Are banks and social media a good fit? Take a look at FNB

We love to hate things. Taxi drivers, for example. Cellphone providers. But mostly we like to hate our banks. Bank hatred is a national sport, especially on a platform that lends itself to venting so well: Social media. So when a bank starts to come across as likeable, you pay attention. First National Bank (FNB) is one such bank, gaining considerable kudos for its social media policies.

So, what is FNB doing right in social media — and what can others learn from it?

  1. It’s responsive. When social media platforms are being substituted for customer complaint lines, a brand cannot afford to be asleep at the wheel. As Brian Solis observes, “Saying nothing to a customer with a problem says everything about how you value them.” FNB monitors both Facebook and Twitter 18 hours a day, seven days a week and responds to queries as RB Jacobs “the FNB guy”. Responsiveness is the core requirement of a social media presence for an organisation like a bank: Stop paying attention, and you’re toast.
  2. It’s customer-focused, not brand-focused. In the world of social media, your brand is as much the product of customer opinion as it is of your CI manual. “A good social media strategy is organic by nature, in fact it is often driven by the needs and sentiment of communities and not directly by the brand,” explains Lana Strydom, head of digital marketing and media
at FNB Brand Management. “The key is to listen and monitor continuously and change the approach to suit each unique situation.”
  3. Its social media presence aligns with its brand positioning. Social media presents an obvious opportunity for a brand positioned on helpfulness and innovation to start conversations with current and potential customers. Strydom says that a presence in social media allows FNB “to actively express its core brand value of “helping” and allows us to be represented as approachable, trustworthy, likeable and technology savvy”. That last point is an important one, because FNB has been leading the way in this space for some time now. Apps, PayPal, smartphone banking, iPad offers, social media: All of this makes sense to onlookers because there’s a core philosophy of innovation expressed in everything that FNB does. To put it another way: If FNB didn’t do social media well, we’d be wondering.
  4. It created a brand persona to connect with customers. Social media is about connection, and the truth is that no matter how good a brand’s marketing, people connect with other people, not with organisations. In a space that’s still highly personal, it’s easier to operate as an individual rather than as an amorphous corporate entity. Creating RB Jacobs, the “FNB guy” and using him to respond to customer complaints and queries on Facebook and Twitteras well as LinkedIn has allowed FNB to demonstrate helpfulness in a way that’s human and engaging.”There has been significant focus on developing the appropriate style and tone of communication for the RBJacobs persona,” says Strydom. Tonality often trips up brands in social media, and for the most part, FNB gets it right. An interesting aside: The RB Jacobs persona was built taken from the name that appears on FNB credit cards in all its adverts.
  5. It integrates social media into other communication. FNB uses social media to drive conversation and provide support for its activities on other digital channels. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube not exist in isolation of its ad campaigns and sponsorships. All brands need content to offer to the public beyond responses to customer complaints and news about product offers. FNB’s popular lost dog ad generated plenty of buzz and it’s done a good job of leveraging it via its Facebook page.
  6. Its CEO tweets. Very few senior bank executives are on Twitter, and even fewer will respond to a tweet. FNB CEO and iPhone user @MichaelJordaan is a notable exception. He comes across as authentic and approachable, not easy for someone in his position, and he helps bring the brand positioning to life. Brands in social media, especially Twitter, usually work better in conjunction with the individuals who work for them. This way, the brand profile can focus on business and brand-focused messaging, while the personalities associated with it bring in human depth and interest.

Of all of these factors, Jordaan is the most differentiating — and also the hardest to replicate. Jordaan clearly has an intuitive feel for social media, and that’s not true for many (if not most) senior management. He claims to spend around 20 minutes a day on Twitter responding to mentions of FNB. As he wrote in the Mail & Guardian, Twitter “is a forum for chatting about the rugby, sharing my passion for good wine, revelling in a good one-liner or an aphorism about my line of work”. People can tell that he’s having fun, and we like him all the more for it.

That said, could others follow FNB’s example? Yes — provided they’re willing to invest in the resources needed to do it well. Lana Strydom has the following advice for other brands:

  • Understand that social media is part of an overall brand strategy
  • Decide which platforms will be monitored and which will be actively used
  • Use good measurement and monitoring tools
  • Understand the legal and regulatory environment
  • And, perhaps most importantly, understand that behavioural change will be needed in all areas of the business involved in customer support.

“The development of processes and tools that make access to information possible across an organisation is critical, as customers expect super fast turnaround on the social media queries,” says Strydom.

How scalable is FNB’s approach to social media? Will it be manageable as more and more customers come online? FNB does fulfil three of the criteria for a successful social media approach by an organisation: It has invested the appropriate resources, reorganised its customer service support systems to provide quicker responses, and it has demonstrated buy-in from the top.

Once a good system is in place, it’s relatively easy to expand it, and more resources can always be brought on board. But it’s not so easy to replicate a CEO who loves to tweet.

This is working like a charm now. But what happens when one billion people are tweeting, or rather most of the bank’s customers? A danger may be that customers will come to expect Jordaan to respond to everything — and be disappointed when he can’t… The man does have a bank to run after all.

FNB is not perfect by any means (one look at the complaints on its Facebook page will tell you that much). But no brand gets social media right all the time: The challenge with this kind of communication is that it’s a moving target, always evolving. I do know this much: I’m not happy with my current bank, and when I move my account, I won’t consider any brand other than FNB.



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