Vox Pop: how should financial services be using social?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Tesco Bank aims to be more ‘approachable’ by running their own social network. Tesco Bank will be launching their own platform, which will mimic the likes of Reddit, rather than Facebook or Twitter, for customers to ask questions and receive guidance from fellow users. Tesco Bank’s head of digital marketing, Manila McLean said “It’s all about transparency.” The Drum Network asks its members; how should financial services really be using social to their advantage?

Laura Jenkins, social media manager, Thinking Juice

Social is a powerful channel to humanise a brand and help them connect and communicate on a more personal level with their customers. In the financial industry, social can help customers to communicate how and when they want to communicate with banks – through comments and direct messages. It enables a two-way conversation. However, in an industry heavily driven by compliance, representing brand personality is a risk, as every individual acting on social must represent the brand and comply with all regulations applied to all other channels.

Banks can really add value to their customers’ lives through social, by offering them a variety of content that can both inform and educate, thus empowering their decision-making. As a channel, like many others, it plays a role in hosting brand and campaign content. Perhaps one of its biggest challenges is that it’s as much about pull content as it is about pushing messaging. There is an opportunity in playing a larger role within the sector, through widening the conversation and offering more than their core proposition. This can help to grow the bank in the customer’s eyes from a simple account or loan into a source of authority, advice and support.

On an individual level, social presents a huge challenge in terms of managing customer service effectively due to its conversational nature and the requirement to truly understand the business.

Colin Jacobs, client services director, Immediate Future

Firstly, to dispel some myths: there aren’t finance specific social solutions, just like there aren’t standalone solutions for B2C, differing to those deployed to B2B. Whatever your industry of choice, social is about serving thumb-stopping content to relevant audiences. Foremost, social wins because of the vast amount of data available to us. Across-the-board businesses have woken up to the potency of social segmentation for targeting and re-targeting. And this goes well beyond utilisation of available demographic and personal data. Align the right smart minds with affective tools and your results are compelling – a tool on its own or in the hands of a novice, not so.

Now envisage layering this information with your usual demographic and personal data and the results are compelling: a highly targeted audience and you know their social channel(s) of choice, what their interests, likes and behaviours are - all a bit ‘big brother’ I hear you say, and possibly so. However, as marketers, we pride ourselves on being able to serve relevant content to relevant audiences. That’s our mission, irrespective of whether we operate within Finance, other industries, or a PR, marketing or digital agency.

The same detailed thinking also needs to be applied to how we identify the ‘moments’ our brands have the right to play into. Define your channel strategy based on your current and future customer needs and their behaviours and likes by channel; do that and you’ll thrive on each of your social channels. Alternatively, you can spend significant budget building a new social platform, advertising it and endeavouring to acquire customers. Granted, it will be a cute PR story, but given the extensive number of emerging social platforms who’ve failed, I would question the chance of success.

Shirra Smilansky, head of business growth, BD Network

Without first redefining their transactional banking experience to a social one, Tesco Bank creating their own 'Reddit style' social network, is - excuse my cynicism -perhaps going a step too far. Though peer-to-peer customer service has scope to add value, it is maybe better suited to sectors with greater advocacy and passion in their customer base.

The banking model is fast being redefined, and has seen innovation away from physical retail and towards a brand oriented customer experience and positive transactional journey, especially on mobile. The landscape is fast evolving and finance brands are re-evaluating their social opportunity.

A new herd of ‘social’ finance brands are emerging and blurring the category lines between transactional ‘finance’ and consumer centric mobile tech products. Atom Bank, a new virtual banking brand designed entirely for mobile is set for launch, claiming it will be the first bank to entirely allow the customer to personalise it. Atom even provides customers options to entirely change the banks name and colour scheme!

First redefine your mobile UX to be fit for a positive social experience and sentiment, then brand advocacy and positive social sentiment should follow suit naturally.

Rich Henderson, senior digital account manager, JJ Marketing

For financial services, there are, of course, the great targeting opportunities that social offers but many miss the vast opportunity for creativity.

Social could offer a solution to the frustration that many customers feel when faced with unfriendly opening hours – where messaging apps could be used for customer service. Messaging apps look to be the major social channels of the future and financial service companies would do well to embrace this trend. We are starting to see companies, like Newegg, offering customer service through these channels and communicate through the medium that is best for the consumer.

Financial services could and should be seeing the potential social offers for expanding and refining their offering. Not only can you open conversation at a time and place that is convenient for both the business and customer but there are so many opportunities that social lends itself to financial services. Social payments seem like an obvious route, and one where progress has already been made through services like PayM. In a world where you can now order a taxi through WhatsApp, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could pay for it in the same application?

How should the financial services be using social to their advantage? The same way everyone should – by using it to make their services better and whether you create your own platform like Tesco Bank, or utilise the already popular and downloaded, social is all about opening up the opportunity for conversation.

Jane Hovey, strategist, Gravity Thinking

The issue of trust, is not new but the financial services industry has never really found the answer. In fact, in the intervening years, public trust has actually gotten worse. Social media is part of the solution as it is a great place to build brands and improve customer experience. It's also a wonderful research tool to help companies really understand their customers concerns and engage in a human way- for real people financial service products are enablers, not an end in themselves.

Brand building campaigns are one thing but consumers are not stupid. Companies people trust have to be built on credible business models - brand campaigns alone won't cover up corrupt practices at the highest levels. People trust people more than brands- social is great for advocacy and getting to know the people who work for a company. To change perceptions, there needs to be demonstrations of real industry change.

Many financial services brands struggle to get round FSA guidelines for social and this may be why Tesco is looking to set up its own community. But I am not sure it is going to work – it is still owned by a brand that hasn’t got the strongest reputation. There are more trusted peer to peer communities like Money Saving Expert already in existence. The best results for brands in social media are from going to where people are and joining the conversation in a relevant, respectful and human way.

Pauline McLaughlin, director of PR & social, Equator

What Tesco Bank is doing is commendable but not unique. Establishing an online community is a model that has been adapted by many banks and other large organisations for many years with varying levels of success. Ultimately the aim is to build a community of engaged customers providing peer to peer support and acting as brand ambassadors promoting the brand to their own networks. If successful, the community can also be used to pilot new products and initiatives and sound out new ideas.

An online community of this nature should complement rather than replace mainstream social channels as a bespoke platform will only appeal to a limited group of existing customers and does not have the brand building or customer acquisition potential of Facebook, Twitter etc.

Karen Lewis, head of digital strategy, Intermarketing

Tesco Bank’s social network launch is a great example of how financial services can effectively use social to their advantage. The brand is now at much less risk of getting lost across a range of social platforms via which it is proving increasingly difficult to gain a share of voice, build followings, reach wider audiences, and have meaningful engagement.

Meanwhile, customers gain a listening post and the opportunity to interact with and get advice from the bank and their peers. And, rewarding interaction from contributors will no doubt be the secret of the new network and brand’s success.

However, the call for transparency and launch of the community platform is not in itself pioneering. Other financial services brands have launched – and subsequently closed – similar initiatives. At a time when challenger brands like Mondo and Atom are promising to revolutionise the banking sector, Tesco may need to go further to truly rebuild their brand.

The real key to this platform’s success will be in its continued investment and evolution. Tesco needs to commit ongoing resource to maintain the community and sustain interest from contributors, or otherwise it just becomes a nice gimmick.

Ked Mather, senior account director, MWWPR

Given the recent scandals , better transparency is clearly something that all financial services brands should work towards. It can help bring back trust amongst consumers. Creating a social network like Tesco bank has done is a major step towards this. It allows consumers to provide a range of opinions about the bank’s services as they converse with one another as Tesco sit back, listen and take necessary action. However, whilst Tesco might have the digital expertise in-house to run with and implement such an idea, the stark reality is that many brands within the financial services industry are simply not up to speed to achieve this so quickly in the social space. Some of these brands may not even have fully functional social channels and may not be responding regularly to incoming enquiries.

To this end, and before anything else, brands and businesses within the financial services industry should set out to show that they truly understand their existing and potential consumer. The consumer’s motivation, emotional and rational feelings and their reason for using social networks and the true role the brand can play in this journey should all be considered. Once you know this then the right channel can be applied to fit the need. Whilst recent reports may inform us that twitter is in decline, it is still a valuable tool to interact with consumers more directly as a brand can look to own issues which relate to them - building transparency. Of course, there are plenty of consumer issues relating to financial services but these should all be seen as opportunities to address them in an open forum where deep engagements and meaningful conversations between consumers and the brand can be had.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.