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"The Deer Have Guns"

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Steve Kruskamp of 1st Mariner Bank pinpoints perfectly why consumers' vocal online chatter make an active social media strategy a matter of life or death for banks: "The deer have guns now," quipped Kruskamp, e-commerce marketing manager at 1st Mariner, who was part of a social media panel at Celent's recent Innovation & Insight conference in New York.

Kruskamp, along with executives from Citi, USAA and Mechanics Bank, came off as warriors in the trenches as they recounted skirmishes in the nascent strategic battleground of social media. All agreed that every bank concerned with its reputation and brand must pay attention-daily-to Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere, etc. To ignore them is reckless.

This mandate is a far cry from the early days of social media, back in 2008 or so, when being "on social media" was viewed as cheap and easy way to cultivate Gen Y customers. It's no longer cheap, or just about GenY. Citi has 40 customer service reps dedicated solely to Twitter; AARP has a Facebook page with 14,000 fans. "Every grandmother has some teenager somewhere they're tracking on Facebook," says Jaime Punishill, director, digital channel strategy and social media at Citi,

But it's not just a defensive play. The most progressive banks, like Citi, USAA and 1st Mariner, see social media as an opportunity to create "an extension of our brand where people can interact with the brand," Kruskamp says. "We wanted to get that belly-to-belly interaction we were losing from the branch."

But belly-to-belly interaction can go either way, and most banks can't respond in the real-time way the Web demands. Punishill recounted a PR event that began with some criticism posted online, and his miraculous achievement of getting a responding press release issued in less than 36 hours. "But in three hours we had lost the war," he says, dryly noting that a press release isn't the optimum tool for responding to an online furor. "Make sure if you're going to get into a gunfight you don't bring a knife."

USAA has found it can use the megaphone effect of online networks to its advantage, letting customers rate its products online. But, "this is not for the faint of heart," says Rhonda Crawford, vp, Digital Media & Innovation at USAA. "You have to start with killer products."

Lacking "killer products" or supporting inadequate mobile and Internet banking offerings could be the equivalent of wearing a bulls-eye, "If you go out on social media [and you have inadequate offerings], you're going to get hammered," says Bradley Leimer, vp, Online Services Group at Mechanics Bank.

The air about this social media panel was refreshingly frank, and charged-with all the references to guns, knives, and killer product. It's a hot topic, but who knew Facebook strategy could be so violent?

 

Techies

Payment services firm MoneyGram International appointed J. Lucas Wimer evp of operations and technology. He was previously head of infrastructure for Capital One Financial. Worldflow, which sells software and consulting services to financial services clients, has hired John Donald as head of strategy for its research business. He was formerly global head of research for ING Financial Markets. Data consultancy CJC has tapped Peter Williams to be director of operations for Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Williams previously held data management positions at BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse. Risk management tech provider Sophis has named Charles Garcia head of sales for Sophis North America. He was most recently director of business development for Black Rock Solutions. Another risk management software vendor, Derivix, has hired Chaz Shaw to be managing director. His appointment follows the March announcement that JPMorgan and S.A.C. Venture Investments became strategic investors in the firm, signaling new expansion. Options IT, which sells data and connectivity technology, named Tim Dillon director of sales for North America.

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