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Social channels: a lightning rod for the whole bank?

Last week the UK's Cooperative Bank rolled out a well constructed social marketing campaign. Designed to use social platforms to amplify the voice of customer advocates, the campaign was the very epitome of good social media marketing practice.

The bank promoted a tweet about Georgie, a Co-op Bank business customer, who had said something nice previously about the bank on Twitter, so they captured her story in a video which was over on Youtube, if you just followed the link. The same content was surfaced on the bank's Facebook page too.

So far, so much textbook good practice social media technique. In fact, the video was very well executed. Down-to-earth, no nonsense Georgie tells her story in an engaging manner that should work for other SMBs (to use the audience marketing jargon).

One can imagine that over at the Social Media Command Centre, they were hoping to push back and nurture conversations about helping small businesses and the like.

Unfortunately the campaign kicked off a bunch of altogether more vitriolic conversations – scroll down to take a look (but not if you are easily offended). Or look at @TheCooperative on Twitter for the tweet and full conversation.

Doubtless, the marketing manager behind the campaign, must soon have felt like they had firmly grasped a new role as the lightning rod responsible for absorbing all the high voltage angst being generated among all the customers of the bank.

In the context of executing a social marketing campaign, I'm not sure the Co-op did much wrong here (maybe promoting the tweet rather than leaving it to natural RTing was the spark that enflamed the responses?).

But as a case study, it is a reminder that: just doing social media isn't going to fix the wider reputational issues, or the customer experience deficit, that most banks currently confront. Banks need strategies to resolve these issues far more urgently than they need strategies for new social channels.

It also explains why the next time I can't find my bank on my social network of choice, its probably because the manager responsible has wisely decided that discretion is a much better long term career option, for now at least, than becoming a lightning rod for the shortcomings of the whole organization.

All customer feedback is valuable

Comments: (4)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 30 September, 2013, 16:41Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

It's a big dilemma.  On the one hand you're absolutely right that an official channel can become a lightning rod for attention.  On the other hand, the conversation will mostly happen without you elsewhere.  I’d agree that you have to try to fix problems or at least be very prepared for the attention if you engage.

I don’t think any institution, not least banks particularly like the lack of control that social media presents.  And frankly that’s often the tone of senior, less digitally savvy leaders.  “How will I control the message?” being the question asked.

You can participate in the conversations.  You can get involved with consumers.  But you simply cannot be selective on the conversations you have, or the subject or audience that you’d like to engage.  And you cannot control the conversation.  But you can of course steer, manage and respond in a suitable manner.  In some cases, the manner by which an organisation manages negative situations can get quite a bit of credit in itself.

The relative anonymity of social does lead ironically to dissocial behaviours, but that shouldn’t deter those that are prepared.  I'd rather know where the lightening will strike.


Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 30 September, 2013, 19:03Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

As I'd highlighted in The Business Case For Social Media Customer Service, better opportunities for cross- and upselling are one more reason for banks and other service providers to take this channel seriously.

Steve Ellis
Steve Ellis - Finextra Research - London 01 October, 2013, 10:48Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Hi James, Ketharaman

Suspect we are agreed, social channels are often (not always) a good thing to do.

But the Co-op's experience just made me reflect that us external advocates of social channels, should sometimes pause and have a little empathy with the folk inside the bank who put themselves directly in the firing line with these initiatives.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 01 October, 2013, 12:12Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes


Absolutely. In fact, alongside our guidance for implementing social media based customer support, we strongly recommend banks to follow a "zero tolerance" policy towards NSFW language. Appearing hip and cool by participating in social media and all that is fine. But, in all that, we should never forget that a bank performs a very serious function in the society and, regardless of the channel, communications between a bank and its community must be carried out with utmost respect to each other. I for one won't want to wade through filthy language on a bank's property even when I know that the bank hasn't written it by itself.   

As an aside, just wanted to be sure that I've got Co-Op right. From what you say, it seems to have a vibrant Twitter account but, one bank called "The Co-Op" got zero points in this social media benchmarking report and, "despite having an account, does not even tweet"!