It’s often a challenge for financial services companies to find new and more effective strategies for social media.

One major reason is that all too often, social media strategies are based on making brands more “likeable” and using social media to get more likes on Facebook or more followers on twitter.

But there’s a different more effective approach: instead of being more likeable, how about being more interesting?

What does it mean to be more interesting?

The idea comes from a concept called the “interest graph.” Many of us have heard of the “social graph,” the graph of connections we make on social networks based on people we know such as friends on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn.

The interest graph is different. It’s based on the idea of starting with your interests and then building connections with people based on these shared interests. The result can be a more powerful and connected community that can share a single-minded passion for a subject or topic. Pinterest, GetGlue and Springpad are examples of new platforms that are taking advantage and growing around the use of the interest graph.

How can you be more interesting?

At its heart, being more interesting is about taking advantage of the power and potential of the interest graph. Instead of building a social media strategy around people who know and “like” each other and then getting them to like us, wouldn’t it be more effective to start with people who share the same interests, build a connection with them and then help them spread our message?

The obvious question then is: how do we get more interesting? Or even better, how do we make potentially “boring” financial service products more interesting? Well, just like in life, if we want to be more interesting we need to find out what people around us are interested in. One way to start is by taking a good hard look at your customers or prospects and seeing where their interests or passions might intersect with your core service offerings. American Express was able to do this with OpenForum

American Express and OpenForum

Originally launched in 2007, OpenForum set out to become a resource and social networking hub for small business owners. With its unique blend of relevant content, resources and community, OpenForum helped make Amex interesting to small business owners.

It was focused on their passion of helping grow and build their businesses instead of being about American Express’ latest financial product. As a result, OpenForum has grown rapidly with well over 1 million unique visitors and year over year growth above 350%. More importantly, Amex has been able to develop a variety of new products and features focused on small businesses that have grown from what they learned by listening to customers, and more recently non-customers, on OpenForum.

Building an interest strategy with limited resources

But since the vast majority of us don’t have the resources of American Express, what can we do to build an interest strategy? The first and most important place to start is by listening to customers and discovering the wide sphere of topics that interest them. Then, see if you can relate these interests to your own services.

For example, if you are a bank who wants to build awareness of local branches, you may find that an interest in housing preservation could be a topic that resonates locally and would ultimately connect to real estate loan services. If you are an auto insurer you might want to create content and build discussion with drivers interested in hybrids or innovative technology, as Progressive Insurance did with the Automotive X Prize.

Of course, just like in real life, becoming interesting is not easy. It requires a shift of resources and a shift of thinking. Financial service marketers will be challenged to find and create content outside of their traditional areas of expertise. They will also have to learn to start by first considering customer interests, and then communicating their own business interests linked to those customer passions.

The rewards of being more interesting

But also like in real life the rewards of becoming more interesting can be significant. Being more interesting creates an opportunity for both sides to win. Customers gain a platform to focus their interests and marketers gain loyalty, advocacy and deeper insights into what their customers and prospects want.

These insights could be translated into new products, services and collaborations that might ultimately benefit all.