Many bankers wonder where the return on investment is in social media. Frank Eliason says there is none, if you're thinking about it in direct terms of dollars and cents.
But if you're thinking about what you can learn from social media that you can use to improve your operations, the return is generous, says Eliason, senior vice president of social media at Citigroup.
"People are still missing the boat with ROI," Eliason says. "It's not how much you sell in social media, it's not how much you engage your customers. The ROI is in the information that's out there; that leads to change and process improvement."
Information shared over social media sites can teach more about competitors and the bank itself, Eliason believes.
"Most companies are doing Twitter to quiet people down. But you can take this information customers are providing and bring tangible improvements to your business. If you're doing this to shut people up, you'll attract more naysayers."
Eliason, who was hired by Citi from Comcast in 2010, has been a role model for banks' social media efforts ever since and recently came out with a book on the subject, @Your Service.
Lately, Eliason and Citi have been channeling social media efforts toward the small business segment. "What does a small-business owner desire?" Eliason says. "A small business owner desires more customers. Their goal is to grow their business. If you're a facilitator, you can help them with their business.
"The same holds true for consumers in general, you want to deliver things they would want. That's a different way of thinking, especially in the banking world, but it's at the core of what banking historically was about: community and relationships. Social media is helping to bring banks back to that."
Citi knows its small-business clientele well, Eliason says. "We know they're extremely busy, their focus 200% of the time is their business. They don't take the time out to do a lot of other things. We want to make things easy for them."
One thing small-business owners like to know is what other small-business owners are doing. "Being able to present this type of information in a short, concise format really fits their lifestyle," he says.
Citi is helping small-business owners adapt to social media by sharing results of small-business social media surveys and helping them overcome their fear of the medium.
"Small-business owners have extreme pride in their business," Eliason points out. "When they see a negative review, it hits them at the heart. They shouldn't ignore it, but they don't have to jump at it at the same time. They have to look at it as a good thing, valuable information.
"I try to teach people about reviews. The fact is if someone was so passionate to write a review, they want to be heard. The opposite of love is not hate, it's apathy."
The bank is thinking about groups and forums it can set up to help small-business clients connect with each other over Twitter and Facebook.
Citi recently added a click-to-chat feature on its social media pages to accommodate customers whose questions or issues involve personal information but who are reluctant to talk on the phone.