Innovators 2011

Eliason Makes Citi More Social

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Innovator: Frank Eliason, SVP of social media, North America Consumer Banking, Citi

Recent Innovations: Twitter customer service and social media sites

Why They Matter: Citi's blogs had been considered staid and impersonal

What's Next: Tracking social media use and sentiment

 

Much like the wide-open medium he's infusing in all corners of Citigroup's customer service ops, a conversation with Frank Eliason is an immersion in the boundless opportunity presented by social media's explosive growth, as well as the daunting challenge of harnessing the power of blogs, Facebook, and video to revolutionize relationships.

"Things are moving extraordinarily fast, and the tools you utilize are constantly evolving," says Eliason, who was hired last year to manage Citi's North America Consumer Banking social media activities.

Eliason, who came to Citi from Comcast, is responsible for figuring out how to best adopt and personalize Citi's use of social media tools and channels with customers. Consumers are already using these tools in their personal lives, adoption that's independent of the bank and changing in terms of use and expectations on an almost weekly basis. "You have to be very flexible about how you tap the space," Eliason says.

In his first year in his new job at Citigroup, Eliason's astute following of consumer social media tendencies has led to the introduction of personalized Twitter accounts for customer service reps and a North American Facebook page.

At the same time, Citi's Global Corporate Social Media team launched a new, more personable citi.com blog and a YouTube function in which videos are posted on the mortgage market and related topics.

Most recently, Eliason's team began testing a click-to-call and click-to-chat function that allows consumers to continue their conversations on Twitter or other social media outlets with bank reps on other channels such phone. "It allows people to communicate with the bank in the way in which they are most comfortable," Eliason says.

"Citi has recognized that social media is here to stay. It's not a fad. And Citigroup has looked to a superstar [to lead the effort]," says Jacob Jegher, a senior analyst at Celent.

Also during in the past year, the bank has launched Citi 2.0, an internal social media site in which the bank's 50,000 users communicate on various initiatives within the bank, leveraging tools such as microblogs, forums and other tools, many of which are based on Sharepoint.

The moves put Eliason's imprint on a vast analytics and consumer-research driven expansion of the banking giant's initial forays into social media, which included an early stab at blogs penned by corporate executives that were criticized by analysts as being bland and impersonal.

"Frank's done it before, he's basically one of the pioneers of utilizing social media for customer service," says Paul Butcher, director of the global corporate social media function at Citi, which works in partnership with Eliason's North America Consumer Banking team. "It's a valuable skill that he's brought to Citi and we're already seeing it pay off in many ways."

Part of the bank's growth in the channel also includes improving the measurement of the success of various social media initiatives. Citigroup's now using analytics to measure sentiment in addition to the traditional count of followers, and is also tracking and analyzing social media activity via Scout Labs to monitor what's being said about the bank on various forums. "We're gaining more insight and bringing real time action to that," says Eliason.

For example, Citi's most recent update to its iPhone mobile app was based in part on feedback garnered from Twitter-demonstrating how a social media-focused executive who works across the enterprise can help quickly turn intel into tangible strategy. "Any institution that doesn't have an executive responsible for social media, will have that person in place in the next 6 to 18 months," says Nicole Sturgill, a research director at TowerGroup.

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