This summer, some of the best minds in financial services and in social media gathered for the Social Media In Finance 2019 event in London. Delegates discussed in depth a range of topics on the subject of financial service company usage of social media including key stakeholder involvement, compliance, and reputational risk.
Compared with just three or four years ago, the use of social media by financial services companies has grown exponentially. Social media is now used extensively by the industry to create brand new sales funnels to attract direct customers for products and services, as a recruitment tool, to promote corporate social responsibility programs, for PR and marcomms, for customer support, to maintain and grow professional audiences (including intermediaries), and more.
With 2020 around the corner, we reached out to three of the speakers from the Social Media In Finance 2019 event to ask their opinion on how social media will be deployed by financial services firm next year and beyond.
Damien Horner is the co-founder and chief creative officer at Real Vision, the only video channel where the world’s smartest investors and traders share their best ideas. Real Vision’s extensive range of content includes exclusive in-depth interviews, research, documentaries, analysis and trade ideas from impossible-to-access guests and the sharpest minds in global finance.
Damien shared with event attendees why they should rebel against the accepted wisdom on financial services content. He also shared his philosophy on how to win the war for attention and engagement (without selling out) through the power of storytelling, video, honesty, and creativity.
Oliver Mott is the global social media manager at professional services network Grant Thornton International.
At Social Media In Finance 2019, Oliver outlined to attendees his thoughts on successful employee advocacy strategies and he explained how financial services could use social media to build a B2B social media strategy to gain awareness and engage with your key stakeholders.
Marguerite Laferrère is the Capital Markets Marketing Manager at London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG). At the event, Marguerite delivered a presentation of targeting and engaging with high value stakeholders in Asia. She also explained how new made-in-Asia media apps like WeChat could help financial firms gain a foothold in the local market.
Social media use will snowball in 2020
“there’s going to be more budget allocated, more time spent, and more resources deployed on social media outreach. The use of social media in 2020 will snowball.”
“skew older and because it’s lost a lot of its cache. In addition, recent data scandals have affected the brand and these scandals have made financial services brands feel uncomfortable. I foresee much more of a move towards YouTube and Instagram in 2020 with an emphasis on video content”. Damian also believes that 2020 will see the beginning of a major move into dark social networks which we cover later in this article.
“Our social media is very B2B focused and our efforts to connect and to engage will continue on both LinkedIn and Twitter,” says Marguerite. “We work with different audiences but our main audience is investors and traders. We’re continuing to enjoy higher levels of engagement on LinkedIn with investors and senior traders particularly for product launches and education programs.”
“Opinion formers, analysts, and journalists are very active on Twitter – there is an immediacy to that particular platform which LinkedIn lacks.“The key to ongoing success and improvement for LSEG in 2020 is to continue to focus on it as a core marcomms platform. We are excited about the possibilities it offers especially as our number of followers and engagement online. The more we use it, the more we try it, we discover what works well and which strategies to side-line.”
“more short videos, infographics, and story-telling tools offering a positive 5-10 second experience to audience.
“This is part of quiet a big shift away on our part f rom building a library of thought leadership articles to build traffic and encourage other users to follow us. For professional services firms like ours, the purpose had been to build banks of content for a large audience for them to understand the scope of our services and our expertise.
“However, LinkedIn’s algorithm changes all the time and it’s becoming more and more difficult to use the platform as a sales funnel. That’s because Linkedin now identifies posts which contain links, which would be taking valuable eyeballs away from their platform and their advertisers, and suppresses those posts. As such we’ve had to change our strategy and expectations of posting from our corporate pages dramatically – less as a traditional sales funnel with the next step is always to our websites and medium for delivering useful information and positive touchpoints with the brand which build loyalty and trust over time.
“So what we’re using social for is being happy to exist in people’s timelines, offering short experiences using animations and infographics that fit with the way people want to consume content on social, scrolling through timelines and quickly moving on. We ask ourselves how we can give them something that’s interesting, of use, and, best of all, actionable where we don’t need them to click off to our website.
“It’s now more about becoming part of followers’ daily and weekly online experience and building up enough knowledge and trust in the minds of our followers to encourage them to contact us when the time is right.”
Damien Horner believes that financial services companies must be perceived as “authentic” by their target audience to find new customers. In his opinion, “authenticity” is key to meaningful and genuine engagement with followers on social media.
Millennials are often driven by causes and they will actively choose to support a company which believes in those same causes. In fact, 76% of millennials will actually research a company to assess the “authenticity” a company has for its support for their favoured cause.
The problem is that Damian believes that what is “authentic” may currently be misunderstood by financial services firms and by the wider business community. The evidence supports his assertion as, according to the 2017 Consumer Content Report, companies are regularly failing on this metric because they believe that “less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic” (source: Social Media Today).
There are distinct challenges facing marketing professional in content creation and promotion. Damian believes that “what new generations are looking for is different to what previous generations looked for. Previously, interest rates counted but now it’s sustainability and ethics and social factors – way more important to potential clients.”
of millennials will actually research a company to assess the “authenticity”
Financial services firms, in many cases, “need to recognise that content on social is a very different thing to social content”, according to Damian Horner.
“Social channels are no longer social – they are business channels. Many brands currently treat business channels in a social way – they try to speak in the same tone and in the same language as their perceived audience. The problem is that it’s as convincing as watching your uncle try to fit in with his much younger nieces and nephews at a family wedding by doing break dancing.
“Financial services companies are ‘not my f riend’ – they are big corporations trying to get money out of me. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Brands have to recognise that it’s OK to sell things – it’s OK to market your products. The internet has been commercialised for years – it’s not the 1990s anymore.
“Millennials, correctly recognised by the financial sector as where the future big profits are going to come f rom, do not want necessarily want a deep and meaningful relationship with your brand – except when they’re ready to find out more and when they’re ready to buy.
“Financial services companies have to realise that the best content marketing and social media strategy is to give a prospect something of value at the time when they want to find out more. The aim should be to give them something useful – to give them something actionable.”
According to Hearsay Systems, lifestyle content is the type of content least put forward for creation by financial service firms’ corporate marketing teams despite it enjoying the highest engagement rates. The report found that lifestyle-related content was a “highly strategic tool for cultivating new leads and customer relationships.”
“When LSEG is thinking about new products and services to launch, there is a combined effort between the legal, compliance, PR, marcomms, and social media teams”, according to Marguerite Laferrère.
“There are a lot of stages between devising a new product and going public with it. For the social media team, we always run potential content supporting the launch of these new products by legal and the press office to make sure that there is nothing unintentionally misleading, inaccurate, or which could be construed as a form of financial advice”.
“There is a chasm of understanding and cooperation between the PR team and the social media team in many financial services firms,” according to Damian Horner of Real Vision. He believes that, while some organisations are making better than others, “the generations are disconnected within many organisations. The PR and corporate communications teams in most of the establishment brands aren’t monitoring every single tweet or like. A large degree of autonomy is given to social media teams and, as a result, the cracks are beginning to appear.
“PR and communications leaders are more likely to be older and they have a high degree of competence in brand management but they’re not as sure-footed on social media. Concurrently, social media professionals’ understanding of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on is great however they lack the years of experience necessary in being able to deftly handle brand management.
“Although not financial services related, I thought that the brand management team within Burger King would have been very likely displeased with the social media team about the ‘milkshake’ joke following the Nigel Farage incident in Newcastle upon Tyne. Social media followers seemed to love it but is dousing politicians with milkshakes because you disagree with their views really a brand value?”
Damian believes that, until there is more convergence between different teams’ responsibilities and skillsets, there will be an escalating probability of an increasingly frequent number of serious PR and reputational missteps on social media platforms.
Grant Thornton’s Oliver Mott agrees that, in a multi-departmental world or for an international group of companies, there should be as much congruence as possible between each colleague and their department on the use of social media.
“We have produced social media advertising playbooks for all of the partner firms in the group for guidance. I lead the social media team for the group and the 133 constituent companies and the social media content we produce is derived from the experiences, insights, and successes of our constituent firms, their lead partners, and the colleagues working within each firm.
“These colleague insights are then fed back to an advertising agency which then creates templates on which brand-new content can be created. These templates follow the company’s brand guidelines and we use them to share with our audience what works and what doesn’t work.
“On our corporate pages, we consider how we’re going to create interest and promote interaction. We make a lot of use of video and of posting multiple images of events we’re holding or at which we are a participant. We think about how we can use this content to drive follower numbers higher for our chief executive and constituent company partners.
“While the top 20-30 firms in our group have their own internal teams which produce content according to the social media advertising playbook, the smaller firms within our group rely on our central team. Because everyone responsible is working to the same guidelines, the resulting content, its tone, and its presentation style is consistent across all constituent companies.”
Employee advocacy is a strategy employed by many companies across all different sectors which encourages members of staff and senior decision-makers within a business to create content both to bolster the value of their personal brand online and the value of their company’s brand.
LSEG strongly promotes the use of employee advocacy to its staff members. “This is a strategy widely promoted within the group and widely used by the team,” according to Capital Markets Marketing Manager Marguerite Laferrère. “Many of the people who work for the group have huge networks of online followers and these vast networks are great assets for the staff members individually and for the group.
If your staff can share something with their network which they’ve created, a colleague has created, or the central social media team has created, the reach of these posts rises exponentially.
“We have great people with huge networks – I would like to extend our employee advocacy program in 2020 and beyond.”
Oliver Mott’s social media management team at Grant Thornton has produced social media playbooks for individual partners and colleagues who wish to build their own social media brand under the wider Grant Thornton brand.
“In terms of content creation for partners and colleagues, we ask them to share and to show their expertise, knowledge, and insight. We encourage them to write their own social media pieces and, if necessary, contact the group’s advertising agency for the production of visual content like videos, infographics, and branded imagery.
“Once we have partners and colleagues who are beginning to do well with their social media contributions, we often take a step back and work with the partner and colleague on developing their social media presence further and to greater effect. How can they link with the right people? How can they grow their personal brand? The central social media team then provides the partner or colleague with whatever they need to achieve their goal.
“We have playbooks for individual employee advocacy and we have received really good feedback from that. Partners often have a fear of making a mistake or of linking to articles which are out of date or which are no longer relevant. Our playbook and the back-up of the central media team go a long way to assuage those fears.”
“GDPR has been a challenge and it’s not as simple as reaching out to someone who has commented on one of our posts because of the restrictions that GDPR put on,” according to Marguerite Laferrère of LSEG.
based in another country and they reach out to us after we’ve posted an informative piece or about a great new product, they like something we’re doing and they email us or they come to see us at an event.”
“GDPR has put a lot of roadblocks in the way of completing the step from engaging with us and following us into a conversion. Some of the features that are built into social media platforms, particularly LinkedIn, make tracking engagement and understanding the ‘quality’ of that engagement easy but the real difficulty comes in not knowing who’s actually following you.
“The anonymity of our social media followers makes learning from user behaviours difficult. There are a lot of opportunities for things for the platforms themselves to make things better – if platforms could be more open in the output they produce and in the granularity of information about user identities and individual interactions, that would greatly increase the value of a social media engagement.
“Perhaps the biggest step forward would be making it easier to obtain meaningful and GDPR-compliant consent to contact followers offline. However, we don’t foresee a change like this occurring anytime soon.”
She continues – “one of our measurements of social media ROI is in terms of engagement with and visibility to existing financial services professionals. If we see an equity trader or an investor
Grant Thornton had also been integrating marketing automation platform Marketo into their overall social media strategy to better measure and analyse return on investment. According to Oliver Mott, return on investment is achieved through a mixture of capturing leads which are attributed to specific social media content including interactions on company social posts.
“Although not the easiest system in the world to use, Marketo has been effective at allowing us to turn interactions on and from social media into either email subscribers or into actual leads. Partner companies in Australia and the Netherlands are particularly effective at the moment in doing this with our UK and USA businesses not far behind them.
“It’s more than just capturing email addresses and other contact details. For example, once someone has said that they want to download a report, Marketo provides us with information on how much of the report they’ve read and whether they’ve shared it with anyone else.
“How we follow up on leads depends on the particular partner firm – some want to call a contact straight away and others prefer to have multiple contacts with a prospect before they’re get in touch.”
LSEG’s Marguerite Laferrère thinks that the industry can “do a lot more in terms of educating followers about financial services. LSEG has a unique role to play in this because of the type of organisation we are and the worldwide trust in our brand.
“There is much gain to be made about thinking about target audiences wider than the ones that many currently target. It’s a ‘bigger picture’ issue. Companies should think about educating people who are less advanced in their knowledge at the moment but who might be interesting in investing in the future.
“LSE sits at the centre of financial services and educating people on how things work and what things are is one of our more important targets for the forthcoming year.
“Typically, educational products come f rom brokers and, although they are valuable, they are ultimately part of a sales funnel and, by necessity, any impartiality in sales materials must be counterbalanced by the need to convert new customers”.
Grant Thornton use social media to promote company events and events at which the company or a key company partner is present. They also promote face-to-face meetings with key partners and subject matter experts with a view to opening a longer-term relationship with the potential client.
Companies should think about educating people who are less advanced in their knowledge at the moment but who might be interesting in investing in the future.
For Damian Horner, financial services companies need to focus much more on meaningful engagement driven by the creation of compelling video content – in his words, “video is going to be an enormous factor over the next few years. The next five years is all going to be about video. Everyone is moving towards video and, if they’re not, they should be.
“Videos deliver more users shares and more engagement. The focus on social media should be on how much of the video content you produce that people actually watch.
“Traditionally, the measurement of ROI (especially non-financial measurements) has been focused on clicks. To get click, you often need clickbait headlines and thumbnail images. Clickbait may command immediate attention but, when a user follows a link to your site from a social media platform from a clickbait-type headline, that’s not engagement to me. It’s shallow and attention grabbing with little chance of follow-through. It’s ultimately disrespectful on many occasions to the target audience
“At Real Vision for example, we charge by how many minutes someone watches clients’ videos. That’s because we believe that the amount a client should pay must reflect users’ actual engagement – the duration of time spent is going to be much more commercially important. Give me 10,000 visitors ho
watch a video for 10 minutes or more than 1,000,000 visitors with a surface interest who watch my clients’ videos for a few seconds.”
Marketers should no longer rely on influencers, according to Damian Horner – “cynicism has crept in among consumers on the role of influencers on their lives”.
His observation is backed up with the latest research from YouGov which found that nearly half of all UK consumers won’t read or watch a sponsored post and more than seven out of ten respondents told surveyors that sponsored endorsements are “hard to believe”.
Indeed, only 4% of consumers have confidence in what they read and see on social media platforms when delivered by so-called influencers (source: The Drum).
Traditionally, according to Damian Horner, financial services companies have played to their strengths. “For the last 30-40 years, the profitability in the sector has been primarily driven by the baby boomer generation. Legacy companies are run by white, old, middle-class to upper-class men – like me.
“The profits and the wealth that we have tapped so successfully f rom the baby boomer generation are disappearing as they begin to retire. Their place is now increasingly taken in consecutive waves of Generation Xers, Generation Yers, and millennials.
“Baby boomer values and our priorities are different to the generations which followed them. A failure to properly engage with them has led to the rise of Starling, Resolut, and Monzo, all of which are eating the life out of the big established banks.
“Legacy players currently face a mass demographic timebomb of pressure.”
Damien also believes that more and more financial services firms’ social media marketing will migrate to dark social channels like WhatsApp and Slack. “Dark social channels” refers to the sharing of content on social media which can’t be tracked by analytics platforms – for example, sharing links on Snapchat, WhatsApp, Slack, or by email or SMS.
Dark social channels accounts for 84% of outbound sharing (source: The Drum) – We Are Social and GlobalWebIndex reports that 82% of Facebook Messenger users shared content followed by 56% of WhatsApp users, 34% of Instagram users, and 32% of Snapchat subscribers.
Damien’s belief is that financial services brands over the next 2-8 years will “create membership groups and club communities” on these platforms “where you are invited to join a private Slack channel and a WhatsApp group. In return, you won’t get advertising but you will get a chance to speak to people with the same interests as you with interactions overseen by a community moderator.
“If I was running Nike, for example, I might create a private WhatsApp group for semi-pro athletes to join and I would then release tips and advice to this invitation-only group. The invitation-only nature of membership and participation would build cache for the group.
“There would be no open social media platform intermediary bombarding me with messages and advertising. The group would represent a very different type of marketing platform on which content is shared in a community space.
“Dark social channel engagement is not about chasing likes, it’s about depth and length of engagement driven by longer-form content of interest to community members. Audiences watching longer-form videos (especially multiple videos) will be much more valuable to brands. They will have the opportunity to add even more value to community members with long-form articles.
“The way to recruit new members will be to get the good stuff out to as wide an audience as possible in the first instance to prove value as soon as possible so people will make the positive decision to join and to interact.
“Brands will create groups for specific purposes – sales, intermediaries, customer service, and recruitment. From a sales perspective, a greater share of marketing spend will likely be ploughed into those channels offering greater levels of profitability to the organisation where the decision-making cycle is lengthier and more complex.”
Oliver Mott agrees that, in the coming years, there’ll be a gradual shift to focus more corporate and marketing communications to dark social media channels. At Grant Thornton, their code of conduct covering the use of P2P messaging services has recently been updated to reflect the company’s view on the risks involved in using this communication channel.
“From a legal standpoint, a temporary lack of focus on the part of a user could get that individual and the brand into hot water. Many people believe that messages transmitted via dark social media channel are either encrypted or temporary – they’re not. It’s important to explain how the technology works, what the benefits of using it, and what the pitfalls may be as part of an organisation-wide ongoing training drive. At Grant Thornton, we use Falcon for our social media management because, in addition to its functionality, we can also communicate to opted-in users on WhatsApp.
“Dark social channels offer opportunities for companies expanding into South East Asia and Japan. Standard social media channels, as we understand them in the UK, Europe, and North America have not really taken off in South East Asia and Japan. In these markets, people connect and share via messenger services rather than social media platforms.
“However, whether you are in the UK or the Far East, dark social channels are incredibly difficult to monitor and inbound traffic f rom these channels tends to skew Google Analytics because the identity of the visitor is nearly always unknown to us”.
Capital Markets Marketing Manager Marguerite Laferrère states the LSEG are not strongly considering developing their dark social media much beyond their current reach citing regulation and compliance difficulties. Like Oliver however, Marguerite sees the real potential for dark social media to be in Asia with apps like WeChat.
Many people believe that messages transmitted via dark social media channel are either encrypted or temporary – they’re not.
Social media platform change will be driven by the development of more powerful hardware and more secure user-centred privacy policies.
Oliver Mott of Grant Thornton believes though that the major transformation in social media usage will occur as more and more senior corporate positions are taken by people who grew up with social media and for whom social media has always been part of their lives. “GenXers see social media very differently f rom baby boomers still in charge. We’re already seeing the first ripples of this effect as direct marketing becomes less effective and is replaced by inbound marketing based upon the building of credibility through multiple online and offline brand exposure”.
As inbound marketing becomes dominant, Oliver believes that, in 10 years’ time, we’ll look back at the world of 2019 and we’ll wonder how did we get to use platforms like LinkedIn for free? Although Grant Thornton and its partner companies do spend money on paid advertising on the platform, the company aims to grow its audience through compelling, short-form content delivered often to its followers which users share with others.
“Lots of fingers were burned prior to the LinkedIn algorithm changes because companies spent millions building up an audience which have become more difficult to engage with and convert with LinkedIn’s attitude to external linking on unpaid posts.”