Socialised media – Is it time to get engaged?

Felix Thomson

Content Executive

The Financial Services Forum

Duncan Hart believes financial services companies ignore the bloggers at their peril. Their rapidly growing influence and potential to damage or enhance a brand makes it essential for companies to engage with this new communications channel.
There has been much discussion recently about the rise and influence of social media. Consumer driven and usergenerated content continues its rapid growth across the Internet and has increasing influence in traditional media and business. TIME magazine doesn’t award its prestigious “Person of the Year” award to the consumer if the balance of power hasn’t begun to shift towards the individual in a serious way.
The rise of the blogger, the growing relevance and popularity of social networking sites such as MySpace, content-sharing portals such as YouTube and MMORPGs (Massively Multi-user Online Role Playing Games) such as Second Life, are concepts that force us to re-think where consumer influences originate and how new beliefs gain momentum. A company’s profile and prominence in this new, informal word-of-mouth environment will have an increasing impact on its brand and overall corporate reputation, which are vital to maintain, especially in the highly competitive financial services sector. It is no longer feasible for companies to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the expanding conversations online in the hope that they will disappear.
Neither is it possible to ignore the speed with which customers are able to create the strength in sentiment, and numbers, required to address what were previously seen as insurmountable challenges. The democratisation of the Internet has delivered a powerful blow which is shifting the ownership of the brand and what it means to the collective consumer consciousness. Take, for example, the current debate over bank charges and mortgage exit fees. While these issues will undoubtedly have troubled people on an individual basis for some time, their complaints have made little headway – until now. Although the regulators – the Financial Services Authority and the Office of Fair Trading – have instigated investigations into these areas of the banks’ and mortgage lenders’ activities in the context of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts legislation, over recent months and weeks there has been a ground swell of opinion driven in no small part by a number of Internet forums, where thousands of people have downloaded proforma letters, shared their experiences and celebrated successes over their banking foes.
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