Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Scared of Embracing Social Media Bank-Wide? Remember Introducing eMail...

I remember when I first got on email and was introduced to the "new way" that people could communicate with one another electronically. It was late 1993 and the bank where I was working just "allowed me" to get our first personal computer (with a modem). We purchased a Gateway 2000 (2000 sounded so futuristic back then) and it arrived in its iconic cow-spotted box.

I can't recall the "specs" that were on that computer, but I'm certain the Nexus 7 that I'm using to type this post on had a bigger processor and more memory. That being said, the computer came with two things that changed me forever... a modem and pre-installed America Online (AOL) software. That was my connection to the "world wide web" and I can still remember the email address I picked for the bank ( While that email has long since gone away, customers of Marshall Savings Bank, FSB were among the first in the nation for a community bank to be able to send their bank an email (oh, we had a website before most community banks too). At that time, email was controlled since there was only one point of access (that Gateway 2000 computer in the CFO's office) and we had a pretty good idea who people where when they emailed us. There just weren’t that many people using it, so management was relatively easy.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m now the bank’s network admin tasked with implementing a bank-wide local area network, along with an Exchange Server for email. For the first time, we had the ability to provide ALL employees in the bank with their own bank-branded email account. Until now, the email communication had been controlled, restricted to one person and something that others in the bank could not access. Now, we were on the verge of opening it up to others, and it was a bit scary. Maybe this sounds like the current state of social media adoption at your bank?

Despite the advantages of empowering everyone at the bank with this new communication tool, management was concerned about "giving everyone access" at the office. Just imagine the exposure that it creates if someone downloads a virus, says something inappropriate or leaks customer information? We certainly cannot trust all of our employees to be responsible enough to manage this powerful tool (or so we thought). So we kept it restricted to only a few people in the bank and only senior managers had access. Again, maybe your bank is at this stage with a handful of employees now able to access sites like LinkedIn or Facebook on their office computer.

Fast forwarding a little further and we quickly realized that firewalls and anti-virus software helped to protect the bank from malware other threats. We provided training to employees on the right and wrong ways to use email and had demonstrated success cases where email was becoming a legitimate tool for business communication. We had all staff members using the same system so we could archive and retrieve bank-related communication. This changed the landscape (and our perspective) regarding email and eventually everyone in the bank had their own email account. While you may not be at this level with your adoption of social  media, it’s coming...

Systems and Policies Protected Us
We had systems in place to protect our network, policies that governed employee use and even software that kept an eye out for things that "looked like" account numbers or other confidential information. Technology helped us adopt email bank-wide and keep us safe, while at the same time keeping a record of our communications with customers for audit and compliance purposes. We forbid the use of personal email services like Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail (since they did not "run through" our systems to check for confidential information or archival) for bank-related communication. Shortly after bank-wide email was rolled out, many could not remember what it was like when everyone didn't communicate via email.

I've eluded to the parallels that email adoption in the banking sector mirror what we are in now - the adoption of social networking technology as a valid (and important) communication option. I have the pleasure of speaking to bankers at conferences and via webinars across the country about the use of technology and social media in their institutions. Many times my discussions will typically lead off with a question like "how many of you work for a bank that allows access to social media on your bank network?" In a room of 30-40 bankers, I'll get maybe two or three hands, but that's it. Asking the same question regarding email however, everyone's hand goes up.

It’s Communication Folks
I propose we need to think of social media as a shift in communication and be prepared to embrace it as such, or risk becoming irrelevant and disconnected with our customers. But that process needs to be one that has systems in place, training for staff and monitoring to make sure that rules are followed (just as we did when we deployed email bank-wide).

Here are some suggestions that may help with the deployment of a social "communication" strategy:
  • Ensure that you have the right technology in place that helps make it possible. There are great tools out there that can be utilized at the employee level for their social posts that will capture what they want to say, deliver it to a compliance officer or approved individual that can "bless" it and allow it to go out on social media. The popular tool Hootsuite Pro (which many are only using the free version) has approval and workflow options, or you could look to a tool like Gremln that is designed specifically for the financial services sector. Even some of the core banking systems are developing cool tools that you can use in your institution.
  • Mandate what tools or networks your employees have to use when using social networking as a "bank employee". Maybe you only want your employees "representing" the bank on professional networks like LinkedIn or under a bank-branded Twitter handle (i.e. @XYZBankEric - sample only, not a valid account). Taking it one step further, you may also mandate that posts to these networks have to be routed through the approved technology (like a bank-provided email vs. Gmail or another non-bank email). This way you're able to capture what's being said, monitor it for training purposes and ensure that your brand is protected. You don’t let your staff use their personal email for bank use, so the same likely will become common place for social media.
  • Train, train, train. Things in social media change quickly and you need to keep on top of it (and make sure that your staff knows too). For example, LinkedIn is rolling out Hero Images now for the free LinkedIn accounts so your profile can take on some additional “personality." Do you know if your commercial lending team is aware this is even possible, or have they uploaded something on their own (and do you even have a policy on what could/should be used)? Maybe you want to create a suggested image that your staff can use to help support your institution’s brand!
  • Monitor and looks for success stories (and make corrections when necessary). Chances are the more active users of social media will likely be the "younger generation" of your staff. Most of these individuals don’t know what it’s like to “not be in a socially networked world” since it’s been part of their entire lives. That doesn't mean,  however, they will always to the right thing and if/when something happens that requires your attention, use it as a teaching experience and try suggest an alternative way to accomplish what they want in the future. For example, a lender tweeting "Loan rates have dropped to 2.875% for 30 years today, may be time to #refinance" is in violation of Truth in Lending regulations. But, you can accomplish the same thing with "Loan rates continue to drop…” with a shortened link to your loan rates page so that you can properly disclose the rate and remain compliant.
These are just some of the things that you may want to consider when it comes to thinking about social media more as “communication” and less as “marketing.” If you’d like to chat about how to implement this “culture shift” in your institution, use the Get in Touch box at the top of the page. I’d love to chat and help with the process of making your bank a better communicator in today's socially networked world. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below too!

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