What Every Financial Institution Should Know About Social Networking

The aim of any business is to be successful and profitable throughout the lifetime of the organization. The evolution of communication technology in recent years has helped make this possible by improving a business’s ability to network with its existing and potential customers. What once required face-to-face conversations and the physical exchange of contact information can now be done in an entirely virtual environment with just a click of a button.

Advances in communication technology, such as texting, blogging, emailing, media sharing and gaming, have created new social norms and revolutionized the way people communicate. It is no wonder, then, that the financial services industry is beginning to use various forms of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) to enhance customer service and improve current products and services. The most popular form of CMC are social networking websites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, which are used primarily to maintain or build connections among users.

Social networking sites represent a large market with tremendous growth potential that can be easily targeted by financial institutions if they know how to use these sites to their advantage. Like many organizations that have already experienced the benefits of using social networking sites to enhance their business, financial institutions are beginning to understand and embrace the power of social networking as it relates to their day-to-day business activities as well. Whether educating customers on new services, boosting customer confidence, increasing sales outreach or personally connecting with their customers to meet their banking needs – social networking is a vital communication tool that financial institutions can utilize in many of their customer business interactions.

Understanding Social Networking
Social networking is a form of collaboration and networking where individuals develop groups and associations, often forming a virtual community. While social networking is possible in a face-to-face setting, such as on a college campus, it is most often seen online in a CMC environment. The size and popularity of the “communities” created by MySpace and Facebook and other social networking websites have experienced substantial growth as more and more people invite their acquaintances, co-workers, friends and family members into these virtual communities.

The traditional roles of the sender and receiver involve delivering messages in a clear and concise way and providing feedback to achieve agreement of a particular subject. Social networking uses these same basic building blocks but accomplishes the end results in a slightly different way. The cues that help facilitate understanding in a face-to-face environment (e.g., intonation of voice, body language, facial expressions, physical distance, etc.) are often removed in a social networking environment. Though some websites offer an audio visual element, social networking is largely text-based, relying on “digital gestures” to demonstrate emotions and add emphasis to a message, such as: social network

• Forwarding.
• Recommending.
• Sharing.
• Tagging.

Social Networking Applications for Business
Networking has always been a key success factor in the business world. Networking involves linking together individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another. Traditional networking often takes place face-to-face at business lunches, conferences or exhibitions, where people are able to meet and establish mutually beneficial working relationships.

Online social networking offers many of the same benefits as traditional networking, while allowing bankers to more easily network with the average consumer as well as with their colleagues in the financial industry. Used appropriately, online social networking offers businesses the opportunity to develop meaningful, long-lasting customer relationships.

A study of the banking industry and the ways in which several banks’ board members networked with others showed that though these professionals are interested in using networking to secure new customers and to maintain and develop existing customer relationships, they also want to use networking to represent their banks in community, professional and trade organizations and to procure market trends and competitive information.

To achieve the goals identified in this study, board members and other bank employees must first understand what social networking is and how it can be used to position their banks above others in the industry. If properly trained, these employees can use social networking to achieve their banks’ organizational goals and place their banks in the top positions in the industry in the following five ways:

• Community building.
• Product research.
• Customer service.
• Marketing and promotion.
• Transparency.

Social networking is currently being used to bolster the reputations of the financial institutions that use it, providing information both internally and externally. This type of information sharing builds consumer confidence and helps employees understand the importance of their roles within their banks and how they should strive to achieve the highest standard of customer service.