Lord Charlie McKelvey (of That Ilk) appears to be retreating further and further away into the remote, digital fastnesses of his baronial mansion and increasingly leaves me to the task of minding his vast collection of prize chickens undisturbed.
What happens now is that I receive simultaneous SMS, BBM, email, Facebook and Twitter alerts that read like this…
“ATTN SPOONER: With 50% of people more likely to buy from a firm after following tweets, how do finance firms
a) Get followed in the first place?
b) Tweet about it?
c) Do you care?
Answers in triplicate under 700 words by 7:45pm today or it will be the worse for you.”
The first thing, as ever, that I need to do is research the field and mention my sources, including as primus inter pares the inimitable Henrietta Bannister, head of digital strategy at Tangible and all-round good egg.
With her prompting I immediately happen upon this invigorating article on ft.com that explores why financial services companies prefer Twitter to Facebook, especially as a customer service channel. And how it’s also offering them a valuable ongoing channel for recruitment.
Next the grizzled old Telegraph weighs in with an article showing how financial companies have reduced their marketing budgets for social media this year as they’re not ready for the negative comments and the culture of transparency and open comments.
The ever-valuable birdsontheblog offers a fascinating case study on Citi Bank’s use of Twitter – showing how it acquired followers – promoted the account via other channels (from their main site, via Facebook etc), making the content relevant to specific audiences (it has different accounts for different topics) and goes on to show how it re-Tweets other people’s content, how it live-Tweets events etc etc
And finally, over to wallblog for a useful summary of who is using social media and how.
But we must hasten on if we are to answer Lord McKelvey’s questions before night falls…
How do financial brands get Twitter followers?
Racking my tiny brains harder and harder in order to do justice to the Mighty One’s questioning, I will divide my response into two categories…
Category 1: Straight and serious ways to acquire Twitter followers
It seems to me that by far the best way to get followers is by being useful and relevant – by offering genuine customer service, by using the channel as a powerful recruitment tool, and as a means of offering practical information on products and product development.
Naturally, as a brand you can only do this by:
Investing in staff who will be 100% committed to using the conventions of Twitter intelligently to create a meaningful presence. How? By re-Tweeting, replying, and generally being part of the conversation. These curators of your Twitter presence will also need to use the channel to cross-promote your official site, your Facebook presence and to reach out to wider audiences by using guest bloggers, and linking to timely, salient PR articles etc etc. Only if you invest in time and people will you be able to create the environment within which Twitter can become a valuable tool for your organisation.
Naturally, you might argue that these common-sense imperatives apply to any business but in a low-interest category like financial services they are more crucial than anywhere else.
Category 2: Creative ways to acquire Twitter followers
If Category 1 is really ‘hygiene’ then Category 2 requires intelligence and imagination.
There are already companies who use Twitter as part of a creative campaign rather than as a straight business account and I would contend that these are the ones who will enjoy the greater success and longevity as the social media landscape evolves.
And we could not complete this column without referencing Compare The Market, which has used @Aleksandr_Orlov to generate a frankly staggering 52,000 followers. How? By recognising the innate comedic value of the brand spokesman and intelligently parlaying his personality into the ‘Twittersphere’.
Aleksandr will occasionally promote offers and discounts, but primarily he exists as the much-loved, now-Twitter-based ambassador of a brand. Only by applying exactly the same attention to detail to this medium as they do to their TV commercials are Compare The Market able to maintain such a large following. After all, these are ‘brand-fans’ and the slightest wrong note in the tone of voice will have loyal followers hitting the ‘unfollow’ button.
So, exploiting your brand icon and brand personality offers one successful route to this particular market but that is an option open only to brands which have taken the time and trouble to build a brand personality through their broadcast channels in the first place.
A more generally accessible means of exploiting Twitter is that used by American Express to generate more than half a million followers. And that route is old school marketing route 101.
Offer the customer an incentive to behave the way you want them to…
American Express uses Twitter in a totally strategic way. It has set up a straightforward system which allows cardmembers (as they insist on calling them in that strange mealy-mouthed American way) to link up their accounts with their American Express Cards to receive discounts direct to their card – just by using a hashtag. What could be simpler? (Though I dread to contemplate the back-room requirements.) And it’s an elegant way to use a new channel to deliver real value to valued customers.
Not everyone will be able to ‘do an Aleksandr’ or commit to the American Express model but what these two examples do indicate is that using Twitter ‘beyond the box’ in more strategic or creative ways can be a strong way to make it relevant to your users and your business.
I feel I have at least half-answered Lord McKelvey’s questions but then he delivers the final twist of the knife, he asks whether we should care or not? Hmmmmmm…
On the whole I think we care very much indeed.
I do not think for one moment that social media will not continue to develop and evolve beyond our current understanding incredibly quickly and in directions we cannot yet imagine – but that does not mean that financial brands can afford to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. They need to act now.
We cannot afford to ignore the fact that there are over 200 million tweets every day.
But for financial services companies to use Twitter well, it will require brave senior teams with the ability to embrace the culture of transparency. And for those who cannot commit to that degree of openness, it can still continue to deliver meaningful, incentive-driven, marketing opportunities when used as part of an intelligent CRM programme.
The bats have begun to flit amongst the crenellations and machicolations of Lord McKelvey’s beetling, baronial seat warning me with their curiously intimate shrieks that my deadline approaches. A large Rhode Island Red pecks around my feet as I hesitate, my bony finger trembling above the ‘send’ button. Dare I send an article that is almost double the length that The Master specified? Dare I? Too late! A Kalamata Fighting Chicken has jogged my elbow and the article is sent!
Follow me @spoonbiscuit to see if I survive the wrath of McKelvey…
Jonathan Spooner is creative partner at Tangible