The benefits of connecting with existing and potential customers through social media make the effort worthwhile, practitioners say. "Money is a highly sensitive topic," says Michelle Peluso, global consumer chief marketing and Internet officer at New York-based Citigroup. "One of the things social media allows us to do is to listen in to hear what people say about our brand, our competitors, our industry, products and services, and our people." Even given all those advantages, though, "we have to think hard about the regulatory challenges," she admits.
When customers have a bad experience with Citi, they may complain about it in the Twitterverse or on a blog. "We don't let the fact that we're a regulated industry dehumanize us," says Peluso, who has a team of customer service reps who are trained to help people who criticize Citi on social media.
"We don't use the same scripted response every time, which you may find with other banks that use a standard answer approved by Legal," she says. "Our reps can use their real 'voices' and personalize a response."
In addition, Citi reps have been trained to move customers off of public feeds and into a private chat environment, where issues can be resolved confidentially and securely.
Social media can also be used for more traditional marketing efforts, such as making sure people are getting the information they need and that the information is accurate, says Peluso.
Rebuilding Trust in Banks
"One current challenge we face is that many people have a deep-seated anger with the banking industry," says Renee Brown, social media director at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo. "Consumers are not trusting us right now." That makes it especially important to engage customers constructively via social media, since many people hit social sites when they have complaints.
But the need to, for example, retain client records for seven years and make sure company reps comply with the rules and regulations can delay efforts to get involved with social media. Wells Fargo partners with consultancies that help make sure the bank meets regulatory requirements and is still "able to interact with customers, clients and potential clients," says Brown.
Wells Fargo's vendors include Hearsay, Socialware and Actiance. "These companies offer software to help with pre- and post-review options to ensure content is appropriately vetted, helping to streamline our internal processes," says Brown.
The two most regulated areas involve broker-dealers. They include investment banking and Wells Fargo's brokerage unit, as well as its home mortgage consultant network, says Brown.