Do finance brands work on Facebook?

Dawn barely touches the Sussex sky, somewhere an owl hoots mournfully, the battlements of Lord McKelvey’s enormous pile rear up above the chicken sheds. There is a clanging from the brass tube that connects my cot with the Master Bedroom. It is the master himself calling me. I shuffle barefoot, shivering, through the feathers and apply the tube to my ear.
“Job for you Spooner.” He bellows, archly. “400 words on this before breakfast.”
He clears his throat with the sound of a dredger hitting granite seabed…
“Ahhhhhemmm! With Facebook pages seemingly the be-all and end-all these days for marketers, where does this leave the likes of financial services brands who are hardly going to get people rushing for the “like” button?”
With a terrible clanging and the suggestion of muffled giggling the pipe falls silent. I light a candle stub and sharpen my quill.
It is, as ever, a good question without an obvious answer.
Even the most cursory trawl through the Facebook profiles of the UK’s leading FS brands will leave the professional FS marketer demoralised. A mixture of raggedy corporate puffery and ‘dad dancing at the disco’, ‘down with the kids’ ghastliness parades itself monotonously before us.
Where offers are offered they scream of desperation, where TV campaigns are referenced, the connection is so thin as to be transparent. Could it simply be that FS brands should stay away from Facebook? I think that the answer is probably ‘yes’. And yet many FS brands successfully exploit Twitter in the realm of customer service, pouncing on negative PR and spinning it positively. Why is it that Facebook so uniquely leaves them and their millions of customers at a loss?
I think it’s probably to do with salience.
Compare and contrast the Facebook presence of Barclays Bank and The Barclays Premier League: the former a wilderness, the latter a busy, interested, interesting forum where lively debate is intelligently moderated. We use Facebook in the same way as we used to use the saloon bar, to keep up with acquaintances, to argue and mock, to begin and end romances and, above all, to gossip. It is both too human and too unmanageable a forum for big brands to negotiate intelligently without coming across as a bullies or bores.
Perhaps the natural Facebook function most appropriate for FS brands to try to emulate is the one I find most engaging about the site: keeping up with geographically distant friends, family and acquaintances. If FS brands can incentivise customers to ‘friend’ them with offers that are relevant within the context of Facebook they can then communicate offers and opportunities to them in a meaningful way.
Frankly none of us wants to be friends with a bank today. But we all want to save money or get something for nothing. If HSBC (for example) can treat me with respect via mail, email and online, surely it can learn the social rules of engagement of what is, after all, a simple networking site.
It may be an old-fashioned way of looking at a modern phenomenon but ultimately it all comes down to good manners and ‘knowing one’s place’.
Naturally the enemy of this common sense solution is the opportunity cost. To manage a bank, building society, insurance company or investment house’s ‘Facebook presence’ intelligently requires an intelligent use of resource.
All too often it is the job of some desperately underworked junior marketer who is crippled by stakeholder interference and the dead hand of compliance. In fact, in order to use Facebook intelligently these FS brands will have to do something that they have always found hard and today find harder than ever: they will have to invest .
Invest in people, invest in research, invest in their agencies (PR, online, integrated whatever) in order to maximise the promotional and PR potential of a site that has yet to be (dread word) monetised effectively by many brands of any description.
The candle gutters on the ledge as the sun comes up over McKelvey Mansion. Tongue poking from the corner of my mouth, I review what I have written and find to my satisfaction that I have exceeded my quota of words and probably at least half-answered Lord McKelvey’s question without upsetting any of my clients.
Perhaps there will even be time for a nap before I am summoned to the kitchen door with my basket of delicious brown eggs for the Master’s breakfast. I tuck the parchment scrawl inside my raggedy pyjamas and bed down in the feathers once more as Chanticleer, the Giant Lithuanian Blue Cockerel begins to crow…

Jonathan Spooner is creative partner at Tangible

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