How to manage the web of social media

SOCIAL media has revolutionised the way that companies communicate with their clients, allowing instant responses to customer needs. Whether via embedded instant messenger (IM) help on a customer query site or publicising your latest pension offering, social media can help your business.

British retail banks are hardly known for their willingness to embrace change and technology. An American accustomed to being able to scan in a cheque using their iPhone and deposit it in their bank instantly finds themselves tearing their hair out at the prospect of going to the bank, filling in a slip and waiting 5 to 7 working days for the sum to clear to their account. However social media is not something that needs to be feared. It just requires a plan – what do you want to achieve from it? Do you want to improve communication with clients? Do you want to use it as a source of cheaper advertising? Do you want to test out new products?

Though Facebook may be seen as the first port of call as the largest of all the social networks, it is not necessarily the most efficient when it comes to customer interaction and feedback. A user liking a page should not be seen as real, concrete customer interaction. You may have got 10,000 people liking your page, but beyond some additional brand recognition, unless you then follow it up with communication with your clients, then it is not worth very much. So how about the others in the social media family? Financial services have the second highest usage of LinkedIn, topped only by high-tech. Some may see LinkedIn as simply a tool for individuals to build their own networks. But with the right strategy, financial institutions can make it work for them, and provide a useful tool to connect with retail clients. Through the use of groups, they can target management-level decision makers with a business-to-business focus. It can also be used by banking product developers to interact with the target market for their offerings. By encouraging an ongoing conversation with their target audience, they can fine-tune the product every step of the way – improving efficiency and the ability to tailor your product to its market. And the metrics of a successful use of this outlet are easy to measure – levels of interaction with clients and activity within managed groups and posts.

Twitter is probably the most difficult to manage. Done badly, you are just firing 140 word press releases into the ether. Done well and you can interact with clients and make them feel valued by your business as well as helping them to troubleshoot problems. Receiving a tweet of advice about a problem is a lot more personal and friendly than having to wait on the telephone on hold for 20 minutes.

Social media is not just for communicating with clients and potential clients. Enterprise solutions, such as Yammer and Salesforce Chatter, can help companies to improve the organisation of their workforce allowing secure but instant communication across a global network of offices. But as with all things, they need to ensure that they have the appropriate controls in place, and that systems managers need to make sure that they adhere to compliance rules for the recording of information.

The bottom line is that social media has much to offer the financial sector, but it needs to be part of a targeted and carefully considered strategy.