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The role of social media in financial services marketing

Today, LinkedIn launched its inaugural Financial Services Summit in New York which focused on the role social media is playing in the financial services industry. The first panel brought together representatives from American Express, Citi, Fidelity Investments, Prudential Retirement and Hearsay Social to talk about using social media in financial marketing.

It was curious to see a panel on social media where only two out of six individuals on the panel have Twitter accounts. One was Clara Shih, who runs the agency Hearsay Social, and the other, Frank Eliason, SVP of Social for Citi. The panelists’ lack of Twitter accounts felt like a microcosm highlighting how most financial service organizations are behind in social media.

Not that Twitter is the be all and end all of social media, it is a communication channel for 140 million active users. Saying that, in LinkedIn’s new findings released today, financial advisors are mainly reaching out to prospective clients on LinkedIn with Twitter only used by 8% of them. Even brand identity building primarily takes place on LinkedIn over Facebook, Twitter and Google+ for those working in an advisory capacity.

Though the panelists did mention communication on all platforms, a lot of the issues they are facing aren’t about where the conversations are taking place. It’s rather that financial institutions need to put customers at the center of their decisions as well as enable their employees to do the same.

Below are a few of the key takeaways from each of the panelists. These points could be taken across any organization, especially those who have to deal with compliance issues and regulatory bodies:

Clara Shih, CEO, Hearsay Social

There are two main things that Shih highlighted about how social media is shifting the way financial services market themselves:

1) Proliferation of online identity where people freely sharing what they do, who they are, etc. is very valuable for the financial world. When people get married or have a career change, these are great triggers for financial services discussion and this is when financial advisors and institutions need to reach out to customers.

2) The online social graph (social networking) shifted us from a base founded in search. Today the way we get information is discovery based with more links coming from social media than Google now. Shih stressed that Twitter is mainly used for retail, customer service, offers and deals, Facebook is a perfect place for retail cards and insurance and LinkedIn is used most by ultra high worth individuals. It’s more than a social graph, it’s a decision graph. We need to figure out how consumers use connections and rich information to make the best choice for them and give them the facility to do it.

Most importantly, we have to find a way to enable the advisors, whatever the device they are on and wherever they are. We’ve seen this movie play before many times before. There was a time when it took convincing to get employees to get computers and email. We’ve proven what can be done with technology so once we can ensure compliance, we have to look at ROI.

Kara Segreto, CMO, Prudential Retirement

Segreto is seeing a real trend to shift to more thought leadership with the generation of enough content to completely regenerate and be one step ahead. You also need to commit as a whole institute or it won’t work. There has been a shift from spending time with sales and product to spending more time with technology and tech law and compliance. There’s also been a shift in media mix and spends and financial institutions need to have an integrated approach to the market place.

Audrey Hendley, General Manager, New Customer Acquisition, American Express

Social Media has provided a greater opportunity for deeper engagement with customers at American Express. Social media amplifies brand messaging across different customer touch points and aids with customer service, engagement and retention. It is looking to engage more with small businesses and American Express puts on Small Business Saturday once a year to engage with customers and the community. Hendley stressed that it’s important to know who you are talking to and and correlate your messaging and content to that audience. The more connected customers are to the brand, the more they will use it.

Sean Belka, SVP Fidelity Center for Applied Technology, Fidelity Investments

The goal at Fidelity Investments is to help customers achieve big goals. 20 years ago meant calls and mail, then web and email. Social media is part of the large evolution to be where the customers are. We need to look at technology and try to figure out how that will help your customers. Think – is this going to help them in their financial lives? It’s less about the channel and more about what the customers need.

People want to aggregate multiple sources when making a financial decision instead of a single source like they did in the past. How do we enable that and bring that all together in a low cost way? One of the things Fidelity brought to market in the last year, was to enable customers to deposit checks through their mobile. This way the company can be where the customers are, make it easier for them and create new opportunities.

Frank Eliason, SVP Social Media, Citi

For Citi, social media shifted the control. Now the control is more in hands of the customer and the hands of your employee. This is changing the culture at all companies and we’re forced to be more open. This openness will help build the trust that is lacking in the financial world at the moment.

The huge thing that is under discussed is how we can help facilitate conversation. How can financial institutions listen in the space and understand what is happening in all brands in the marketplace. They then need to take this information to see where they can change things internally. Also how do you build that trust and build those communities? Traditionally, financial services was about community and relationships and that is what social is. Ultimately, you have to find ways to connect the dots. It’s not about the brand, it’s about finding out more about your customers.

In the financial services world, we need to shift from the product perspective and look how customers are using it and doing it. All social spaces are different. First, you need to listen in each space and then ask customers where to communicate, what they want and then keep adapting as the platform adapts. At first everything may be cool with how a platform is used and then elements may not, so you need to adjust accordingly.

A big problem is that most financial firms push messages out and no one cares. We have to remember it’s about human dialogue. When you’re dealing with compliance, traditionally it’d take 3 days to have approval but taking three days to approve something makes for really funny Twitter conversations. To help with this, Citi has 2 social lawyers.

As for trying to stop employees from speaking online, you can’t. They are speaking there and they are connecting to other people. This is not a bad thing, we just have to start doing it in the right way. Regulators are just as confused in this space as financial services are so we need to have the conversation with them. This is important as the real world has changed since the time regulatory laws were first created in 1929. Now is the time to rethink them.

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