Blog article
See all stories »

An article relating to this blog post on Finextra:

Nationwide caught up in Facebook #fbrape campaign

Nationwide Building Society experienced a crash course in the perils of social media advertising earlier this week when it found itself drawn into a row about the depiction of violence against women o...

See article

Just where are you advertising? Brands, Social Media and CRM

Nationwide Building Society did well to respond so quickly to last week’s social media campaign. The story and the whole news cycle highlights a new set of risks & challenges for CRM.

What makes it especially challenging is that there were no objections to the content of the adverts or Nationwide itself. The problem was the context in which the adverts appeared, a context which was generated by parties outside of Nationwide's control.

Magnifying the risks was the speed at which it happened, the size of the stakes involved and the way one part of marketing suddenly became a major customer, PR and brand management issue. It is not new for a brand’s value & perception to be threatened by a marketing issue, but the way it happened and Nationwide’s ability to respond in real time is a major change. To understand it better, it is worth looking at each element in turn.

The implications of the shift to social media advertising

The scale and shift of advertising spend to Social Media is well known to those in the industry. It’s hardly insightful to observe that a lot of people look at social media a lot of the time. Many of these do so using mobile devices and that advertisers have followed the audience onto the sites where they spend their time.  The more innovative (and brave) banks have also gone there and I was very interested to see DenizBank's video of their Facebook full service banking on Facebook.

Most financial institutions are not yet ready to offer services through Facebook but they recognise its relevance to many of their customers. They need to advertise where their target market spends time and that often means Facebook or other social media for audiences such as young professionals or first time buyers. Yet the lesson from Nationwide is that social media and mobile have to be part of both your marketing strategy (which most financial institutions understand) and also be part of your customer service strategy (which fewer do). Furthermore (and this is the really hard part), marketing and customer service have to join up properly within the firm. Each needs to know what the other is doing, as this is very different from when marketing only reached customers through television commercials and printed media.

In that paradigm, if television commercials or a printed media campaign went wrong then the a company could withdraw the adverts. Feedback might take days or weeks to arrive by post or focus groups, but it was hard for a campaign to be so bad that the media took an interest and the feedback could be managed by marketing. Even if a campaign did go wrong, the ownership of the copyright could prevent ads being reproduced and customers didn’t have the channels for parodies or the re-distribution of material.

Digital and then Social Media has changed all that. A re-tweet takes seconds, a pithy comment on Facebook only slightly longer. It’s not just the speed of reaction that has changed, but so has the scale. Writing a letter to a newspaper or defacing a billboard might be a customer’s response but neither really scaled or would have much impact.

Today if a financial services firm’s advertising campaign goes wrong the impact can be quick and very public. The Harvard Business Review has an analysis of Danske Bank’s ad problems and Jonah Sacks neatly sums up how the consequences of a branding misstep got multiplied many times by social media.

Of course, once your brand is in trouble, more traditional media will take an interest. Lots of online content makes it easy for a desk based journalist to research the story, and I don’t imagine Danske Bank enjoyed the resulting coverage in the Copenhagen Post.

The Context Problem

Even if the advertisement is appropriate, that is not the end of the messaging challenge.  The context in which it appears is crucial. Here, social media presents challenges in a way that Google Adwords does not.

The Nationwide ads had good messages presented appropriately and unlike Danske Banks there were no complaints about what Nationwide was saying; all the complaints were about the material on the page that the ads were presented on.

This is a problem nearly as old as banner ads themselves and is one that Facebook should, perhaps, have been alert to. There have long been problems with banner ads cropping up in inappropriate contexts and this is a known risk with some types of word spotting automated marketing engines. There are some entertaining (& shocking) examples in this article from the digital marketing community Word spotting is not be the only contextual issue advertisers need to worry about. Earlier this year The Guardian had a good article on how some major UK companies have found themselves placing advertisements which funded pirate web sites.

With print it was easy for Financial Services companies to decide what sort of publication or newspaper aligned with their target market and brand. Online is different. You target customers by geography or demographics but do so through a third party. In the digital era, pushing your ads to some of the sites your customers go to is potentially very risky.

Responding in real time

It may sound daunting but these risks are manageable. The advert content can be checked in-house and within some limts you can check where it is going to be shown and who to. Yet after this there remains one other critical part.

I mentioned earlier that “marketing and customer service actually have to join up within the firm”.

When something unexpected or wrong happens with a marketing campaign, an angry customer will phone and the contact centre needs to respond intelligently. It’s no use having the contact centre agent say “…Oh, we’re working when they show that ad, we’ve never seen it” (as I heard an agent say at one insurance company I was helping). Agents need to understand what their company is telling customers and have sensible lines to take.

The other important aspect is that the response to marketing may not initially be telephony and may not be directed directly to the organisation. Monitoring social media in real time is critical. This is very different from what marketing do in terms of sentiment and perception analysis and is much closer to managing telephony traffic. Inbound customer contact is something financial services organisations have a great deal of experience of, but the contact expertise sits in the contact centre centre, not with the social media teams in marketing.

Twitter (for example) represents a very dynamic, fast moving channel and one that potentially needs to be monitored on a 24 x 7 basis. It’s crucial that marketing set policy and requirements, but the organisation with most experience at dealing with customers at all hours of the day and night is the contact centre. The challenge for both is that any issues need to be managed in real time, not just captured and responded to. As Nationwide shows, company activities might need to be changed very fast once a problem is identified.


Social Media offers huge possibilities for targeted marketing, but it brings with it new and significant risks that need to be managed in addition to current practices.  Risk management in this context requires engagement at many levels; technology (bringing in social media feeds & managing them consistently), cultural (the contact centre working with marketing) and at the board level (does the risk committee really understand the risks & mitigation approaches when the brand may be at stake?). It’s challenging but a big opportunity for those that get it right.



Comments: (0)

Alex Noble

Account Director


Member since

10 Jan 2008



Blog posts




This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Innovation in Financial Services

A discussion of trends in innovation management within financial institutions, and the key processes, technology and cultural shifts driving innovation.

See all

Now hiring