As reported earlier today, first direct has launched a social media campaign which invites comments from consumers about the brand, as well as tracking sentiment from social media sites.

I’ve been talking to the bank’s head of marketing Lisa Wood about the thinking behind the firstdirectlive campaign…

What was the thinking behind the firstdirectlive campaign?

We’re a direct brand, and more and more of our customer base is using digital media to communicate. The question we asked ourselves is where should we be, and so we decided to mirror the way that customers are making their decisions, by looking at comments on review and other social media sites.

Our strapline is ‘banking’s better in black and white’ and this fits in very well with the campaign, which reinforce that idea of first direct as open, honest and transparent.

The banking sector doesn’t have a great image in consumers’ minds at the moment, show part of the idea behind the campaign was to show that we listen to customers and are open as an organisation.

This was a way to do this digitally, since our customers are using digital media. Social media has worked for us before, we launched a social media newsroom earlier this year, which has been well received.

Were you concerned about inviting negative comments?

We know that conversations about first direct are happening online anyway, so it made sense to put these comments on our own site for all visitors to see.
We’re acutely aware that is a corporate organisation says that ‘people love us’, it doesn’t ring true for consumers, and many will look online for the opinions of other customers rather than just rely on such statements.

There is also an ad campaign around firstdirectlive on outdoor digital media in London, which aims to bring the site to the attention of more people and invites them to go an see what is being said about first direct.

There were discussions internally about the risks of doing this, but we ultimately took the view that online comments are part of life now and it is better to embrace it. We also know that what is being said about us is on the whole positive. First direct has a reputation for good customer service. So it was perhaps less of a risk for us.

No-one gets everything right all of the time, and there will always be some criticism of the brand around. We measure online sentiment towards the brand anyway, so we had some idea of what might happen.

Why not display comments on the homepage?

The main reason we haven’t done this is due to timing issues. The ad campaign idea came first, then we decided we needed a website to support all these comments, so the time-scale for delivering the micro site was tight, and there was no time to integrate anything on the main homepage.

Is this something you would consider?

Absolutely, we love the way firstdirectlive has turned out, and want to keep it there after the associated ad campaign is finished. The micro-site will form part of our interactive section on the main first direct website. 

Have banks been slow to pick up on the possibilities of social media?

I think a few banks are on Twitter, and some seem to be trying out social media, but it’s difficult for me to comment on other banks as first direct has always been a digital organisation.

Unlike other banks, we don’t get an opportunity to meet customers face to face in branches, so all our contact with customers takes place overt the phone or online. This is perhaps the reason why we are thinking in terms of social media earlier than some other banks.

Did you consider pulling comments straight from Twitter and showing them on the site, as Skittles does?

We did talk about Skittles when we discussed the campaign, and thought about  the idea of a Twitter stream on the site, but we couldn’t do this for legal reasons. Having looked at the ins and outs of doing this, and the Twitter terms and conditions regarding intellectual property rights, we decided it wouldn’t be possible.

How do you measure your social media campaigns?

One aspect of this is to measure visits to the site that have been driven by social media, how many people are sharing content and widgets, but we also we regular tracking studies which test the memorability of ad campaigns, and tools which look at any online buzz around the brand.

This is the first big social media campaign for use though, ad previous moves have been aimed more at financial journalists, though the social media newsroom has driven some Twitter traffic to the site.

Is this just the start? Are you planning more social media campaigns?

Yes, we will be looking at the next steps we will take, and will be planning something else in early Q1 next year. We intend to learn from the experience of this campaign, which finishes at the end of next week, and we hope to continue in this vein.