A quick search of "Citi" and "blog" has long unearthed hundreds of blogs about the banking giant, though most are entirely beyond Citi's control and many contain posts that are pointedly unflattering to the bank.
Now the institution is adding its voice to the fray with a new internally produced blog, designed to engage consumers with information about products, how those products can help customers, commentary on earnings statements from bank executives, and the institution's position on regulation and other issues-with space set aside for reader responses. "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," says Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group. "The blog is a way for the bank to show consumers that it is there to help them."
Recent posts on the Citi blog, accessible from the institution's home page at citi.com, included a piece on how the bank is aiding distressed homeowners through participation in government rescue programs-with responses including complaints asking the bank to assist those who are current with payments on `underwater' mortgages.
Citi also posted on the role of women in the financial recovery; the bank's activity in the Treasury's second-lien modification program (2MP)-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 that the "opt in" overdraft regulations don't "go far enough" to protect consumers (Citi says consumers should be given an option at the point of sale). Other posts cover topics such as the bank's energy saving initiatives and the launch of the PFM site Bundle.
The posts are mostly bylined "Citi," with an early post form CEO Vikram Pandit describing the site as a "new way for use to share ideas and create dialogue." And the postings did not counter or directly address other blogs about Citi.
A Citi spokesperson said the blog is an "attempt to reach stakeholders" and address topical issues. The spokesperson, who said the blog is produced by an internal team of communications and senior staff, also said it's 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's drawn some criticism, including its use of "Citi" as a byline on the top of posts. "That's a lack of 'personalness' that I don't think is in the right spirit of a blog. Otherwise it's just PR," says Shevlin. "A blog should be created by people to make connections with other people."
Company blogs at Wells Fargo, for example, contain bylines and headshots of the authors. The bank has a number of blogs-which are accessible from the "about the bank" section of Wells Fargo's Website- including a new blog for environmental issues, education finance, and another in which company staff provide updates on the Wachovia acquisition conversion. "We see it a as a way to understand customers' needs and share information in new ways," says Ed Terpening, vp of social media marketing for Wells Fargo.
James Van Dyke, president of Javelin Research, says blogs can be a way to push agenda points, saying it's a "branding opportunity, to paint the company with a human face rather than the kind of faceless entity that's easy to villianize."
Kevin Lynch, svp of eCommerce and contact centers for First Mariner Bank, says the conversational nature of blogs is what makes them effective. The bank recently posted on regulatory changes regarding debit cards. Lynch says the post has gotten about 450 page views, which is higher than the "70s to 80s" the bank gets for similar informational pages on the Web site.
Other blogs place even less of a focus on direct branding, choosing instead to use the venue as a conversation spot for topics connected to the financial firm. "There's less formality on a blog, less than even our traditional Web site," says William Azaroff, Web director for Vancity, a Vancouver-based credit union, whose blog has about 5,000 registered users.
Called "ChangeEverything," the credit union's blog is accessible from the credit union's landing page, and the most recent member-written posts were focused mostly on energy sustainability and micro lending. The branding is minimal and subtle. "We're not talking about mortgage rates here," says Azaroff.