Gone are the days of waiting in a queue in a branch or on the phone to talk to your bank.
Today, customers are able to quickly raise their issues through social media, and it has become an important method for banks to build relationships with their customers and to reach a younger audience.
As is true for success in any business, it is important to be where your customers are, and future banking customers are online.
So how are the UK’s biggest banks using social media?
Barclays has a number of different branded Twitter accounts for each of its areas of business, sponsorships and services (we counted nearly 20!), including Careers, Cycle Hire and Barclays Stockbrokers.
Its biggest following comes from its official title sponsor’s feed for Barclays Premier League football supporters @BarclaysFooty, which has 106,348 followers and regularly posts content relating to the football Premier League teams and matches, as well as running competitions to win tickets to games, and promoting its #YouAreFootball campaign.
Meanwhile, @Barclayswealth, its Twitter page for Barclays wealth and investment management, has 17,231 followers, and pushes out regular content generally about financial services and economy.
While Barclays’ Twitter account dedicated to ‘news’ (@Barclays) has 6,048 followers, it is the customer service account @BarclaysOnline (16,616 followers) that has the most interaction with followers.
Barclays promotes its Twitter customer service through a link from its website ‘Contact Us’ page, actively encouraging its customers to contact Barclays via Twitter.
@BarclaysOnline responds to queries/complaints via Twitter Monday-Friday between 8am and 8pm, meaning that potentially complaints and criticisms could be unanswered but visible to the wide Twitter audience for almost 12 hours overnight and even longer at weekends.
However, during the working hours, Barclays is relatively quick to reply to Tweets, although having a 140 character limit means that it often spends quite a while trying to resolve the issue publicly via Twitter before eventually asking customers to email.
Barclays regularly updates its Facebook page and has received over 328,000 ‘likes’. Similar to its Twitter account, Barclays delivers customer service through Facebook, responding to comments and wall posts and engaging with customers between 8am and 8pm, Monday-Friday.
It also uses its Facebook page as a promotional tool, advertising competitions it is running, promoting its services and products such as its Lifeskills programme and personalised debit cards, and pushing other campaigns, like #YouAreFootball.
To promote Barclays’ launch of Your Bank – Barclays’ new website for its customers to share their ideas on how Barclays can improve everyday banking - Barclays ran live discussions on Facebook every day for a week. This coincided with a promoted #YourBank trend on Twitter in the middle of the week.
This was a great way to launch the new customer feedback website, as it engaged with customers and enabled people to join in a live discussion with senior Barclays personnel around topics of interest to them, such as ‘Mobile Banking’ and ‘Local Branches’.
Barclays does have a LinkedIn presence, but the main profile page is used mainly for recruitment and posting job vacancies.
There are some areas on the profile that are still incomplete, and Barclays could make better use of its profile page to highlight their products and services.
However, Barclays is a lot more active on LinkedIn Groups.
While Barclays does have a Google+ page, with 808 followers, it is not actively posting on the page.
HSBC also has a number of different Twitter accounts for different areas of its business, such as the Press Office and Careers, and also for the different countries it has branches in, e.g. HSBC Brazil, HSBC Mexico.
In the UK, HSBC promotes its official customer service Twitter feed on its website as a means for customers to contact the bank.
Compared to @BarclaysOnline, @HSBC_UK_Help has a much smaller Twitter following, with only 5,769 followers. This is despite the fact that it is managed seven days a week, 7am-11pm, and is quick to respond to customer queries and complaints.
HSBC has a Facebook page set up dedicated to students, which has over 134,000 ‘likes’ and actively engages with its student audience on a daily basis.
HSBC also runs its annual student bursary competition via its Facebook page – creating brand ambassadors by giving something back to its Facebook fans.
However, it seems that students are the only customers able to interact with HSBC via Facebook, as the main HSBC Bank Facebook page is inactive and appears to be unmanned with no replies from HSBC Bank on the questions and complaints posted on the page.
HSBC does have a LinkedIn page, with 320,765 followers, but it is not regularly posting any content other than job adverts. However, it does have more LinkedIn content than Barclays overall, highlighting its Products & Services and even sharing video content.
HSBC also has an open LinkedIn Group with over 11,500 members, but a lot of the discussions posted are unrelated to banking or finance.
HSBC has a few different Google+ pages, none of which are actively used. The main HSBC Google+ page has 878 followers, with 675 people having HSBC in their circles, yet the generic Google-issued cover image hasn’t been updated to reflect the HSBC branding and there are no posts.
NatWest also has a variety of Twitter accounts, but it is its Customer Service team at @NatWest_Help and @Natwest_Help2 that has the biggest following (over 21,600 followers). @NatWest_Help is managed 7 days a week, 8am-8pm, and responds quickly to direct Tweets.
It also proactively searches for mentions of NatWest and replies to them, too. In the case of complaints about other banks with mentions of switching, @NatWest_Help helpfully Tweets with offers of assistance and the link to their Account Switching webpage, making potential new customers feel valued.
Natwest has an active Facebook page with over 131,000 ‘likes’. It posts content regularly and delivers customer service via Facebook by replying to customer posts and comments.
It also promotes its latest campaigns and advertising, and engages with its customers through quizzes.
NatWest has a couple of LinkedIn pages but is very inactive, having not even updated its profile picture from the default and doesn’t appear to be utilising this platform at all.
Of the three banks we have discussed, NatWest is the most active on Google+ - although fresh content is not posted regularly. It has 2,588 followers and 281 people have NatWest in their Circles.
But it has not updated its cover image to remain consistent with the branding on its Facebook and Twitter pages, suggesting that it isn’t following a clear strategy for its Google+ management.
NatWest used Pinterest to showcase its ‘Pigs by Kids’ competition entries when it was looking for a new piggy bank mascot.
The competition was open to children aged 13 years and younger, so using social media was a great way to reach this younger audience. The bank has not used Pinterest since this competition ran in November 2012, however.
Overall, while each bank has a presence across the main social media platforms, they are primarily focusing on using Facebook and Twitter to deliver customer service.
None of the banks are shying away from complaints on social media, and are quickly acting to appease disgruntled customers.
This shows that they all place importance on these platforms for interaction with their customers, even if most of the issues cannot be solved over social media and require following up by telephone or email.
But, there is room for banks to use Google+ and LinkedIn to engage with current customers and potential customers, and to get more creative with their content across all platforms.