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Barclays Business goes back to basics, but forgets the fundamentals of social media marketing

By Nick Watt

March 26, 2013 | 8 min read

Given what's been going on in Cyprus at the moment it seemed appropriate to look at the wonderful world of consumer finance. These days I reckon most people's response to the banking sector is a bit like that old mate you invited round. They turned up late, wiped their muddy feet on the carpet, ate all your food while complaining about it, kicked your dog, left something nasty in your toilet, insulted your other half, drank all your booze and then insisted that you pay for their cab home.

Barclays Business: What were they thinking?

"Lest we forget that Facebook gets its money from allowing corporate drivel like this to pop up in our feeds. Thanks Facebook and Barclays. Working together to ruin our day. Iceland has the right idea, they locked up their bankers that ruined their country." - Facebook user Jason Bell.

What’s the story?

We all know they are beholden to their shareholders (apparently), but when you are a mass-market commodity, answering your customers’ questions doesn't hurt. In this instance it's just everyday social engagement on the Barclays Business page on Facebook.

As far as I can tell as part of their ongoing 'rebranding' they have been running a series of posts on Facebook linking 'Back To Basics' advice covering such topics as 'managing cash flow', 'knowing your market' and 'using social media'. They all link to the Barclays Business Lounge, which looks like someone had seen the success AMEX were having with their OPEN Forum, and thought they’d have a piece of the action. However, even the least cynical eye would note that the role of the Barclays site seems to be cross-selling their services and training workshops. I'm not going to talk about the destination site particularly, other than it looks expensive and unlike the AMEX site has no social features on it, so I’ve no idea whether of not anybody is engaging with it.

What where they thinking?

So let’s try and deconstruct what was in the brief for the Back To Basics campaign

• Integrate with ongoing campaign - and leverage available social channels

• Try and rebuild trust in the small business community (address criticism levied at Barclays Business)

• Cross-sell existing Barclays business services

• Reduce migration of existing business customers

• Sell more accounts (or at least generate leads)

• Develop a content strategy to drive more traffic from search and social

How would they judge success?

The entire destination site is link bait for Google, so driving traffic from search is probably the core metric coupled with some good old fashion likes, shares and comments on Facebook, combined with a bit of sentiment tracking. This of course would feed into a traditional conversion funnel - did they sell or cross sell more, how long did it take, how much did we make?

The execution

To be honest since I've only been looking at one thread it's pretty lacklustre. On Facebook it seems to be a series of images taken from their website wrapped around the odd question. There is virtually no content actually on Facebook itself. They seem to be drip-feeding links to their content as or when it’s ready, which ensures that they (hopefully) get a steady stream of clicks to their website.

Generally the levels of engagement across the page are low, with rarely more than a few comments. One user asked why a picture of England titled 'Top 25 manufacturing start-up hotspots in England' didn't include the rest of the UK. Why not just say 'We didn't have the data' or summit? Instead - silence.

Most of the comments are centered on the following topics:

General bad news

Libor & Bob Diamond

Banks being slime

Recent bonuses

Barclays buying a stake in a Dutch company for $900m by mistake

Customer Service being rubbish

I've been ripped off by you, do something about it

I asked for help on the very topic you are talking about and, didn't get any

I hate them so much I am moving my account

Loyal customers of XX years being treated extremely badly when times are hard

The Neutral

Random comments, and questions, which remain unanswered

The Positive

Some people didn’t swear

As you can imagine the 'how to do social' feedback was particularly damning. What they didn't do was take any of their own advice and engage with any of the dissenting voices out of several hundred comments to the post - not a peep. At the very least they could have popped in with a nice and neutral "I'm Sorry Dave, I can’t comment on that." And to add insult to injury, the unusually high response to this one post seems to have been triggered by Barclays actively promoting the service via a sponsored link or advert on Facebook.

So what did we learn?

1. If you know feedback is likely to be much more negative than positive, engage with it, discuss it and diffuse it otherwise it just amplifies it. The silence can be deafening. When you are trying to affect the extremely disgruntled masses, statements like 'we don't have the resources to talk to everyone' ring extremely hollow.

2. If you must distract with content then make sure you are playing to your expertise - not your failings i.e. most businesses will read 'manage your cash flow better' as 'don't rely on us for a loan'.

3. Selective engagement is often worse than no engagement. If you only respond to the odd one it shows that you have something to hide.

4. Social content should originate from social insight, not the boardroom. They could have run the entire campaign as an FAQ and name checked a bunch of contributors, at least getting a few advocates on-side, instead of the Facebook equivalent of contract publishing.

5. As with all user-generated content, it helps to both show what a good response looks like and (unless you are doing a poll) don't ask Boolean questions. 'Would you like your money to go further?' Used to look great on a print ad, but is an invite for serious flaming in any social environment.

6. Find some tangible way to reward positive sentiment. I'm not saying buy them, but at least bribe them - would have thought the banks had a lot of experience there!

7. Brands used to be able to hide from their corporate roots. Those days are long past and regardless of whether or not your particular 'bit' of the business is doing nothing but 'good', you absorb all of the negativity surrounding it.

8. If you want to be 'the bank of the people', perhaps you should do more than just talk to them in PowerPoint language?

9. Reputation Management (aka 'Astroturfing') is hard at the best of times. It's substantially easier if you can demonstrate how a business has changed. We want to be shown real change, not told about it and expected to believe in 'fumes' of faith.

10. Follow your own advice when it comes to social media. If you have no intention of joining the conversation, don't use social channels, such as Facebook.

Do you think Barclays achieved their objectives? Are they any worse than anyone else in how they use social media? What examples have you been party to where this has been done well? How can organisations with tarnished reputations clean up their image?

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