Social Media and social media data in financial services

Despite being well established in most industries and part of the daily routine for large numbers of people around the world, the financial services industry still appears to be struggling with the reality of how and where social media should be used effectively.

In my previous working life, I was Head of Digital for a large Private Bank; part of a massive global banking business with a diverse range of clients from every walk of life.

Banking businesses such as my previous employer and others that I have encountered along the way since, continue to struggle with social media and how it fits in with finance. This is pretty consistent across the industry and can even apply to startups.

Articles like this started a few years ago. Some things and some companies have changed, some haven’t.

Illustrating the problem perfectly of how social fits in with financial services was an instance not too long ago, when an idea was floated by one large bank to create a new network to ‘get in the social game’ and it was leaked to the creative media. Derision followed.

“the truth is that finance is a facilitation industry”

There are many other examples where others have tried and failed to innovate, both from those inside financial services and creative firms supplying banks seeking to change both perception and behaviour within a slow to change industry.

While easy to mock on face value if it were true, a few simple changes to treatment, target and technology might have resulted in something interesting for both the bank and some of their clients.

Social can work. As I discovered working with another premium bank, by methodically adjusting their social presence in small steps. This resulted in significant success, both in client appreciation and industry recognition.

So, for what it is worth, the following is my take on what it takes to do the same in a simplified format. Why it is why it is and the opportunities available. If you agree, disagree or have something else to say, DISQUS at the bottom of the post.

Context

The first thing anyone will tell you is that it isn’t easy. They’re right.

Local and international regulation, designed to rightly protect customers, becomes a barrier or at least a perceived barrier; shaping what you can and can’t say and how you can say it. This instantly creates a risk averse culture, with nobody wanting to take the blame for a potential mistake. (Quick credit to JP Morgan for being up front about an unsuccessful idea late last year):

Combine that with a generally more cautious approach to marketing and communications, more conservative brands, legacy technology and clients that don’t want their bank to be their friend for a variety of reasons, it is hardly an inspiring starting point.

That said, there are many ways banks and investment firms can approach social media. It just might not be trying to adopt the same approach to success as Burberry for example. The regulation accompanying such activity must be seen as a creative challenge and not a barrier to entry.

A large part of making a success is firstly understanding the context.

Overlooking the fact that we’ve recently (recent by generational standards) experienced a global financial meltdown and many see banks being the absolute cause of almost every social problem, the truth is that finance is a facilitation industry. We use it largely to take X and make Y. To facilitate a purchase of something we’re really interested in (and will talk about) or help us make money (or things). The good and the bad of that is another issue and for separate discussion.

Unlike fashion brands, for example, which we consume often to say something about ourselves. We don’t tend to externalise our financial arrangements. It’s very personal and fraught with exposure risk. It’s also a great deal more interesting to look at a pair of shoes than a product description for a fixed rate mortgage or a fixed income product. For most people anyway.

That makes one easier to create noise around over the other, in a more conventional and exciting way.

The fantasy vs the reality of banking and social media

Despite the above, all kinds of companies (not just finance firms) have tried to behave as though they are no different to a lifestyle brand, seeking retweets and likes for what is in all honesty, really dull content or content with a smaller/niche audience that is unlikely to create a great deal of benefit in social.

Of course a way to mitigate the dullness and achieve more is to adapt the brand to be more human in social. The CIA example below is a perfect illustration of how such a departure can lead to phenomenal results. Some older and slightly more eccentric approaches here as well.

Not everyone of course is able to do this, so an alternative or accompanying focus is to build a great content narrative and put a lot of effort into what you are saying and sharing as part of a wider plan.

Initiatives such as the Barclays ‘community bankers’ programme also have huge ability to translate, where service is the brand, with many doing this well already.

What is being used right now:

1. Facebook
Facebook is a classic place to find banks trying to replicate lifestyle brands. Activity isn’t restricted to retail banking either. You will find a variety of mass affluent, wealth management and investment firms on Facebook, despite questionable credentials as to the context and opportunity.

My personal view this is more appropriate (if seen as mandatory within an organisation) for retail or fintech propositions who are focused on service, rather than a private bank looking to share investment advice or seek feedback from clients. Not to say that investment advice will not receive any traction, but in such a people orientated environment it makes sense to focus on those relationships and how they can be served.

Wealthy clients of course are on Facebook. Nobody doubts that, but they walk down the street, eat in parks and catch taxis. It’s not enough justification to interrupt just because someone is there. An interesting piece on Yahoo Finance by David Randall illustrates the leaning toward more discrete approaches to wealth by Silicon Valley’s new millionaires.

2. Twitter
Pretty much most financial firms have setup a Twitter profile and there is indeed a massive base of people talking about finance and business on Twitter. It’s often considered a big part of the problem that banks either have little to say, or the capacity to say it quickly.

Both might be a little true, but it is also worth bearing in mind that one of the Twitter founders said that it was always seen as a platform to dip in and out of, commenting where there’s need or value. This, I personally think, is a perfectly reasonable way to view Twitter for banks – a democratic and neutral media point.

Where I think that there is a problem is for premium banking and private banking; particularly around client service, where discretion and security is still a bedrock of the proposition. It is never sensible for private banks and wealth managers to chase known clients or clients not seeking assistance. Perhaps a suitable alternative approach is to offer access to individuals from the firms, where they have a place in a peer group that is active on Twitter – for example, FX trading or macroeconomics.

Back to retail banking, and tools like SoDash are a great way to keep on top of emerging problems by monitoring and responding to them directly.

Saxo Bank utilised Twitter for live commentary on an event based in London recently, with a range of interesting themes. Not new, but this is another great way for banks to engage, but only worthwhile if the event is public and has the right audience.

3. Google+
I’ve read a few digital finance professionals rubbishing Google+. Given that G+ is more than a single social network and a group of tools tied together this might not be such a smart view.

Bank of America as big users of G+ have gone some way to disproving this, with around 70,000 followers.

I was about to write about how the author profile presents a great opportunity for banks to build the profile and visible expertise of individuals within search results. Author profile connected pieces generally benefitting from a higher CTR.

However, Google have just begun removing the benefits of author profiles in search which is a shame. According to Google, this was to simplify search results on devices, though some suggest it was to protect CPC revenues.

Hangouts also presents an opportunity, especially if a bank were to have an external authority host a session on small business for example, hiring notable bloggers and business people or industry specialists to create a discussion. The lack of numbers and time makes it harder in trading and wealth management but not impossible.

When you think of the industry (and investor) excitement around Woodford Investment Management, G+ would have been a great place to host a discussion when they were launching their fund.

4. LinkedIn
There are still a large number of banks completely ignoring LinkedIn. My personal belief is that the reason for this is three-fold. The first factor being that LinkedIn is primarily seen as a resume tool in the hands of individuals. The second that LinkedIn is a hiring tool. Pair those two together and you understand why LinkedIn themselves have been slower than perhaps they should be in delivering usable tools for business (the third reason).

linkedin-example-trendensity

It’s a shame, because there are a lot of great opportunities that could be built into LinkedIn and some obvious digital marketing potential already. The fact that data illustrates a number of points, including education and varying degrees of career trajectory, it should make the platform attractive to mass affluent and wealth propositions.

Niche trading firms and investment banks are best using the groups to help establish interest areas, where they can serve a need.

For senior management, there are some firms that look to unify the format of executive bios and profiles. From a branding point of view this is sensible, as potentially is the ability to link back to a profile from visual pages such as those offered by about.me and until recently, Vizify.

5. YouTube/Vimeo
For a long time YouTube has been the world’s second largest search engine. It’s only natural to want to put any video you have on there. Especially, if like financial firms, you don’t produce that many.

There’s promise of huge exposure and mass sharing. However, given the dry nature of a lot of content and many competitors offering the same, it’s easy to get lost.

Very old, but a good example of an alternative way of approaching YouTube in finance was Sean Park’s (now of Anthemis/@parkparadigm) AmazonBay video when he was working at Dresdner. Visioning a potential future to become a leader in that market area.

Vimeo presents an interesting alternative also, especially where arts and design sponsorship, common in wealth management, need to be promoted, with an artier audience.

6. Instagram and image sharing
Everyone loves Instagram and it’s easy to see why. In finance, I question the short-medium term benefit trying too hard to go there right now. It’s just too personally orientated and any attempt to try and look cool by image sharing will result in exactly the opposite. If you’re lucky, someone might give you a mention of something you offer or sponsor.

Partner and affinity partnerships do present opportunities, with art, design and fashion popular and visually attractive subjects.

An alternative to creating images to share, is to utilise existing content in blog posts and articles, creating visual metaphors – especially with solid evidence that social posts with accompanying images attract more attention.

Of course, when using user generated imagery, it is worth familiarising yourself with Creative Commons licensing standards and sites individual usage rights.

7. Short-form video sites like Vine
It seems like Vine has been around for a long time already. There are many examples of incredibly popular content already, as illustrated by Mashable’s 2013 best of Vine videos, featuring both commercial and non commercial examples.

For banks, this is difficult. The most sensible use right now would be if it tied in with a really innovative campaign that has a good chunk of traction amongst potential customers, for example showing an exclusive vine offshoot of a popular ad or piece of creative.

Alternatively, for informative purposes/how-tos, such as Virgin’s self service shorts for their new Americas launch (below).

8. Location based services such as Foursquare
Foursquare has had it’s share of problems but it’s not the only location based service and there are sure to be some more on their way soon. I’ve seen personally banks trying to make use of Foursquare in the wealth management space.

I would not recommend this at all. It’s another one of those that fits *ok* with the retail market, in pinpointing useful locations and in the event of operating a loyalty scheme, a great way to pinpoint offers. Investment firms would perhaps have an interest in the underlying data were it to correlate to economic activity, but otherwise I also do not see a good fit.

That said, location based data has to used only with explicit buy in. Don’t try and hide it.

Social trading and social media data in finance

Finance startups have shaken banking up a little and that’s largely a good thing.

Without doubt, many fintech startups are really interesting and have even started to reach very mature positions, which in turn has successfully pushed established companies into action on various fronts. A good example of this is social trading.

If your relationship with money is a little bit more hands on, or indeed you work in an investment orientated firm, then you will likely know about social trading and copy trades supported by investment communities and networking.

Companies like eToro and StockTwits have helped push this to the forefront of investing news and now more established providers such as Saxo Bank also have credible social trading options. Having recently attended one of the Saxo Bank Trading Debates, it was clear to see how pivotal this was to their business.

Oxford based startup TradeChase takes a similar but alternate view, where users can compete with each other in up-or-down predictions against the market, starting as a social trading game and maturing into a fully fledged trading bet platform.

It’s an interesting area to highlight as it illustrates to the wider market that being ‘social’ is ultimately about people. Create the correct context for the activity, the brand and the customer and there’s significant potential for success. Also illustrating that social business models do not have to squeeze into the big social provider’s solutions to succeed.

Which leads nicely onto the topic of social media data in finance and where TOMRW fits into this category.

Social data has great potential in finance, but it isn’t all about trading. Of course, tracking references to a stock/symbol or hashtag has a great deal of interest and rightly so, but there’s much more to it.

Our Social and News Index, TOMRW, can be used in a number of additional ways, in banking, trading or wealth management.

A good example of how a bank could use the index for retail banking would be to gauge customer demand and interest as well reception to products and services. Comparing these against their peers and acting on outcomes.

Combined with our Trendensity service, the index could also be used to work with Investor Relations departments in maintaining and managing shareholder relations.

Commercial banks with an SME client base could provide clients with a broad based reporting ability in order to assist them in gaining competitive intelligence through data.

Again, with the TOMRW index, brokers and investment banks can integrate the index with their trading platforms, both to offer an additional element of human market data and within the context of trading systems.

For private banks and wealth managers there is a compelling case to integrate the social data we offer in our feed into a variety of client solutions, which would create real differentiation. We’d like to keep this one under our hats for now, so it’s best to contact us to find out more.

What next for human data?

Data and banking are natural bedfellows. Spanish based bank BBVA is particularly committed to making data and banking a big deal amongst other innovations and one might argue that their recent acquisition, Simple, is largely a data proposition layered on top of a traditional banking/cards business.

We believe that social data has a big place in financial services and investments and what we are seeing now is only the beginning of a really exciting industry development, that we would love to talk to you about.

The caveats

The content above is of course, platform agnostic. For those wanting a fix on the latest things in mobile, read The Wall’s 10 mobile trends to watch. It is also orientated to Western market, so I would love to hear about other markets such as South America and Asia.

Follow the topic

We’ll shortly be releasing a white paper on social media and social media data in finance. If you would like to find out more about obtaining a copy, contact us or sign up for email updates in the footer of this page.

Final word

1. This might all change if finance heads in the direction Taylor Swift described the music industry

2. I have a great idea for a financial Tinder. Tweet/DM/FB/G+/Selfie/Chat/Connect me if interested

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