The rise of social media is one of the major changes society has witnessed over the past few years. It is changing the way that people communicate at a pace that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago.
Such is its influence that any marketing strategy that does not have a social media component cannot be considered complete.
The recent Social Media in Financial Services conference, organised by Marketforce, presented a valuable opportunity to review what has been learned by several of the early adopters in the market. It provided a fascinating insight with messages that are relevant for everyone from the smallest sole trader IFA to the biggest global financial intuition.
Almost every organisation that presented at the conference, except for technology suppliers offering social media services, began by suggesting they were late launching their social media propositions. In practice, the reverse is true of anyone who had experiences to share.
From the outset, Ian Morgan, head of financial services at Google, reinforced the relevance of these issues, pointing out that in the past year, more than half the adult population of the UK used the internet to research or purchase financial services.
LV= group e-commerce director Paul Wishman went on to identify that it is crucial to communicate social media successes internally, to secure ongoing support from those within organisations who may be more resistant to the inevitable changes that social media brings. He also stressed the need to recognise that organisations will no longer have control of their message.
Engage in social media and you are going to get criticism but if people are talking about your company, it is better to be in the conversation than conspicuous in your absence.
He highlighted the importance of recognising where an organisation has faults and the need to stay calm and focused when you get challenging enquiries. Most of all, he stressed that social media must be transparent because, in this arena, transparency equals credibility.
For me, this was one of the most important messages of the day.
Listening to Paul and other speakers during the day, it was clear that in many ways the approach to social media needs to be similar to that required for treating customers fairly, that is, to embed a customer-centric approach at the heart of the business.
I am hearing suggestions that the FSA is not abandoning its previous focus on TCF and still wants to see its principles at the core of regulated firms’ operations. With this in mind, it may be that the FSA has missed an opportunity by failing to follow Finra’s lead in the US, where the regulator has positively embraced social media and the opportunities it brings.
Kevin Traynor, vice-president of digital marketing at BlackRock, stressed the importance of listening to any social media strategy and said the investment made in listening and monitoring was the best money his organisation had spent in this area in the last year.
Traynor identified this as a crucial insight as BlackRock EMEA prepares to launch a social media channel in the third quarter of this year. He also pointed out that the top 10 financial blogs have 3.2 million readers.
This is an excellent demonstration of why it is now important for businesses to build relationships with key influencers such as bloggers and tweeters in the same way as they do with traditional journalists.
He closed by pointing out that “Google before you tweet is the new think before you speak,” something I think it is really important to remember from now on.
Social marketing specialist Neolane provided another valuable soundbite, high-lighting that, today, “share of mind equals share of wallet”, in addition to pointing out that what brands think customers want and what customers actually want can be very different – a view I believe has resonance in a much wider context in our industry.
Probably the most fascinating case study of the day came from Unum head of marketing Tim Jackson, who, having identified that “We had a social media exit strategy before we had a social media strategy,” went on to explain the role of social media in conjunction with the company’s TV advertising as a way to drive up demand for income protection – a product the company identified as being generally unknown by consumers. This offered a fascinating insight that is worthy of understanding in more detail.
As a measure of the success of its social media in terms of UK Facebook visitors, Unum has produced figures to show it is outperforming Axa, Scottish Widows, Prudential, Standard Life, Legal & General and Friends Life put together.
This must be a huge challenge to those far more high-profile brands to increase their social media involvement.
Noticeably, Aviva was recognised as even further ahead than Unum.
Jackson stressed the value of Twitter as a communication tool to journalists, key influencers and IFAs and confirmed a three-year commitment to the current campaign as it seems it is working well.
As a general rule, I find if I come away from a conference with one good idea or opportunity, my time has been well spent.
On this occasion, I came away with almost too many to count. Next year’s Social Media in Financial Services conference should be a key event for anyone whose role covers these areas.
Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre