Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and the next social media platforms sure to emerge present pressing questions for retail banks: Should we be there? If so, how do we do it well? And, finally, will these ever make us any money? (See cover story, p. 19)
For any retail bank, the answer to the first seems obvious: These technologies are daily destinations for GenY consumers, and GenX and the youngest Boomers are beginning to embrace them as well. As Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada who is personally active on Twitter, puts it, "Banking is our business, and we think our business needs to be wherever people are talking about banking."
That idea has its limitations though. Just because there are millions of people at a concert doesn't mean they want to see a banker take the stage. I'd argue that for now, some, like Facebook, aren't viable channels for customer engagement because consumers go there for purely social, not business, reasons. But others, like Twitter and LinkedIn, are much friendlier to corporate messaging, and indeed, have quickly become for many a robust two-way communication channel.
But even when it's clear that a channel presents a good opportunity for engagement, crafting that presence requires a different approach. Bluntly, banks need to be a little more cool. There are a handful that have created hip images that appeals to this generation; Capital One's "What's in Your Wallet" campaign comes to mind. But as bank marketing blogger and Aite Group analyst Ron Shevlin puts it, "I suspect that many firms think...that jumping into the social media and social marketing pool will make them - ipso facto - more attractive to the younger crowd. I also suspect that they'll be proven wrong."
The quandary circles a larger question: Do banks need a standalone social media strategy, or to ensure that existing enterprise strategy is on point enough to incorporate new channels like LinkedIn or Twitter? In other words, if an institution already savvy enough to capture the imagination and wallet share of GenY or other tech-centric consumers, adapting that to social media shouldn't be problematic.
But if you're not down with the ways of social media and building relationships with younger consumers, you're probably spending a lot of time wondering how to make money from Twitter or Facebook. Let's face it; it may be a long time - if ever - before these technologies morph into forms that directly produce revenue. Sound familiar? Online and mobile banking once caused the same sort of handwringing.
The larger point is that understanding your customers is key. If your customers are addicted to Facebook, texting, tweeting, or LinkedIn groups, you should at least have first-hand knowledge of how and why. And while waiting for a business model to present itself, take advantage of the best brand and relationship building opportunities social networks present.