In a series of three posts about first direct, I’ve been talking to key figures at the bank about its integration of social media. 

In the final part, head of marketing Paul Say talks about how changes in online behaviour affect the way companies engage with the outside world, and the social media projects undertaken by the company. 

In previous posts for this series, my colleagues Amanda and Natalie have talked about how we first built a business case for social media adoption, and then how we got round (or didn’t) some of the first major challenges that face any organisation when they’re taking on a task like this.

The next logical step is to talk about some of the specific things we did and how they fit with some of the fundamental goals that we had set ourselves.

Little black book

Our first proper social media project was created because we recognised that customer recommendations were a powerful tool and if we could create some kind of recommendation engine, we would be able to;

  • Increase the number of touch points we had with our customers. 
  • Take the bank’s brand away from being something that has a purely transactional relationship with the customers. 

We wanted customers to interact with the brand without necessarily interacting with the bank. Our response to this was to create our “little black book”, a site where customers could recommend places to go and things to do.

We knew that we attracted customers who were likely to have similar interests and it made sense that a network comprised of like minded people would produce useful recommendations and this has been born out by the statistics.

This project showed us that there was a genuine readiness amongst customers and stakeholders alike to engage with the brand on a level that wasn’t just about financial transactions.

Social media news room

It led directly into our next project, which was designed to help build a broader content offer. We had decided that if we wanted people treat us as a more human brand, we needed to create news content that wasn’t just targeted at the PF press.

We needed to tell our story in different ways and through different mediums and this lead to the creation of our social media news room.

The SMNR was never about getting more coverage in the traditional press (although that has been an unexpected consequence), it was designed to be a hub that would serve as our mouthpiece online.

That meant hosting videos, links to our podcasts, images and more importantly it meant that we had a place where we could talk about events or news that we wouldn’t normally put into a press release but that would be of interest to small groups of people or, those with particular niche interests.

The results were way beyond our expectations. We moved from around 10 visits per week to the “press room” to an average of around 2,000 within three months and importantly, we were able to diversify the kinds of content that people were seeing when they were engaging with us.


Having run trial projects using social media as a service and then using social media to create a content environment, the next trial was in digital marketing, an area where there was a real element of nervousness in the company – we knew that Little Black Book would either be a success or it would quietly fizzle out.

Similarly the SMNR, being an extension of our PR team’s existing activity seemed to be relatively low-risk. Rolling out a social media campaign through integrated marketing channels was totally different, both in terms of the level of exposure and the necessary budget.

Any failure here would have been high profile. The campaign that followed – “Live” originated from listening to what was being said about us online where we realized a lot of people were using blogs and forums, Twitter etc to say talk about first direct, mainly in a very positive way, and we hit upon the idea of building a live campaign that would use online conversation about us as the source material for an integrated marketing campaign.

We started extracting posts, tweets, comments, anything that mentioned our name and feeding these to a live site that turned this information into a graphical representation of what was being said about us online, including the ratio of positive to negative comments, the key topics etc.

We used the live feedback to create content for all kinds of media from digital, to live outdoor sites to press ads.

We have run a number of other more integrated campaigns since these three however they illustrate very neatly the three key things that we took away from our first steps in social media.

1. It’s not enough to be “cool” or interesting. These are time-limited qualities, if you want a social media campaign to have any kind of longevity, it needs to add value to the experiences of the people it engages.

2. Social content is brilliant at increasing your search footprint and making it easier for people to find you. The SMNR has been so successful from an SEO perspective that we are beginning to incorporate some of the lessons learned. 

3. There’s value in mining the conversation data that is readily available. In our case it was so that we could re-purpose it into content however that’s just one, very specific way of finding value, for example, we’re already looking at ways we can build social media feedback into our customer service and product development cycles to create a crowd-sourcing business model.