Online Financial Services and Social Networking

Craig  McLaughlin

August 15, 2007

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I have always struggled with how social networking fits into the online financial services marketplace. My experience has been squarely focused on designing experiences for the customer that lead to account origination, cross-selling, and delivering a superior experience so I’m surprised to see that there are literally thousands of poor financial services Web sites that fail to optimize business opportunities and inevitably leave the customer disappointed.

Hoping to build deeper relationships with their customers, organizations – financial services and otherwise – are offering various forms of social networking; of these, the fastest growing is the blog. And within the financial services landscape the credit union should be in the best position to capitalize on the benefits of blogging. Because credit unions are owned by members who presumably are invested in the operation of the institution, the opportunity to generate a conversation and gather customer feedback would be well served by a blog. The challenge in this case might be in dedicating resources to monitor, update and ultimately address issues that are surfaced in the community discussion. The more successful the blog the greater the opportunity for improvement either of the Website or of the operation at large. And this means work for you because it’s critical that once you give your members an opportunity to speak out that you follow up somehow.

Among current financial services Web sites, Wells Fargo offers a killer design in their Student LoanDown(SM) site, but the content is uneven and the target audience appears unclear. If the objective is to show the lighter side of Wells Fargo – and that might be a fair goal in its own right – then maybe it’s fine, but if the intention is to drive a meaningful conversation that might generate actionable feedback then it appears to miss the mark. Remember: you have to have something to say that is relevant to your community. It does not necessarily have to be on topic, ie, about financial services in this case, but it should speak to your audience, and it should be a point of discussion – not just a journal entry.

Don’t get me wrong – I think that social networking and blogs in particular can have a dramatic impact. For example Oracle deployed a social networking site for their technical support customers and shaved 20% off their support costs. Microsoft rolled out Channel9, generates 4 million hits per month, monitors these in order to understand what is being said about Microsoft in the blogosphere and is now better positioned to address their shortcomings within the developer community. Both of these instances show a real business impact that clearly warranted the investment.