Making social media pay

A brief word to anyone organising panel discussions – I’ve just attended two panel-led debates in succession. The fundamental difference between them was audience interaction.  The first allowed a few quick questions at the end and the second included audience participation for at least half the time.

So back to that ‘word’ (sorry, it’s actually 3) – Trust Your Audience.  It comprises professional, interested people, in some cases as experienced as your panel.

This resonates with a key finding from our excellent conversation on Social Media in the Financial Services Arena last week.

Put together by PAM Insight, hosted at the suitably impressive Coutts & Co’s London HQ and supported by Hearsay Social our dialogue was led by Penny Lovell, Head of Private Client Services at CBAM, Peter Neufeld, Head of Digital Customer Experience at EY, Victoria Bennett, Marketing Director at Barclays Wealth & Investment and the ‘home team’ – Stephen Hewlett-Light, Director of Digital Private Banking at Coutts, Chris Andrew, Managing Director, UK and Europe of Hearsay Social and our Chairman Tristan Blythe, Group Editor of PAM Insight.

All relevant links are at the end of this piece

Four quick fire findings from PAM’s social media in financial services survey

  • Brand visibility and reputation management are primary goals
  • LinkedIn and Twitter recorded as top two channels for the fourth year running
  • Still largely led by Marketing teams with signs of wider engagement appearing
  • Main blockers are compliance fears, lack of proven ROI and lack of resource

Our forum discussion that followed addressed these points and more.

So where is the value?

We need to think about the role that social media plays in the lives of our clients. The largest growing HNW segment on Facebook is the over 65s as they keep in touch with grandchildren all over the world. “The behavioural change in the marketplace is fascinating” says Neufeld who has a core responsibility, on behalf of EY, to know.

The better the asset manager knows the client the better they serve them. Today, besides the phone, email and face-to-face meetings we have a new dimension through which we can really know our clients, their life stages, their interests, their family commitments and this can only assist us in giving the best personal service in wealth advice.

‘Hear is our chance to listen’ explained Bennett. Listening and understanding what your clients are talking about will enable you to develop content that will enrich their lives rather than just pushing brand messages.  I could have given her a ‘whoop’ at this point for verbalising it as I should have done when I’ve squirmed away from the ‘look how great we are’ messages so often requested by business-leaders. Yes, I thought, it’s about joining their conversation and not asking them to join ours.

Then what are the fears?

Compliance teams are in place to minimise risk so it’s easy to see why a carte blanche policy might cause blood pressure to rise and nerves to jangle in one of the most regulated sectors. Or is it? Hewlett-Light points out that managers are trusted with the aforementioned, phones and email addresses and at face-to-face meetings. Why then do we fear their ability to manage our reputation on social channels?   The one certainty is that if we’re not managing our reputation on social media our competitors will manage it for us. At CBAM this was exactly what prompted the compliance team to work collaboratively with Lovell on their social presence. Barclays Wealth & Investment too runs a strategic and channel-agnostic editorial board model, again in conjunction with the compliance officers so they never get to a point where content is rejected at a risk analysis stage.

The wealth management industry has a huge amount of fear around risk and disenfranchising the brand and yet there is little evidence that this has ever happened. The relationship is so valuable and social is all about relationships.

I did in the early days of social media work in an organisation where one team decided to Tweet how ‘miserably hungover’ it was that day. My own brand sensitivities went into overdrive and while I know that team is now back across all channels, that moment is legendary and it won’t be repeated.

And to manage potential risk?

Why should old fashioned values not be as relevant in modern forms of communication?  Central to successful social media strategies are the oldest rules in the book for business success – consistency, hard graft and low overheads.

Consistency comes down to internal communications to ensure everyone is saying the same thing explains Bennett – although she doesn’t need to. In a room full of ambitious business growth personnel the proverbial hymn sheet is part of our DNA. Every organisation has its own way of ensuring a united message. At Savills, pre-social media, I took part in roadshows around the country to share with every employee the company’s goals and singular approach. There was no danger of anyone ‘missing the memo’.

The same goes on digital platforms and Lovell has just returned from visiting each Close Brothers Group business helping each and every employee both personalise and unify their pages while sharing advice, structure and highlighting all the support available.

While we’re on old fashioned values, appreciation goes along way at CBAM where every week an email is sent personally with a “really massive thank you” to those who within the company have liked, shared and commented on content. “When we posted Dave Newman’s top tips on pensions recently and asked for our colleagues to ‘click’ we had 3,500 views, numerous likes, 25 comments – and 20% additional pension leads to the business that week. That success came from working as one team, all 600 of us – it’s a like, a share – it’s just a click but makes such a big difference.”

A question was asked about the impact of the regulatory Mi Fid II which is due to take effect from January 2018. Fortunately Andrew from Hearsay Social was able to reassure the audience that the likelihood, as is already the case in the US, is that every social interaction will need to be kept in record for audit trails but progression should not be halted.

Be where your clients are

If you’re a design or retail business you’re probably better placed starting out on Pinterest or Instagram to show your product and see your clients’ styles. That’s not to say the financial sector can’t make headway here too. Perhaps sleek cars, property
‘porn’ and works of art have led many wealth clients there already.

Be where they are scrolling. Today’s culture sees our clients on devices when they’ve got time to kill and time for new ideas – on the bus, between meetings, even when they’re avoiding TV ads – indeed research from Mirriad this
summer shows 90% of people today skip pre-roll TV ads – why would you pay to be there?

Video is proven to return the best engagement. The value of a YouTube channel is to host video but don’t waste effort converting your customers to YouTube
unnecessarily. Embed your videos into platforms where they’re already active.   Check out CBAM’s post on Teds talks videos – a genius, cost effective and engaging piece of content.

Support from the top

I led a question on stakeholder engagement, interest, support, belief – call it what you will it is clear that there remains social scepticism on many a Board leading to frustration among business development teams. Businesses haven’t crumbled through this social media wave, they’ve continued operationally and many who are not engaging in social are asking why do anything different?  The process of being ‘left behind’ happens slowly but the impact will be felt rapidly and it is our job to guard against that. We’re all chasing the same audience some more progressively than others.   Can you imagine organisations which refused to acknowledge the invention of the telephone lasting for long against competition that embraced it?

Heartening for me was that no-one on the panel disputed the stakeholder support issue and no-one had found it easy.  But more encouragingly each panel member demonstrated achievement in this area and this is perhaps the most valuable advice I can share:

  • Prove it – social media return is tangible and can be proven to be so

At Coutts & Co Hewlett asked, on just one occasion, if a significant figure in the bank (who by nature had a large network) would post on his LinkedIn page some content specifically devised to be highly relevant – “it blew up”, which I understood to mean it generated huge amounts of shares, likes and comments. Not least from the Board member concerned who was instantly converted.

  • Be an understanding evangelist

“It is unlikely to be the number of advisors not on LinkedIn that keeps the CEO up at night” said Neufeld. The job of the Board today is to navigate through Brexit, increased regulation, a weak pound and still return value to the shareholders.  If we can bring the social media story back to the agenda in a compelling way and demonstrate where this opportunity is driving the business – not least through stories such as the septuagenarian quoted at the start of this piece – it may just become the lack of social media that’s causing sleepless nights and then you’ll have all the engagement you need to grow the business socially and reap its rewards.

  •  Hard graft and pain free

Back to those old fashioned values. Those of us who have made headway in social media know that there isn’t a quick fix. Digital suggests quick and labour reduced but content is content.  It needs to be well thought through, highly relevant and please – engaging.  It doesn’t come from no-where it needs to be created and consistently. That may not sound ‘pain free’ and I dare-say for us it may not be but the key is to keep it off the stakeholders issues list.  Indeed go the step further and keep social on the safe list – there’s nothing like knowing the process is well managed, roadshows are in place and teams supported to make an Executive Committee comfortable with burgeoning company engagement, which let’s face it is what we need to provide more evidence.

You might even use the argument that out of adversity comes opportunity – although I leave that to your own risk-analysis. One banking institution, publicly troubled, had a transgender issue that ran wild over social media. The result, the bank visibly changed its policies right back at grass roots level and turned the situation around.

In most cases it doesn’t need a new recruit, or hell’s bells, a social recruitment policy, it doesn’t need an expenditure line of its own, yes video is great but you don’t need a BBC-style production, most phones take pretty good films now and with so
cial, as we’ve already identified; start small and learn what works and what doesn’t before scaling up. Work hard, find an advocate, position a success story and demonstrate value. Without expenditure, without issues without inflicting pain. Resource is a common problem and marketing leaders need to be highly organised have a process in place and maximise the tools available, Google alerts and scheduling programmes are a good starting point but there are many more really cool and clever tools and social analytics available at no cost.

Often Board agendas are focused on compliance and operations – and not so much business growth. The question is are we talking to our clients the right way? Is there someone on the Board to champion the customer?   If not this might be a worthwhile question as cultures and dimensions shift.

So where now?

My own business ensures other businesses grow and theoretically the opportunities are usually clear – do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.  Monitor your return on investment and learn from it – don’t spend where there is not a greater amount to be made and support your valuable human resource wherever it needs sustenance.

No organisation should invest in something that doesn’t make money or improve clients’ lives. If it’s just an experiment to show technology can ‘do something’ that’s not enough.
In the business of business growth we see time and again how meaningful and relevant content reaching customers enables a better result. In the financial services sector specifically it empowers advisors to provide better consultation and ultimately increase assets under management. We now need to sell that story very confidently, it’s good for our brand, it’s good for our customers and it’s good for the bottom line.

Andrew at Hearsay Social focuses on guiding clients on to the next action. “If a contact feels your content is ‘so valuable’ that they want to share it with their entire network, it is probably a good time to get in touch directly and move them through the client cycle.”  This is where clever CRM software pays its way but leaving aside investment a clear social CRM process is a very good start.

Should we assume that all managers are on social media in their
private lives? No. Coutts’ Hewlett says he can’t imagine a time in his life when he wasn’t using Social Media.  This in itself should be a wake-up call to anyone who has been in the workplace for 20 years or more and with at least another 20 years of client acquisition ahead.  But we should not assume and as a vital support function it’s up to us in business growth to provide all the support practical, resourceful, and diplomatic as possible. As Neufeld pointed out, today’s successful marketing departments are entrepreneurial FinTech-style teams in their own right.

The fact is if we make it easy then it is just a question of individuals wanting to engage just as it is up to them to engage in telephone calls, emails or face-to-face meetings.   If that’s a problem then might I suggest you pass the mantle over to HR.

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