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Thursday, 14 May 2009

Should Financial Services brands be engaged on the social web?

The answer to the above is yes of course they should be. The more pertinent question is how should they be engaged? In an environment where trust in Financial Services brands has all but disappeared and Martin Lewis and Robert Peston have become the go to sources of advice for consumers it's going to be difficult to jump feet first into social media, an environment where trust is the key currency.

So, what should Financial Services brands be doing? Well at an absolute basic level there should be a core centralised listening strategy. If you're not monitoring what's being said, where it's being talked about and who's shaping the discussion across the whole of the social web (whatever that is) then you can't hope to reach engagement. That means developing a set of tools of which there are a multitude and analysis of the output tools that informs all the functions internally that the conversations touch.

Once that's done you can start to filter the conversations to understand what's really important and what can be realistically ignored for now.

Then it comes down to basic marketing and PR principles. Identify the content that will be of interest, arm the right set of people internally to use that content. Frame the message in a way that is helpful and concentrate on the message not the medium. Once that's done you can engage.

A classic recent example of how to engage positively and helpfully was Norwich Union's engagement with Ade Bridgewater on Twitter. Ade a journalist and influential twitter user had had a terrible experience with a Norwich Union customer care call and decided to really take them to the cleaners through his Twitter profile. However, Norwich Union were listening, they got in contact with him directly and put him in touch with the relevant department to sort out his issues. As a result he had nothing but good things to say on his profile thereafter. Job done.

Engagement has to be approached differently. Think of it as turning the sales process on it's head. You do all the aftersales first and then you can get to a sale sometime in the future. If a brand is thinking of engaging it has to be helpful, useful, valuable, trustworthy, an ally and a facilitator to users whether they are conducting a personal or a business transaction. Until you are all those things and you are conducting all of those functions where users are, you can't expect people to start trusting you.

Once they do begin to trust you though you can think about developing social destination points, whether that be a Facebook group or a Twitter brand embassy. After all you've put in the work to earn the right to be there and people will eventually come to you as long as you continue to be an advisory centre rather than a sales channel.

In short social media engagement should happen in five stages:

1. Assess
Listen to the conversation – identify where the chat is
Identify what you hold internally that would be useful for an external audience

2. Filter
Where’s the influence? – don’t worry about every single comment or post
What’s the real sentiment? – how is it weighted?

3. Generate
What does your audience want to be hearing?
Need to be developing editorial content that is engaging

4. Engage
At all multi-layered customer touch points
Focus on message not medium – go to your audiences and build trust first

5. Distribute
Finally become a destination point
Become an enabler for conversations that enhance reputation
Build brand embassies

Get all this right and you can create huge equity as we move onwards towards an era of social commerce.

Crispin Heath
Head of Digital

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