Blogging seems easy - a 14-year-old with Internet access can do it. But the vastly different approaches taken by financial services pioneers suggest a path to successful public interactivity that's complex, diverse in strategic options and fraught with tech traps.
Few banks have introduced blogs, given the risks of them becoming platforms for unfettered customer grousing. But more may consider the format now that two of the nation's largest banks, Bank of America (http://futurebanking.bankofamerica.com/) and Wells Fargo (http://blog.wellsfargo.com/wachovia/) have taken the plunge. But beyond using the word "blog," Wells and BofA have little in common.
With categories including "anticipatory behavioral economics" and "corporate social responsibility," BofA's Future Banking Blog keeps its distance from customers, speaking instead to thought leaders engaged in financial industry innovation. Wells' most recent blog, in contrast, embraces customers, giving a forum for critics and fans alike to comment on the bank's ongoing integration with Wachovia and the Vegas employee recognition flap.
The good news about blogging is it takes advantage of widely available and cheap technology. Greg Jacobi, svp of Internet marketing and site development at Webster Bank, says making a video of the bank's CEO to post online required little more than purchasing a $700 high-definition video camera and finding a room with decent lighting. With 7,000 people tuning into the videos in the first three months, the venture has had substantial impact.
While today's tools make entering the blogosphere easy, it takes planning to ensure everything runs smoothly. San Francisco-based Javelin Strategy & Research was "flooded" by bots when it began letting readers respond to its blog posts, says James Van Dyke, president and founder of the financial technology research firm. Javelin first sought to deal with the situation by not allowing reader responses, but that created push-back from those who rightly expect blogs to support open, unfiltered commentary. Like many, Javelin eventually solved the problem with CAPTCHA.
Kristin Brandt, vice president at Sundin Associates, a Natick, Mass.-based marketing and advertising consultancy to banks, agrees that social networking technology is a boon for banks, enabling them to easily add sophisticated features to their sites. Some institutions, for example, are using blogging technology to power their online newsrooms, she said. These banks post news releases in the same format as a blog, giving the online newsroom an updated look, while avoiding HTML programming.
Banks may also underestimate the amount of human capital necessary to run a blog. San Diego-based Bank of Internet took down a blog it started over the summer to allow employee-contributors time to develop themselves as thought leaders by posting on other industry blogs, says Ryan Adami, director of online marketing. Broader industry exposure of its contributors should result in more traffic and fresher content once the bank re-releases its blog, Adami said. Mindful that potential employee-bloggers already are busy with their 9 to 5 jobs, Adami uses incentives, such as a $100 certificate to a local restaurant for posting two blogs a week for a month.
The new Bank of Internet blog will also feature some technical changes. Adami plans to integrate the blog with services such as Technorati and Digg, which allow users to go to a single site to view updates to the blogs they are most interested in, rather than visit each individual site. "We need exposure there to capture more readers," he says.