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Should banks use social media to say sorry? No – have they anything to be sorry for?

Ever-talented Jon Clements has written a good piece over on the PR Media Blog about banks and social media that’s well worth a read given the recent fury over banking bonuses but it got me thinking too – should banks use social media? (Niall Harbison has also written a good piece along the same lines here.)

Now, there’s a case for it – and we’ll come to that – but overall? Oh hell no, as Will Smith would say (or your bank manager if you’re asking for a loan).

Why? Because most bankers don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.
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My experience from time as a business journalist and PR in the financial sector is that bankers at many levels have a different mindset to the average person. Here’s a couple of examples:

1) Many in banks can’t understand why people borrow more than they can afford. Now you may want to blame that on marketing teams at banks but again, they’ll point out that they never forced anyone to sign up for a loan or a remortgage.

2) Many of the senior banking types believe with their heart and soul that they work hard (and many do), put in long hours (again, true) and as such deserve what the market/sector is paying. Is it their fault that nursing, teaching, policing and so on don’t pay as well? Should the banker take a huge paycut – it’s not as if that money would suddenly end up in the hands of the NHS is it? Besides, most still pay their taxes. Is it the banker’s fault that the taxman doesn’t have the law watertight?  (I’m also going to add that a lot of the senior bankers I’ve met are amongst the most generous to charities.)

3) Yes, many have had their businesses helped by the Government, but Government helps everyone from time to time. Keeping the banks going keeps the economy going – even if it just about keeping the banks open.

Now at least one of the above viewpoints will upset or annoy someone, but they are fairly common in my experience. Many bankers feel they are being unfairly picked on – and most don’t earn £8million bonuses. I’m not saying the above mindsets are right or wrong, they just are. Some will sympathise, some won’t.

But that’s not to say banks couldn’t use social media to try and remove some of the hostility towards them. In fact it would be a great tool for them, if they were prepared to accept that some people will be criticising them (but people are doing that anyway). With just a little attitude shift away from always being on the defensive, banks could do brilliantly on social media.

How banks could use social media

Have an expert from each area talk about the issues of the day – economics, banking legalities, future markets, ISAs, local business advice – there’s easily six or seven blogs that could be run weekly. You could also run audio and video.

As well as the big cheeses (who would probably be ghost blogged) have some blogs from people just starting out in the industry, a mix of local and head office bloggers. Just be careful about data protection issues (ie – don’t go identifying customers).

Promote the businesses that you back.

Promote your CSR work – in fact, go one step further and involve your audience to pick where the CSR money should be spent. You could even get them to help pick your upcoming sponsorships. This would create a two-way connection between your audience and you.

Explain the tough decisions. If, as a bank, you can’t loan to everyone, explain why. Explain the process behind loan agreements and decisions (if, based on crediting ratings, it will also allow the blame to be shuffled elsewhere on to the likes of Experian)

Tell people what they can do with their money, advise them on how to rebuild credit ratings.

Host blogger meetings, show the human side of the bank.

Monitor everything that is said about the bank and respond – even if it is just to direct people to customer services (who would need to be an integral part of the project)

(The obvious disclaimer to all of this is that make sure staff are well trained in social media before they start typing, HR has clear policies and no-one mixes up their work and private accounts. Also, make sure you have a good comments policy and FAQ in place for dealing with the negative attacks)

What’s the benefit to the banks?

There’s a few benefits – yes, when their social media work goes live, the odds are it will first be a run of people moaning about bank charges and so on. But over time, people will see the human side and warm to that. Not everyone will be won over – money is far too emotive a topic for that – but you will build ambassadors and those people will help defend you when times get tough.

By coming across as more human – and helpful – people will also want to ask you questions, which means when they have money to invest or business cash, they’ll think of you first because the connection is there. I still maintain that HBOS campaign with local bank staff was one of the best things ever done.

There’s also quite a strong SEO benefit if there’s a lot of financial content being placed up weekly.

The other benefit is that by explaining banking and how the system works to people in layman’s terms, you’re educating people on how to be more careful with their cash, how to be better investors and savers. And that helps all of us.

We often talk of how social media and digital engagement is about a) helping others and b) becoming your own publisher of content. Banks have a tremendous opportunity to do both with social media and it would be great to see.


    Take a look at Bank of America on twitter: @BofA_Help

    They say sorry everyday. I can respect that.

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