The Question Isn’t Should Banks Blog, But How And When

The Bank Channel quotes Javelin Research as saying that:

Banks should move fast to open their blog sites if they are not to miss out on a powerful new brand building and customer interaction capability.”

My take: Whoa, not so fast.

You don’t have to convince me of the potential for banks to use blogs to engage customers, strengthen the relationship, and build true customer loyalty.

But you can’t simply create a site on WordPress or Blogger (or hosted within your existing site) and say “here we are! we have a blog!”

For many banks, simply doing that is likely to produce one of the following:

  1. Deafening silence as nobody participates.
  2. Deafening noise as customers rant about their service issues.

Or possibly something in between (but closer to the first) as a few employees (maybe even the CEO) post a few entries, and a few comments trickle in.

The challenges that many banks face in trying to build strong customer relationships aren’t going to be overcome simply by blogging. A blog has a better chance of helping when you already have a set of engaged customers, or at least, customers inclined to engage with the bank.

On top of that is the question of blog strategy and execution. There are two good examples to use to contrast different approaches: Wells Fargo and Verity Credit Union. Wells has created four distinct blogs, each with a distinct topic focus. Verity, in contrast, has a single blog site, covering a range of topics that are driven (I think) by the contributor.

Both are excellent sites, but accomplish very different objectives. The common thread is a set of contributors, who, although maybe not dedicated to the blogging effort, are certainly highly committed to it.

So let me ask you this, oh budding bank blogger….is there a set of employees in your organization just chomping at the bit to blog, and who will invest their time on top of their existing workload?

And on what topics do you expect to blog about? Everything under the sun or just certain things? And why would your customers care what you have to say about those topics?

And which customers, exactly, do you think will come flocking to your blog to converse with you, fall in love with you, and give you all their money? Us baby boomers, who, quite frankly, trust you about as far as we can throw you?

Or will it be the younger consumers who you mistreated when they were in college when you socked them with overdraft and ATM fees?

And how will you promote your blog, and where are those funds going to come from?

[Let me know when you’ve had enough, I could go on for hours]

Bottom line: Don’t rush to blog, banks. You’ve got a lot of work to do before launching one.

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13 thoughts on “The Question Isn’t Should Banks Blog, But How And When

  1. Of all the online tools available today, a blog is about my least-favorite option for financial institutions.

    I’ve never understood why FIs don’t use forums. The only real difference between a blog and a forum is who can start a thread. In forums anyone can post a topic, such as “What’s the difference between a home equity loan and line of credit?” Anyone can answer. A forum would be like an interactive FAQ, built by the customers (or members). Bank representatives would simply have to moderate threads, keep the forum on-topic and answer questions, but it would take much less time than blogging.

    A simple way to start a bank or credit union forum would be to add this feature to online banking. These users already have a login and password, and they would probably utilize the forum to share and solve problems responsibly — e.g., how to export data to a spreadsheet, synching with QuickBooks, etc.

    The other thing that would be interesting would be to allow people to comment on any page of a FI’s website (moderated comments, of course). Realtime, interactive feedback. In fact, someday soon, you might be able to “post a comment” on every page, everywhere on the web.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Ron. Over the past year especially, I’ve talked many more CUs out of blogging (and podcasts and MySpace pages especially) than I have talked into social media.

    Way too many lame FI blogs being created weekly now. Backlash is a-comin’.

  3. Another consideration which contributes to the inevitable dilemma you rightly point out, is the corporate culture of the Bank, and how that probably does not align with a blog. Blogs are open, conversational, and rely on frequent updates. Banks are closed, bureaucratic, and have long preparation life cycles.
    Another positive example; the close alignment of with the VanCity business model.

  4. JP; comments on pages is a great idea. I expect to see them on the next site your firm designs for a client.

    Colin; You’re spot on — but I do believe that a blog could help change the culture you allude to. Something has to be the impetus for change.

    Trey; Exactly which “lame FI blogs” were you alluding to?

  5. Ron, Colin: I think the culture is best changed with one or more internal blogs. Until you’re allowed to be candid inside a bank, you’ll have no luck being frank with the outside world.

    There are still plenty of bankers who snicker at the quaint idea of blogging, just as they snickered at the quaint idea of online banking 12 years ago. In my opinion, THAT cultural hurdle has to be cleared before the shift toward being “open & conversational” takes place.

  6. I believe blogs (and even internal wiki’s for that matter) can greatly affect (for the better) the culture at CU’s. We’ve been working on getting an internal blog going before we run with an external one to get most employees familiar with the concept. And I think it’ll do great things for teamwork.

  7. We have definitely found that doing has changed the culture at Vancity a little, and for the better. I think if an FI is blog-curious, it is likely to be a little more open as an organization and interested in having conversations with customers. Trialing a blog can prove whether that openness is real and could result in a healthy impact on the organization.

    The funds to promote the blog is an excellent point. These projects are often skunkworks and don’t get additional funds to get people to the site, and therefore efficacy can’t truly be determined.

  8. Content is the biggest hurdle. What does the blog have to offer? If it’s repurposed newsletter fare, the blog will almost certainly fail.

    Who’s going to write it? And how well do they right? Based on my experience, I’d say that only about 1-in-100 people have a level of writing suitable for blogging. And good writing usually takes time. A lot of time.

    My guess is that most CU blogs are being pushed by internal marketing folks, and it’s an uphill sell. When the blog finally gets the green light, the newsletter content gets dusted off:

    – Phishing scams
    – Do you know your credit score
    – Saving up for retirement

    It’s often one-directional information only — not much for stimulating dialogue. And if “General Financial Advice” is the blog’s focus, then these articles get posted and retired to an archive that never gets viewed again.

  9. Agree with you Ron. It’s too early for banks to even attempt this. The real issue in my view is their understanding of blogs and what objectives it should have.

    I have a view that banks too have a siloed view of blogs. Such initiatives are always delinked from products, operations and service. It’s not about CEO talking to the customers. Customer don’t talk to CEOs in banks or CMOs/Marketing heads! They talk to bank managers and tellers at the counter! To them that is the ‘moment of truth’ as far as a bank is concerned.

    So, may be banks can start with branch blogs where the lead is the branch manager and his staff. It can be registered users/account holders of that branch who are linked-in. With linked personal email ids of account holders to start with. May be it’s got nothing to do with transactions but conversations with customers and service issues.

    Then, they could scale-up as the enviroment between banks and customes becomes a lot closer.

  10. Great Post.

    Banks need to make a new strategy to fit in blogs rather than create a blog and fit it into the current business strategy. Also they will need active people and subjects defined.

    But I feel, many of the questions you have asked can be gained from experience alone. Banks need to step into the blogging world to find those very answers.

    So, I will take a mid path. They will need to have a new strategy, a completely free and customer centric one that includes use of their official blog; But I dont think, they will need to think of all the materials and subjects. It will evolve with time.


  11. Pingback: Getting The Boss To Blog (Or At Least Let You Start One) « Ron Shevlin’s Marketing Whims

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