[Dave Birch] Some time ago, in the early days of Twitter, I happened to be involved in some work concerning a financial institution’s social media strategy. I was rather rude about the idea of setting up a Facebook page, because I couldn’t see the point, but it was nothing to do with me or any of the other technical persons. I was reminded of this episode this morning, when I read about another organisation’s Facebook-related travails.

It wasn’t long before Barclays’ Facebook page devolved into a minefield of jokes lambasting the company, which only served to highlight the socioeconomic rift between the banking institution and its customers.

[From Epic Fail: Barclays’ Facebook Debacle Highlighted the Chasm Between the Bank and Its Customers]

Well, given current circumstances this is hardly unexpected. As a naturally curious person, I thought I’d go and look at a few bank Facebook pages to see what sort of things they did. But I gave up almost immediately, since I realised that I’d have no way of knowing which of them might be real or not. Here’s what I got when I searched for Lloyds, for example. Real? Who knows. It’s certainly boring enough to have come from a bank, but that’s not much of a clue. Still, given Facebook’s noted “real names” policy, it probably is true and I’m sure it’s safe, just like the NatWest page that I found. I went to the Barclays Online Banking Facebook page and I couldn’t even work out what it was. This Barclays’ page looks quite plausible, but as a security-concious consumer I wasn’t sure whether to click on anything or not. Perhaps the British Bankers’ Association has some list of the real Facebook pages. I’ll check.

In the meantime, I expect that if I call NatWest they can point me to the their public key certificate that I can use to check the digital signature on the Facebook page so that… no, just joking. But all of this begs a more general question. What was the Facebook page for? What could customers do? Open accounts? Send money? Pay bills? No. As is generally true of Facebook pages for financial institutions, it was all about communications. There’d be no point a bank e-mailing my kids since they never read e-mail, so I suppose if you could persuade them to “friend” your bank you might be able get the odd status update into their field of vision.

At the Credit Suisse Research Institute 2012 meeting, experts discussed the benefits of social media over traditional communication tools, as well as the constraints – the most significant of which regards the current regulatory environment.

[From Credit Suisse – Banking on Social Media]

In fact, all of this potentially interesting discussion was actually about marketing. I’m no expert on marketing or social media, but I would imagine that the key to social media strategy is interaction and the whole web 2.0 thang about user-generated content and such like. For any organisation to just use a Facebook page to broadcast marketing messages seems like a missed opportunity for a richer connection with customers. If this is the right line of thinking, then the strategy ought to consider what customers might actually want to do in that context. For banks, I suspect that what they want to do is transact. What about the benefits of social media over traditional transaction tools? As I’ve said before (many times)

I’m naturally more interested in social media for transactions: social commerce.

[From Friends and relations]

I’ve bored some of our clients about this enough over the last couple of years, and I won’t rehearse the arguments here, but I will say that I think there’s evidence that the social commerce approach for financial institutions is sound. Customers want to do banking in their context and given that their context is increasingly within social media, it makes sense to move banking there.

Facebook announced that it is testing an online-banking service with Australia’s Commonwealth Bank expected to debut this year. The new system lets people make payments to other Facebook users, and will become a test of how well Facebook can handle the deep-science realities of financial privacy and security.

[From Facebook Announces Online-Banking Test – Forbes]

If Facebook do crack the privacy and security side of things, then they will become the route to banking for a great many consumers, frankly, and I don’t know whether financial organisations of all kinds have yet developed an effective strategy to deal with social media gatekeepers other than to pay them. Perhaps if their products and services could develop a direct relationship with the customer using social media channels (rather than simply provide those products and services inside the social media context) then they can become valued by customers.

I don’t want to be friends with my bank—after all, I’m a typical consumer so I hate banks—but I do want to be friends with my bank account.

[From Friends and relations]

My Barclays mobile banking app works really well and I can’t imagine any circumstance under which I’d bother going to their Facebook page, even if I could work out which one it is, but I might be tempted to venture outside the app if for richer social media interaction. At the moment Barclays interaction with me is basically limited to alerts by text message, which is fine, but does waste their money as well as limiting the amount of information. I’d rather have richer data sent through Twitter or as Facebook updates or whatever. Why can’t I have every transaction on any of my accounts sent through to me? 

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of 
Consult Hyperion or any of its clients or suppliers

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