A quick online search of "Citi" and "blog" will call up hundreds of blogs about the banking giant, most of which are entirely beyond Citigroup Inc.'s control and many with decidedly critical posts.
The company is now adding its voice to the fray with an internally produced blog that can provide details about specific financial products, offer comments from executives on earnings reports, explain Citi's position on regulatory issues and post responses from readers about all of the above.
"There's an image out there of the 'big bad bank.' The blog is like going back to [George H.W.] Bush, 'kinder and gentler,' " said Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group LLC. "The blog is a way for the bank to show consumers that it is there to help them."
Recent posts on the Citi blog, which is accessible from the citi.com home page, included a piece explaining how it is aiding distressed homeowners by participating in government rescue programs. The responses included some complaints asking the bank to help those who are current with payments on "underwater" mortgages.
Citi has also posted items on the role of women in the financial recovery; its activity in the Treasury Department's second-lien modification program — including a response to a frustrated customer who wrote that he's been waiting for a decision on a modification since July 2009 (Citi wrote there's a three-month trial modification, and the time for a decision may vary); and how "opt in" overdraft regulations do not "go far enough" to protect consumers (Citi says consumers should be given an option at the point of sale).
The posts are mostly bylined "Citi," though an early post from chief executive Vikram Pandit described the site as a "new way for us to share ideas and create dialogue." The posts do not counter or directly address other blogs about Citi.
A Citi representative said the blog is an "attempt to reach stakeholders" and address topical issues. The blog is produced by an internal team of communications and senior staff, the representative said, and is a way to "react" to the different points of view that consumers have. "It's part of a way to articulate how we're doing."
The blog has drawn some criticism, including its "Citi" byline. "That's a lack of 'personalness' that I don't think is in the right spirit of a blog. Otherwise it's just PR," Shevlin said. "A blog should be created by people to make connections with other people."
Blogs at Wells Fargo & Co., for example, contain bylines and headshots of the authors. The San Francisco company has a number of blogs, which are accessible from the "about the bank" section of its website, including a new blog for environmental issues and another in which its staff provides updates on the Wachovia Corp. integration. "We see it as a way to understand customers' needs and share information in new ways," said Ed Terpening, Wells Fargo's vice president of social media marketing.
James Van Dyke, the president of Javelin Strategy and Research, said blogs can be a way to push agenda points. It's a "branding opportunity, to paint the company with a human face rather than the kind of faceless entity that's easy to villainize," he said.
Kevin Lynch, the senior vice president of eCommerce and contact centers for 1st Mariner Bank, said the conversational nature of blogs is what can make them especially effective.
The Baltimore bank recently blogged about regulatory changes regarding debit cards, and Lynch said the post has had about 450 page views, which is higher than the "70s to 80s" it gets for similar informational pages that appear on its website.