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In the first of a series of three posts, we've been talking to key figures at first direct about how the bank has integrated social media across its marketing efforts.

Here, Amanda Brown, first direct’s head of public relations, talks about how the case for social media was initially put forward within the bank and the challenges involved...

When did you start to look at using social media? 

In 2007 our then CEO was interested in blogging and felt that whilst it was something the bank should be looking at seriously, we weren’t quite sure of its application to the banking sector and we hadn’t looked at the legal side of things, but nevertheless, the technology looked like it was something we should at least make an effort to understand. 

We’ve always been a bank that keeps a close eye on what our customers are saying about us and by 2008 it was clear that there were conversations happening of which we knew nothing and with which we didn’t engage.

From a brand point of view, knowing you’re vulnerable in that way is a pretty strong incentive to make a change and so we started to look much more seriously at the issue.

It quickly became clear that not only was the potential was staring us in the face, it was more or less completely untapped.

Why did you decide to take this initial interest further? 

There was an article in one of the marketing trade magazines that presented us with a statistic that, in my mind at least, framed the argument brilliantly. It said that only 30% of financial institutions had any social media presence at all despite the fact that 80% of them were being actively discussed in social media channels.

We’ve always appealed more to the over 25’s so tackling the internal perception that social media was something only teenagers used was a challenge.

Studies at the time were showing that around two thirds of 25 to 30 yr olds were regular social network users and that beyond this age group, use dropped off.

It was abundantly clear where the trends were heading. When coupled with some of the data on journalistic use of social media coming from places like marketwire, two key strands began to emerge.

It demonstrated that, whilst personal use of social media was being spearheaded by younger people, there was a (surprisingly) large and rapidly growing group of people using social media as tools for their professional lives. Most notably, journalists. 

Secondly, that whilst the volume use of social media was skewed towards a younger group, the fundamentals of that interaction (primarily, the power of peer recommendation) were equally applicable to our customers. 

These two key areas went on to become the founding principles of everything we’ve done in social media over the last two years. It was about propagating that understanding.

  • People trust people like them, more so than ever when it comes to financial services.
  • People want to interact with you on their terms, whether that’s journalists wanting to get news stories via Twitter or customers wanting to publicly engage with us on Talking Point.

Looking back, what stands out the most is how contextually sensitive the internal case is.

How did you convince people internally that social media could be valuable for first direct? What were the challenges? 

We focused on isolating and interrogating the areas that would make a real difference to the business and in doing so we were able to achieve the necessary buy in to build up a critical mass within the organisation. 

Fortunately as a business first direct is always looking a new ways to challenge convention or to use what's already available more intuitively and better.  

So whilst there was a great understanding that this was a channel we should be developing, as a bank the compliance and regulatory concerns proved the biggest concerns.

However, we've found that by applying the same principles to social media for communicating with and to customers and prospects, the guidelines that are in place for traditional channels of communication can operate in social media.

Graham Charlton

Published 21 July, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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