The Devolution Of Social Networking?

Hundreds of years ago, the key to economic success was land ownership. Today’s it’s idea ownership (sometimes called intellectual capital). That’s why thought leadership is so important (side note: I’ve only received one request for membership to ITCH so far — not a good sign).

It’s in this context that I found this comment from Gene on Tim McAlpine’s Currency Marketing site intriguing:

One does have to remember that social networking takes on different forms. One is the web, the other is talking to members, regularly, all the time, everyday.”

There’s a growing number of people in banks and credit unions who are trying to introduce new technologies and — more importantly — new ways to interact with and engage customers/members. But what’s a skeptical senior executive to think if the term social networking applies to not just the application of new technologies and new approaches to communication, but to the same old ways of talking to customers, all the time, everyday?

A recent discussion on Bankwatch helps to highlight the potential danger here. Regarding the Social Networking portion of the recent Net Finance conference, William Azaroff commented that “many people came up to me, but many more had gone home.” Ted Josephson opined that “a reason the traditional bankers left was due to general ignorance of the Social Media phenomenom’s impact.”

If social networking is “talking to members, regularly, all the time, everyday”, can you blame them for leaving early?

It’s too soon in the evolution of social networking for its definition to become diluted and co-opted (click here for a brief description on the predictable cycles of management concepts). Proponents need to work to distinguish the approach (not just the technologies) from traditional ways of interacting and communicating with customers.

How to do this? One idea: When making conference presentations, include what I call the “Stuart Dopey Graphic”. This type of slide is [affectionately] named after a former boss (named Stuart, duh) who always encouraged (translation: required) me to include a graphic in my reports and presentations that had two columns and anywhere from four to six rows. The two columns were labeled “today” and “future”, and the rows were attributes that helped to distinguish how the future I was describing was clearly different from the past. Putting together this slide is not as easy as it sounds.

But you’ve got to help Gene see how social networking is different from what banks and credit unions have done in the past.

Update: For an excellent follow-up on this at Tinfoiling, click here.

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8 thoughts on “The Devolution Of Social Networking?

  1. Hi Ron, first off thanks for this, I hadn’t come across Tim’s blog, so that’s a great discovery.

    You make such an interesting point. In a sense I agree with Gene, because this is simply an online continuation of the kind of community engagement we’ve been doing for years.

    But to sell it internally and get support throughout the organization for an initiative like ChangeEverything.ca, it’s a very important distinction between this site and the rest of our member engagement. It may fall under the same basic strategy, but it’s a whole different ballgame.

  2. Ron,
    Don’t get me wrong, social networking is different from what we (financial institutions) have done from the past. I will further comment on this on Tinfoiling. The key point here is that we don’t forget or loose sight of the human aspect in communicating. Social networking is a beginning, how it evolves is going to be exciting. But technology is technique, and it is the human interaction that gives this core technique its value. SN augments and enables participation, contribution and networking. When someone speaks to me the vocal tone, the raised eyelid and the hand gestures can say more than the words and SN has a hard time to convey these other dimensions.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    You know it’s kind of funny, Gene — it wasn’t until after I posted this that I put two and two together to figure out you (Tinfoiling) were the Gene who left the comment on Tim’s site. And then I couldn’t help but think that the comment was odd for someone who blogs.

    There’s two sides of the coin, here. On one hand, if we don’t paint SN as something very different from what we’ve done in the past, then it [rightfully so] will be evaluated in the context of other competing investments that strive for the same goal.

    On the other hand, by stressing how SN IS just another way of communicating and reaching customers/members, it strengthens the connection between SN and corporate goals and objectives.

  4. Pingback: Social networking et al « Tinfoiling

  5. Ron,

    Another great post. It’s just sad to me that we have to “clue in” executives in the financial services arena. And don’t even get me started on the “ROI” of blogging. grrrrrrrrrr…

    From The Cluetrain Manifesto:

    “A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

    I guess what I’m saying is…the train has already left the station. We don’t know where it’s going to be sure, but if you’re not already on it…well….choo choo!

    “We” don’t have to wait for YOU [bank executive] to get it.

  6. I would question that SN is an extension of existing practices requiring Bank Execs to run home to talk to customers. Cluetrain requires three levels that are just beginning to be explored.

    1) employee customer
    2) employee employee
    3) customer customer

    Banks have 50% of 1) down pat – Bank –> customer. The reverse has a long way to go. 2) and 3) are non-existent.

  7. I’m tending to agree with Ron on this one. To be honest – I find as I communicated within the institution that unless I find some way to relate it to something they understand and “do” – those little lights never come on. However, I also have to show why it is truly different/relevant from what they think they know – or it won’t stay on their radar.

    Ever see Catch-22? My friends remind me that’s why we all get the big bucks… : )

    Thanks Ron.

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