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Social Media Expertise Is A Joke

Everyone's talking social media, but no one has all the answers. Want to reap the benefits of increased customer sentiment, transparency, trust and recommendations that social media offers? Don't worry about the ROI. Dive in and give it a try.

Want to know the dirty little secret about how to gain social media credibility, while promoting thought leadership and customer goodwill?

It sounds a little something like a Nike slogan: Just do it.

Here's what all the social media experts, gurus, ninjas, advisors and authors don't want you the banker or C-suite executive to know: Your average social media superstar is just as clueless as everyone else.

Finextra's Social Media Days event Wednesday in New York was a gathering of some of the top minds in banking and financial social media. It was an informative and useful event, and offered some insight to how banks are looking to use social media for customer service, B2B and internally.

But here's the thing: While perhaps the bankers featured at Finextra's event have successfully created campaigns leveraging social media as a tool for customer service, recruiting, social good, sentiment monitoring or in-house collaboration, I get the feeling that every one of the speakers would readily admit that they had to learn through experimentation, and that the field is changing all the time.

Looking for real numbers on ROI and actionable data from a social media campaign? You probably won't get them. But do you want to be relevant to customers, able to respond quickly to the changing market and reap the softer benefits that come from a good reputation in the social space (read: customer recommendations)? Then give social media a shot anyway.

New York-based AMI Partners' 2010-2011 SMB Social Media Study estimates that 4.8 million U.S. SMBs use some form of social media for business purposes, and that within two years, social media messaging will impact $53 billion in annual SMB information and communications technology spending. So the market's there. But while it's hard to increase brand advocacy and make social sentiment measurable, there's a sense that no one believes efforts in the space are wasted.

So how do you kickstart a campaign in social media? Just do it. With a few exceptions, the majority of people who lead a bank's social media campaign created the job for themselves. They saw the opportunity and pursued it. They aren't experts or gurus, and they barely understand Twitter themselves. But they gave it a try anyway.

The challenge, however, lies in getting to the next step. Whether a bank has a dozen Twitter followers and Facebook fans or a million, it's not enough to merely have a presence in the space. And it's useless to simply link to press releases and products. A brand needs to be dynamic, and, gasp, maybe even have a personality.

There will always be the issues of governance, the perceived loss of control and all the gray areas of compliance. But a successful social media effort seems to stem from personality and empowerment. A bank shouldn't try to channel all of its social media through one or two marketing members or outside social media "expert" consultants. It should instead empower its own employees who know the business and are close to it to engage and apply their own personal brand to personalize the larger, and sometimes monolithic, bank branding. Be transparent, be honest and be real.

Customers aren't stupid. A bank has nothing to gain by establishing a social media presence as an inexpensive channel to simply crank out marketing propaganda. At the same time it's a fools errand to build a social media presence simply as a means to engage every customer who complains about how much they dislike your bank.

Remember: Social media expertise is a joke -- everyone's in it learning together. And, despite being difficult to measure, there is value in a social media effort, but it's derived through the intangibles -- customer sentiment, trust and recommendations. While there may never be a tangible use-case for social media or measurable ROI, the overwhelming belief is that it's the right thing to do.

And the only way a bank will ever figure it out is by jumping in and trying.

Related: Banks Mining Social Media Networks with Analytics Tools

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