A recent article highlighting a spat between Twitter titan Oprah Winfrey and a less-than-flattering follower tweet led me to think about one of the core tenets of engaging with fans/friends/customers on social media. Namely, don’t get into an online spat with them because, no matter how right you might be, it’s a fight you cannot win.
An example straight from the financial services industry comes from 2011’s debit card use fee from Bank of America. The Twitter universe responded loudly and negatively.
For all the many positives social media offers both consumers and businesses in the sharing of ideas, opinions and honest feedback, it also offers an ugly Pandora’s Box of possible nasty exchanges. People are pretty much free to say whatever they want, whenever they want, about your brand, whether it’s true or not.
The question becomes when it’s time to respond and, if so, in what way.
The basic rules of engaging with a consumer in online forum include:
- Stay on top of who’s saying what about your brand online by setting up keyword Google alerts (e.g., “ABC Bank”). It’s a free service and you can have alerts delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.
- If it gets ugly, take the conversation offline. You never want to get into a public online spitting contest with a disgruntled consumer. Simply post something along the lines of “We understand your concerns and ask that you contact us at (555) 555-5555 at your earliest convenience so we may discuss the matter in more detail.” This takes the spat offline and shows other readers that you care enough to respond.
- Respond to negative comments quickly. Time is of the essence, especially online. Consumers expect rapid response to their concerns posted online. A week’s delay from your organization makes it look like you don’t care about your online brand integrity or your customers.
- Don’t follow obviously scripted response for every exchange. This becomes transparent pretty quickly to your followers and shows a somewhat callous and disinterested online attitude from your organization towards its consumers. Talking points aren’t necessarily a bad idea; just tweak them to match the specific needs of different exchanges.
- Try not to take it personally. Remember, people are far more likely to complain about your organization and its people in an online (and less accountable) forum than they are in person. The negativity of their words can also increase online. View negative online feedback as the constructive criticism your organization needs to face challenges and grow.
Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook make it much easier for marketers to reach their consumers and vice versa. The arena is also open to negative posts from customers, whether fair or not. Knowing the ground rules about when and how to respond goes a long way towards establishing your online brand identity and integrity.
Management team meetings can be boring. Everyone goes around the table and shares updates from their departments. Blah, blah, blah. Too much reporting and not enough dialoging. Lots of talking and very little (real) listening.
So at your next management team meeting, throw out your traditional agenda. Instead, ask the following questions (making sure everyone answers) and enjoy a healthy idea exchange.
(1) What big changes are coming and how can we prepare?
The world—and your financial institution—is changing fast. And it’s changing faster than you even realize. If you are not ready for those changes then you are already behind. You could already be behind in your strategy and your thinking. It’s not enough to know that change is coming: you have to know how you are going to prepare for those changes (now).
(2) What is one example of how your department is living our brand?
Every credit union and bank talks about its brand, values and value proposition (or at least it should). But while your management team leads your brand, it’s your employees who live your brand. Challenge each department head to bring a story about how one of their employees (front line or support staff) did something that demonstrates your brand values.
(3) What business are we in?
One Starbucks front-line employee (not an executive team member) once famously said, “we’re not in the coffee business serving people; we’re in the people business serving coffee.” So what business are you in? Too many times we think we’re in the financial services industry, credit card business, loan area, etc. The reality is we need to change our thinking. That starts with a broader discussion about what business we are really in.
(4) What is one task we are doing that is stupid?
We do the same things over and over again. Why? We are creatures of habit. That’s a very dangerous thing to be in business. We need to be creatures of change. Get your management team reviewing their areas (and the entire organization). Ask one simple question: why are we doing it this way? And then ask a follow-up question: can we do it better?
Those are just a few ideas to help kick-start your next management team discussion. They are designed as open-ended questions to facilitate dialogue. You want your management team to think. They are leaders of your organization—so get them thinking about the questions above.
Fred Smith, the CEO of Federal Express, once said, “one of the things we recognized about 10 or 12 years ago was that probably of all the assets on our balance sheet, none was more important than the brand, even though it wasn’t capitalized at all.” Your credit union or bank’s brand is critical to your growth. If you don’t invest in your brand, you wont’ grow.
Over time, it’s easy for your brand to lose its effectiveness. It can grow stale. It can become irrelevant. It can move in the wrong direction. There is a real danger is brand degradation. Below are four things that can degrade your brand.
(1) Staff: The biggest threats to your brand come from within. You are not just competing with all the other financial institutions in your area. You are competing with internal apathy. If your staff does not
buy into and live your brand—every day—then your brand will degrade. One solution: give your staff brand training.
(2) Inconsistency: One of the three “Cs” to a strong brand is consistency (the others are constancy and clarity). How many ways is your logo used? Do all your branches look and feel similar? Do your branches look like your website? One solution: put all your marketing material (and pictures of your branches) on a table and examine them for inconsistencies.
(3) Lack of commitment: If branding is so important (see Fred Smith’s quote above) then why do we not give it the proper resources it needs? In tight times, the first thing that gets cut is the marketing budget. That’s an easy short-term fix but the long-term ramifications are dangerous. Don’t say branding is so important and then not invest resources (time, money, staff, etc.) to its development. One solution: review your marketing budget.
(4) No user experience: Branding is not advertising. It’s more than a logo, a tagline, or a commercial. The most successful brands today are the ones that are engaging their customers: those that offer a true user experience (think Apple, Starbucks, etc.). You must make your brand interactive (easy to say, hard to do). One solution: conduct mystery shops on your branches and website; see how easy it is to get a product (loan, checking account, etc.) and what the experience is like.
We all want strong brands. But the reality is it’s easier for a brand to grow weak rather than strong. Addressing the four items above ensures your brand grows rather than degrades.
For years I made fun of people who consulted with credit unions and banks. And then I became one (as part of what we do at On The Mark Strategies). As Robert Townsend, author of Up the Organization says, “consultants are people who borrow your watch and tell you what time it is, and then walk off with the watch.”
The reality is financial institutions do need help and outside perspective. But how do you know what makes a good consultant? Here are a few key traits:
(1) Partner—A true consultant is not a vendor. If you feel they are a vendor, then run away (far away). You should do business with someone you can trust. It may sound cliché, but good business is about relationships.
(2) Expert—You should hire experts, not service providers. If you need help in a particular area (lending, technology, marketing, planning, etc.) make sure the people you are working with don’t just have surface level or buzzword knowledge. Consultants who use all the latest buzzwords and blow smoke are the ones to avoid.
(3) Real—When working at a financial institution, I had a terrible sales experience from a vendor that wanted our business (see the post “Smarmy Sales Guys are Dead.” If all they talk about are themselves then that is what they care about: themselves.
(4) Experience—The better they know your business the better they can help you. If a financial institution consultant has never worked a real job in a financial institution then they probably don’t understand your business as thoroughly as possible. And if they need experience, give them an opportunity to work on your teller line for a day.
(5) Honest—The best consultants will get in your face and not always agree with you. In fact, they will be your frienemy: someone who will love you and challenge you at the same time.
Obviously, I’m biased on the above points (that’s me trying to live point number five!). A really good consultant can improve your credit union’s or bank’s growth. A really bad one can waste your precious resources.
Remember the good old days of the internet, in the mid-to-late 1990s? The “Wild West” days when the internet was a vast frontier, ripe for exploring, colonizing and settling?
All nostalgia aside, you may also remember two less-than-favorites from that era; the pop-up and banner ad craze. Like the Wild West, the internet was eventually changed.
The latest trend in this evolution is a relatively new concept: native advertising. A recent article gives a terrific run-down of what native advertising is and what native advertising isn’t, along with this doozy of a technical definition:
“Native advertising refers to a specific mode of monetization that aims to augment user experience by providing value through relevant content delivered in-stream.”
Give your mind a minute to rest after trying to digest that (I know my head throbbed for a while after reading it). Now, try the following, simpler definition and consider how it might apply to your credit union’s or bank’s online advertising, especially on your website.
Native advertising is a way to place your relevant and valuable message more seamlessly in places members are more likely to read it.
How can you accomplish this on your website? Here are three ideas.
- Your blog. Hopefully you have one that is updated regularly with content designed to not only educate and inform consumers, but to help guide them towards using more of your products and services. Nowhere near as pervasive as an ad, your blog can become an important tool in cross-selling and PFI (primary financial institution) endeavors.
- Target messages within home banking. We’ve talked about this in an earlier blog post. Messages to members from within home banking allow you to maximize the data you’ve collected on them and direct them towards products and services they could use. If they log on to check their account balance and the system notes they don’t have a car loan with your credit union, the message on the screen could highlight your current low-rate auto loan promo. If they are looking to see if a particular check has cleared and the system sees they don’t have a credit union credit card, the message could highlight that product.
- Social media. While a bit outside the realm of true native advertising, what better way to reach your members than an active presence in places they readily visit daily? A credit union or bank Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest account creates ways to reach consumers with seamless messages in mediums they actively pursue, rather than you trying to catch them.
While still in its relevant infancy as a marketing tactic, native advertising could prove to be the new sheriff on the internet landscape. Don’t let the buzz on it from big corporations and ad executives shy you away from its potential to work for your credit union or bank.