Frank Eliason thinks of social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as customers' living rooms. "You have to wait to be invited in," says the SVP of social media at New York-based Citi. "You want to deliver content that's important to your fans. As you follow what they're sharing and commenting on, that tells you which content is working and which is not."
Dan Marks, chief marketing officer at First Tennessee in Memphis, views social media as a big cocktail party. You want to go and listen, find out what people are saying, maybe jump in with a comment or a witty quip once in a while -- but you don't get to control the conversation or pitch products, he says. "It's a great indicator of word of mouth."
The point is, on social media sites, thousands of conversations are going on, and some of them are about your bank. (Actually, it's often more of a random spewing of personal opinions, thoughts and article links to an audience that may or may not be listening.) Within this mass of communication lies a wealth of useful information for banks -- insights into where they're falling short in customer service; which products, websites and mobile apps customers love or hate; what their share of voice is compared to competitors (that is, how often they're mentioned versus their competitors); and how their marketing messages are coming across.
Banks such as Citi, SunTrust, First Tennessee and ING Direct not only are listening to the conversations and chiming in where appropriate, they're analyzing the conversations to uncover ways to improve their business, with the help of monitoring and analytics software. "A year ago, banks thought their customers might be in social media sites and that there might be a few people talking about their banking experience online, but it wasn't enough to necessitate a strategy," observes Zach Hofer-Shall, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Now, just 12 months later, it's big, and a lot of banks are doing something. But a lot of what they're doing is behind-the-scenes research or measurement."
An Active Social Life
Some software products in the space are multitasking -- they provide a console for responding to social media comments as well as reports and analytics. Toronto-based ING Direct Canada (US$37.6 billion in assets) has about 19,000 fans and followers of its Twitter and Facebook pages. Under the name SuperStarSaver, the bank's social media team tweets and posts comments to customers and prospects about their financial challenges. The messages are often offbeat.
"Quirky taglines are part of our culture," says Mark Nicholson, head of digital and interactive at ING Direct Canada. "The intent is not to sound like a bank, but to speak the way a retailer would. It's embedded in the DNA of what we call the 'Orange Culture.'"
The bank uses Austin, Texas-based Spredfast to collaborate and participate in social networks. "Our folks aren't directly on Facebook -- they're on Spredfast, which allows us to audit and track all those interactions," Nicholson says, noting that the SaaS solution helps the bank scale its social media engagement and manage the workload.
Spredfast also helps the bank monitor its interactions, "so we don't say something on a social network that we shouldn't be saying," and for compliance, Nicholson adds, pointing to proper disclosures as an example. A built-in workflow executes an approval process, he explains.
Citi's ($1.9 trillion in assets) social media team uses Indianapolis-based ExactTarget's CoTweet to engage with customers. "You assign responses to people, which is extraordinarily useful," the bank's Eliason says. And the solution tracks the conversation, so if one customer service representative starts an interaction with a customer and then his shift ends, another rep can see what transpired. "That's important," Eliason adds.
To manage Facebook interactions specifically, Citi uses New York-based Buddy Media. "When you're looking at managing your wall in Facebook, you have to look at your publishing capabilities -- how easy is it to put content up there?" Eliason says, noting that the software also helps the bank manage widgets on its Facebook wall. (For more on Citi's use of social media, see related article, page 24.)
SunTrust ($172.9 billion in assets) also uses ExactTarget's CoTweet to manage social media conversations and obtain metrics for its three Twitter handles: @suntrust for general bank information, @asksuntrust for customer service inquiries and @livesolid for conversations about finances and savings. "From a workflow management perspective, if you have multiple accounts and different contributors under those accounts, you want to have an easy way to identify a mention and assign it to someone," says Bianca Buckridee, the Atlanta-based bank's social media engagement manager. "That's what CoTweet does."
It also provides background information, she says -- including the commenters' bios and geographic locations, if available, their blog and/or websites and past tweets -- to help the social media team decide whether or not to respond and to determine an appropriate answer.
Once banks have the tools to measure their social media efforts, they need to decide which analytics to track. Two of the most popular are "volume" and "sentiment." First Tennessee's Marks refers to volume as the "overall buzz." How often is the bank brand mentioned in certain categories, and how does that change over time?
Eliason's team at Citi watches for mentions of the brand, drills down into spikes in Facebook "likes" to see what's driving sentiment up, and looks at keyword "clouds" around the brand to see what's popular. But, Eliason says, he thinks in terms of measuring "engagement" rather than volume.
"Engagement is a little different and there's no strong formula for this today," he explains. "Many people count followers or fans. In my view, that is useless. We look at: How engaged are those fans? Are they liking what you're putting out there? Are they sharing your message through Digg or Twitter? Are they writing back to you?"
Citi launched a Facebook presence in November 2010; by March it had attracted 11,000 fans. "I want to see a positive direction, but am I looking to skyrocket up to 1 million fans?" says Eliason. "No. I want to keep people engaged; I want to be delivering things they want."
Trickier to measure is sentiment -- gauging whether or not people are saying positive or negative things about the brand. "The tools all have some assessment or methodology to recognize whether people are more or less favorable," First Tennessee's Marks says. "Because not all PR is good PR -- just ask Domino's Pizza or BP."
ING Direct Canada uses software to look closely at negative comments "so we can improve our business long term," says the bank's Nicholson. Typical software uses a combination of keyword search and natural language processing to pick up on the good or bad vibes.
Sentiment analysis tools also typically track the Internet as a whole, not just social media sites. "We've had more third-party mentions in good old-fashioned online customer forums than on Facebook," First Tennessee's Marks observes.
A growing throng of mostly hosted social media analytics products are available to measure metrics such as buzz and sentiment. In addition to CoTweet and Buddy Media, Citi uses Radian6 and Scout Labs, which was acquired by Lithium Technologies in 2010, for social media analytics. According to the bank's Eliason, Scout Labs does a good job with reporting. "It's easy to pull a quick report and to be able to drill into it," he says.
For Facebook analytics, Citi uses Buddy Media to analyze how people are engaging with the bank's Facebook page, how much time they're spending on the page, how they're sharing the content and where they're sharing it. "That analysis guides you to what people want on Facebook," Eliason asserts.
One challenge with which all of these tools contend is speed, Eliason notes. "If someone's having a bad experience and I want to help them out, I'd rather be the first comment than the 20th comment," he says. "So speed becomes key."
First Tennessee's ($24 billion in assets) Marks says he has evaluated six social media analytics vendors in the past year. "Nielsen [New York] BuzzMetrics is definitely the best in terms of power and sophistication, but it's also the most expensive -- it seems designed for the needs of a national or global advertiser," he contends. "Radian6 is very attractive, and it's used by a number of banks."