As I looked a little deeper though, I began to realise that marketing comms aren’t a huge problem for the brand, which has invested heavily in video (we’ll look at that in a bit more depth in a moment) and clearly has a variety of skilled teams at the helm of its accounts.

The problem for HSBC is how those accounts are organised.

Too many accounts

Let’s start by running a quick search on each major platform.

As you can see HSBC is busy on Twitter:

HSBC Twitter accounts

And Facebook:

And LinkedIn:

And even poor old Google+ is a heavily-laden minefield:

Keep things consistent

There’s a lack of consistency and visibility across all these channels that is clearly confusing to the customer.

It took me a while to hunt down the correct @HSBC_UK Twitter account, before realising I would actually need to contact @HSBC_UK_HELP.

The main account seems to spend the majority of its time redirecting confused users, and this seems to be a common issue around the globe.

It’s also fairly clear from follower numbers where customers actually want to go. While the ‘main account’ has yet to attract 1,000 followers, the help account has racked up more than 12,000.

It isn’t unusual for larger companies to split their social media out this way, and with more than 7,500 local offices, providing a variety of localised channels makes sense from a customer service perspective.

Unfortunately there’s a lack of process and hierarchy here that seems to be adding to the confusion, meaning resources are stretched and customers are left unsatisfied.

Over on Facebook, the situation is similar. Engagement is decent, but the number of comments that actually refer to the posts are lacking.

Almost all of the comments are from customers seeking help, but they are being redirected to email or call centres who, again, may not be equipped to deal efficiently with the variety of issues, as this conversation illustrates:

This harks back to an old adage about social media; the customers are the ones that decide how a channel is used. If customer service is needed, then it’s important that it’s in the right place and properly resourced.

At least some of this could be resolved by thinking about naming conventions, and providing clearer redirect links.

There are currently no links to social accounts on HSBC’s main web pages (which also lack a clear ‘contact us’ redirect).

While accounts like @HSBC_UK and @HSBC_US do have redirects to their respective help accounts, I can’t help thinking that a link to a global help directory, or at the very least a list in the sidebar would be useful.

The two sides of social

Over on YouTube, things look slightly different.

HSBC has clearly invested in the platform, with a slick channel that effectively delivers a range of messaging, from the (admittedly corny) consumer facing:

To business-focussed content – replete with ‘apprentice’ style opening credits – designed to showcase the group’s thought leadership:

There are also some excellent “Investment Outlook” videos that do a good job of chopping down complex information into bite-size, easily understandable chunks:

Overall the marketing content is good, if a little too ‘adverty’, but again, engagement is fairly low.

I’m tempted to believe this is because users don’t tend to see YouTube as a customer service channel, and there’s only so much you can say about ad videos beyond ‘this is a good/bad advert’.

Seeing social media as a single-use channel is one that dogs many businesses, especially as it’s often the case that social teams have grown organically out of the marketing department.

Building a flexible team structure that can cover a variety of needs requires in-depth planning and can be difficult once accounts are already in place.

This leaves HSBC with a complex problem. Engagement is obviously important to the company, and it is making a strong attempt to provide customer service, but it seems that there is a focus on creating positive engagement around marketing material and a fear of losing control of the message.

Users meanwhile clearly want a streamlined customer service channel.

HSBC may need to realise that negative engagement still counts and turning those frowns upside-down is often vastly more valuable than simply impressing people with your marketing.

Process-driven solutions

The most effective approach would probably be to restructure internal teams, or at the least utilise social media monitoring software in a way that allows more efficient tagging and response across teams and channels.

It might also be worth HSBC’s time to conduct a channel audit and assign a consistent naming structure and publish the aforementioned address list to aid findability.

This kind of process-driven organisation of social channels seems counter intuitive in many cases. Social is meant to be real-time. Even, dare I say it… agile. But consistency really does pay dividends.

Similarly, just as with other parts of the web, a focus on the customer experience can work wonders.

Here HSBC needs to stop worrying about being everywhere and think more clearly about the user journey when there is a problem.

This may not be the difference between good and great, but it’s often the difference between ‘works’ and ‘infuriating and terrible’.

Meeting customer needs

It may seem like I’m picking on HSBC here, but there’s actually a lot of good work going on.

It’s a tough market with complicated problems that need swift resolution, many of these issues do need to be taken to other channels to be dealt with effectively, and there’s a looming mire of regulatory controls that differ in each territory.

The teams are doing a consistent, solid job of resolving things, but they can only do this if the problems actually reach them.

While it can be a difficult process, internal restructuring can work wonders and open up a world of possibilities for social media channels, as well as increasing customer satisfaction over time.

Above all it feels as though HSBC needs to stop worrying about whether or not people really love its ads (although content is obviously incredibly important), and think in more depth about how it can reduce friction in the online customer journey.

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