitter feed. Well done also to Ipswich Building Society for their twitter feed and Hanley Economic for their CEO blog. I guess Stroud & Swindon should also get a mention because they make limited use of social bookmarking tools on the site.
Overall, the sector could do a lot better without too much more effort. Nationwide Building Society in particular needs to get to grips with social media and quickly because it sets an example for the rest. Come on guys, you can’t ignore it any longer!
News just in – Joe Wiggins has been nominated in the ‘Provider of the Year’ category at the IFA Life ‘Social Media in Financial Services 2′ awards in November.
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
I recently wrote an opinion piece for CorpComms magazine to help in-house communicators feel more comfortable using social media. In essence, my argument is that social media ‘principles’ are not that new and that PRs should be used to the concept that you cannot control how your output is eventually used.
When you create strategies, think about how social media can enhance (rather than replace) your existing PR activity. When you create stories and issue news think about ‘shareability’ and make it easy for people to spread your message.
For a long time, I have been treating key influencers almost in the same way as journalists because I know that they have significant reach. The same principle should apply to bloggers and influential social media users.
I concluded by saying that PR is still about building relationships and it is still about people. If anything, social media is actually putting the ‘public’ back into public relations, and moving it away from simply media relations.
You can read the full version here.
I recently met with Christophe Langlois who runs Visible Banking, a site which tracks social media initiatives in financial services, particularly banking. (By the way, this was social networking in action as we originally starting chatting via Twitter earlier in the year!) We started talking about social media and financial services from the perspective of my PR role at Legal & General and ended up producing a short video for his blog.
You can view the video here.
It’s not often that you get to directly experience two separate instances of dire social media communications within hours of each other, but this is what has happened to me today. Firstly, an organisation (that shall remain nameless) tweeted a link to a news release that was significant enough to attract the attention of national business editors. However, the shortened URL that was sent actually took me to the content management system interface of the site rather than the public version.
Talk about a potential disaster! This therefore meant that I had the potential to wreak havoc with the site (obviously I didn’t) but raised the important issue of checking URLs and links before they are distributed. That also goes for people who ‘re-tweet’ actually.
This was error number one. Error number two was the ‘new’ link that was circulated to rectify the situation, but which then contained all sorts of formatting errors. At least it did when using the Firefox browser, but not in Internet Explorer. The lesson? Make sure that your content works in all web browsers – not everyone uses Internet Explorer! Error number three was really just the icing on the cake, and that was to include the contact details of a member of staff that no longer worked for the organisation.
Case study number two happened a short time later. It started with the representative from an agency (again, that shall remain nameless) criticising an organisation for its web functionality. These criticisms were public and were not directed at the organisation, just tweeted in general. I for one don’t like these generalised gripes – if you’ve got an issue, take it to the company direct. If you aren’t, then you don’t really want the company to do anything about it, you just want to have a grumble, which is just self-indulgent nonsense.
Anyway, the organisation engaged with the person from the agency. A few tweets were exchanged and then (hilariously) the agency offered the organisation its services if said organisation wanted help with improving the web functionality. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t blame the organisation for politely declining the offer on the grounds that they would probably rather use a professional agency with discretion and integrity.
If you believe that social (or digital) media represent the future for the media industry, and presumably you do, then PRs have a golden opportunity here. What I mean by that is PRs are used to ‘earned’ media rather than ‘paid-for’ media and we accept that you cannot manage the media. Advertisers and marketers who are used to paying to get what they want and planning certain content to appear at certain times, are fundamentally different.
These PR skills, which are ingrained, combined with experience of crisis management, mean that we are perfectly placed to take the lead on social media.
To realise the full potential of social media, you need to have buy-in from all parts of an organisation, particularly sales, marketing, customer service, HR and internal communications. However, PR is normally the best place to co-ordinate this activity as it impacts significantly on reputation.
In my opinion, the key attributes for a brand to have if it wants to engage successfully via social media are openness, transparency, integrity, energy and the sense that it can participate but not control. I think that good PRs tend to get their head around this quickly because they are very similar values to the ones that work well with traditional media.
To put it another way, no-one owes you editorial coverage or mentions on a blog or forum. But the balance of power is different with paid with paid-for activity so there might be a tendency to assume that this leverage can automatically work in the social space. Broadcasting, shouting, bragging and being overly self-promotional will not win you digital friends.
PR is changing and adapting to the digital media revolution – make sure that your efforts to manage the flow of information between you and your communities reflect that.