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Citi, USAA Execs Share Social Media Best Practices

For many banks, social media - sites such as Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare where users freely share information with each other - is scary, unchartered territory. These banks might have a marketing page up but little else. A few brave pioneers, including Jaime Punishill, senior vice president of digital channel strategy and social media at Citi; Rhonda Crawford, vice president of digital media and innovation at

For many banks, social media - sites such as Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare where users freely share information with each other - is scary, unchartered territory. These banks might have a marketing page up but little else. A few brave pioneers, including Jaime Punishill, senior vice president of digital channel strategy and social media at Citi; Rhonda Crawford, vice president of digital media and innovation at USAA; and Steven Kruskamp, Jr., ecommerce marketing officer at 1st Mariner Bank have forged ahead with proactive bank social media initiatives and already have lessons learned to relate. Punishill, Crawford and Kruskamp, along with a social media newcomer, Bradley Leimer, vice president of the online services group at Mechanics Bank, San Francisco, shared their experiences at a Celent event uptown yesterday. Their experiences could help guide other bankers along the dim, lightly trodden path to social media prominence.1. You don't need a fully articulated strategy to get started with social media.

"In Citi North America we took a design, build fly, approach, so we are designing, building, and flying all the time," Punishill said. "We did not start off with a strategy, we knew we'd have to experiment to get enough information and exposure and translate the business goals into a set of social media goals." Two months ago, the bank completed a three-year social media roadmap that reflects the business's three-year plan and key performance indicators for various lines of business including credit cards, IRAs and personal wealth.

1st Mariner Bank, in Baltimore, also had no strategy in the beginning. "We just dove right into it because we didn't have any examples to follow," Kruskamp said. "We just said we see value here, these conversations are going on with our customers whether we know it or not, do we want to just sit back and ignore these conversations or be part of them? We decided to make it an extension of our brand where people could interact with us." He also noted that the number of people coming into the bank's branches was dropping, and the bank wanted to maintain those relationships on the web. Kruskamp explores each new platform that comes along; most recently the bank added its information on FourSquare. 1st Mariner is planning to build a campaign in FourSquare; it might, for instance, invite members to a free lunch with their branch manager. [For more on 1st Mariner's social media and personal financial management initiatives, see our latest cover story.]

Similarly, military family credit union USAA started with a "test and learn," according to Crawford. "We had the benefit of having a visionary CEO who saw what was happening in his own household" referring to his college-age son, who gets much of his information from his iPhone. "He said, this is happening with or without us. In these channels we have to be proactive, we can't wait," she said. At USAA, corporate communications has oversight for social media. The credit union's launch of remote deposit via iPhone was considered a social media initiative. USAA has an 18-month roadmap for social media that's based on relationship and reputation management for now; later the credit union will determine how to monetize it. "We want to be sure we do the right things and honor customers in the spirit of social media before we go down the path to truly selling in this space," Crawford said.

Leimer said Mechanics Bank is still exploring social media. The bank has a five-year plan for customer experience and technology that includes social media.

2. Research your customers' use of social media.

"If you imagine social media users are only teenagers, the way we imagined only teenagers would surf the internet 15 years ago, that is patently untrue," Punishill said. "The first thing you should do is find some way of doing research on your customer base. You'd be shocked to know who of your customer base is listening to social media, because every grandmother has some teenager they're tracking on Facebook because that's the only way they can talk to the kid. They're also watching what those kids are saying about the bank." In Citi's research, it found that its social-media-using customers skew affluent. About 25% of Citi North America customers are on LinkedIn. Across its lines of business and in all age groups, Citi customers use social media. And furthermore, "you have no prayer of reaching the next generation of customers if you don't do this," he said. This year for the first time, there are more Gen Y households than Baby Boomer households, he observed, and adoption rates will only escalate faster.

At USAA, social media savvy customers also skew affluent. The credit union recently set up a social media forum on its website where members could share stories. "One of first stories that went up online was, 'Why I Embroidered A Pillowcase for Your CEO,' and it was written by exactly who you would think would embroider a pillowcase for your CEO, a 70-year-old grandmother," Crawford said. "You can't go in with a stereotype of who you think is going to engage with you. We see everything from, 'If USAA was a man, I'd marry him' to posts from retired major generals on our Facebook page and our online customer boards."

Leimer said his 70-year-old parents are on Facebook and in the Bay Area, many businesses are on social media.

3. But don't just monitor social media, jump in and respond.

"Our first point of business is listening to customers," Leimer said. "But when you see a message about a bad experience, you've got to get on that." He cautions that banks should not set up a presence on a social media site unless they're equipped to deal with customer expectations there. "Once you're on a platform, you've got to be ready to go," he said.

USAA started listening to customer messages on social media sites last year. But "as you're listening, you don't want to be a stalker and observer on the web, you want to be jumping in to those conversations, particularly as it pertains to reputation management or improving the customer experience," Crawford said. Although she said USAA tends to score very high in customer service generally, members were using sites like Twitter as the highest point of escalation. "It's a complaint that comes through a megaphone," she observed. "When people are tweeting every half hour about a problem they had at the call center, you want to jump on that quickly and resolve the situation," she said. Often, the credit union takes the conversation out of the social media community because resolving the issue requires the customer's bank account number.

Punishill agreed that social media sites like Twitter are not secure places for customer information, so conversations begun there typically have to be taken offline to a phone conversation (ironically, often this is where the customer started, with a bad experience in the call center that he shared on Twitter or Facebook). Punishill also wryly observed that from a public approval point of view, Citi is not in as strong a position as USAA ("I thank God every day for AIG and tobacco," he joked) and that response times need to be much faster on social media. Citi had a PR crisis that started on a blog and gravitated to TechCrunch then on to Twitter. The bank responded in 36 hours, which by the bank's standards was quick, "except the crisis was done in three hours - in three hours, we had lost the war," he said. The bank didn't have a viral mechanism to fight back with. "As this moved its way through the blogosphere and the Twittersphere, all I had were press releases and other things that the groundswell doesn't care about," he said. "They have a whole different toolset. Make sure that you prepare for the worst, because it will happen and it will happen fast."

4. Be aware of opportunities to make social media work for you.

Leimer gave an interesting example of how Mechanics Bank took advantage of the blog site Huffington Post's Move Your Money campaign (to get consumers to move their accounts from large, bailed out banks to small banks) which started at the end of December. The bank noticed some of its branches weren't showing up on the Move Your Money site. "We spoke to the Huffington Post and it turned into a long dialogue," he said. "In the first quarter, we attributed about 15% of deposit growth just to this alone." The bank now links to the Move Your Money site.

5. There are many good software tools to use, manage and monitor social media.

1st Mariner Bank has built presences on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and FourSquare. It uses TweetSuite to manage Twitter LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media accounts. Kruskamp has looked at Radian6 software for monitoring social media that can identify individuals' influence. He also has simple Google Alerts set up for the bank's branding key words and for the names of the bank's CEOs and senior management. He checks each link that pops up to determine whether the mention should be posted on one of the bank's social media pages or addressed in some way.

Citi is working on a brand project through which it will grow its Facebook presence and join FourSquare. "You probably don't know this, but your bank and branches are all on FourSquare," Punishill told bankers in the audience. "Your customers have done it for you." Citi has also launched its first retail video blog using an Infosys social media platform. The bank has also worked with Twitter to get its corporate accounts verified (as anybody can create an account with the name Citi in it, there are no restrictions).

USAA uses Radian6 as a daily social media monitoring tool, to look at things like sentiment analysis (how customers feel about the credit union and its products). The credit union is thinking of building a social media dashboard that could be reported to senior executives. It has put a video version of its annual report on YouTube and regularly posts webinars with its financial officers on YouTube.

USAA is also working to make its own site more social and educational, rather than simply transaction oriented. "That's a challenge when you have a big, behemoth website built in WebSphere and you want to do something in [the blog tool] Wordpress or open source software," Crawford said. "That's challenging for your IT teams and you start to get into the microsite conversation."

Unusually for a financial site, USAA has begun offering the kind of "Rate and Review" feature common on travel and retail sites for 35 different products. "This is not for the feint of heart," Crawford warned [you can imagine what a disgruntled customer who has lost half the value of his 401(k) might say in a review]. "You have to start with killer products. If you have killer products it's an incredible tool, instead of relying on ads, you're relying on your customer base to spread the good news." This is word of mouth for the 21st century, she said.

Leimer also cautioned bankers about rate and review features, noting that "the critics in social media are the loudest voices." He also strongly advised banks, especially small ones, to get all their technology ducks in a row before engaging in social media. "If your website doesn't offer efficient online banking, if you don't know what your personal financial management offering will be, or if you don't have mobile banking and you go out and establish a presence on Facebook and Twitter, you're going to get hammered," he said.

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