Digital Difference

Jasmine Butler Burnham

Marketing Manager

The Financial Services Forum

Facebook page: check. Twitter feed: live. YouTube videos: up and running. You’re all set to connect with consumers – right? New research suggests otherwise. SUE DIAMOND, FRAN ELLIOTT and STEFAN ELLIOTT explain why finance is in a category of its own when it comes to social media.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every brand needs an active presence on social media today. That’s the accepted wisdom, and why shouldn’t it apply to financial services as much as to any other sector?
The trouble with this assumption is that few have taken the trouble to ask consumers what they think, and what kind of digital relationship they want to have with their financial providers. The research that exists tends to be from the business perspective. Much of it is US-based.
That’s what prompted us to carry out some in-depth consumer research. We recruited 25 people, in different parts of the country, to keep diaries of their online activities, and conducted interviews with them. We also set up workshops with 35 different people, focusing on what would help them engage digitally with financial services.
Our findings covered digital media in the round. But it’s in the realm of social media that some of the most striking findings emerged.
Social media isn’t a natural environment for financial services …
When people were encouraged to review financial brands’ social media offerings, some posts were found to be relevant. But in general, social media isn’t a natural environment to search for, access or review financial information.
The stark truth is that financial services is different to any other sector. There’s much about it that is private. In a world that often seems prepared to share almost anything, finance is still seen as strictly personal.
As one 55-year-old says: “You just don’t talk about that sort of thing in public.” A 38-year-old concurred: “I’d share something that makes you smile on Facebook, but finance is personal and it just wouldn’t occur to me.”
That applies even to younger people. While they are more digitally confident, they lack financial confidence. People might recommend a financial brand or product face to face, when they can give caveats, but they are more reluctant to do so on Facebook.
…but it has it uses
This is not to say that financial brands should desert social media altogether. It can be a forum to help re-establish trust, if brands use it in an open and honest way.
Comment from experts with genuine consumer credibility, or community engagement at a more local level, are examples of where social media can be effective.
YouTube remains highly popular, and while people don’t currently see it as a place to go for financial information, they are hungry for an element of education for which video could be an obvious medium. We found a demand for video explanations of simple tasks such as downloading an app.
It can also hook people in to relevant content
Only a limited number of people viewed Facebook as a platform they’d use for financial services. But if they can be encouraged to connect in this way, it could lead them to relevant content that they might otherwise ignore or fail to find on the brand’s website.
When we asked people to review financial Facebook pages, some discovered relevant content. Aviva won favour for its frequently updated articles, including handy hints and health content; Santander was praised for content that went beyond products and services to general money-saving tips.
Other brands fared less well. The Halifax page was seen as “mainly people letting off steam or just lots of competitions”, while HSBC’s Facebook presence hadn’t been updated for some time.
Financial brands’ current social media offerings aren’t user-friendly
Reviewing financial brands’ social media presence, consumers were generally unimpressed. The fragmented nature of some brands’ offering was off-putting to some.
“I looked at Standard Life on Twitter and there were about four different brands to choose,” said one respondent, a 28-year-old who’s an early adopter of digital media. “One looked like it was about investments and too much for me. I wasn’t sure what the others were, so I gave up.”
This points up the degree of ‘silo’ among the structure of many financial providers, which can lead to a lack of coordination in the online offering. It was notable that when we presented our findings, we found many of our client teams introducing themselves to each other.
Making an instant connection is important, because people quickly become conditioned in how they relate to brands’ digital offerings. If they go online and find nothing that they can use, they’re unlikely to return.
One size doesn’t fit all
People consume digital communication in one of three ways, depending on their digital sophistication and their requirements. They may sit at a laptop and take time to ‘eat’; they may ‘snack’ on information via their mobile or tablet during the day; or just ‘graze’ continually via mobile at a fairly superficial level.
Interaction habits also depend on the level of digital sophistication – from cautious users who are very focused when online, through those who juggle multiple devices comfortably, to the early adopters with prolific multi-tasking capabilities.
It’s not enough simply to have a digital presence; you need to consider how these different categories of users are behaving. So far, there’s been little attempt among financial providers to segment their audiences for digital marketing.
What next?
These findings have surprised the financial clients to whom we’ve presented them – particularly in revealing how far they had overestimated the level of existing engagement by consumers.
It has offered a lot of food for thought, and armed providers with information on which to base a review of their digital strategies.
It allows them to start afresh from the premise that financial services is different – a private realm which many consumers still find a little frightening. It demands a degree of segmentation. Above all, it calls for a greater level of hand-holding – guiding consumers through the services available, and not assuming they can find what they need.

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