Organisations that have been didactic for aeons at an end, used to “telling” people what is essentially good for them as opposed to holding a conversation, tend to look at Social Media as just another game that the smart-ass youngsters play on their expensive mobile devices. As a matter of fact, many Banks and Financial Institutions (and here we are talking about the more progressive minded, open-to-change in the domain) continue to think of Social Media merely as an extension of Corporate Communications and not as the collaborative medium that it is, thereby severely limiting social media’s effectiveness and efficacy.
Banks, FIs and Insurance companies are notoriously risk averse – they have this inbuilt aversion against any and everything that they can neither find in their manuals nor have precedents to cite. Regulatory, Compliance and Legal Issues – real or imagined – hinders their move and in the absence of “instructions from above”, they just tend to do what they are famous for – nothing.
There is another frontier that both the providers and implementers of Social Media must address in order for it to be effective. Effective Social Media transcends organisational boundaries, addressing issues from a height that is way beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals defending their areas of influence. Naturally, such situations call or organisational changes that are often far beyond the control of those seeking to unleash the power of the emerging medium. The result is chaos and confusion leading to the condescending I-told-you of the nay-sayers.
Even where these apparently insurmountable hurdles are negotiated, the clouds that fog the minds of the decision makers just refuse to go away and the biggest hassle of this genre relates to the ways and means of dealing with negativity. Most Bankers go on the recoil when they realise that in the social media, controversies cannot be “controlled”. The very democratic core of Social Media, goes against its adoption as Communicators shy away when they realise that the opportunities for feedback that are built into the system is actually a twin-edged sword. Options like being open and honest, to be transparent in all dealings, to be above-board, to gain respect by accepting criticism, to let the world see in real time how the organisation handles customer grievances – every damn cliché that the company brochures and websites are loaded with, somehow begin to feel like millstones around the neck.
Naturally, the conversation then veers towards the ROI with lengthy discussions about the resources that have to be allocated to have an effective Social Media exercise in place. Bank executives, weary of opening a Pandora’s Box make it a point not to understand the logic behind Social Media, refusing to see reason as every argument about its efficacy – from the proven conversion rates to customer engagement through to the extremely low cost of creation and aggregation of content falls on deaf ears. “There just aren’t enough resources to start such an exercise and we don’t want to make half-hearted forays” they say.
Yes, they know that Social Media can help them monitor, in real time the salience of their brand. They know that new products can be tested in the social media platforms and invaluable insights gleaned from both actual and potential customers. They also know that Social Media allows them to take part in the conversations that take place around their brand in real time – often helping them make the transition from the pushers to the creators of content. They know that Social Media is perhaps the most important weapon in any Corporate’s arsenal that helps in getting their communication attract the eyeballs they seek. They also know that today Social Media plays an increasingly important role in attracting and employing the right talents. Yet, they will shy away, if tomorrow comes, you know; not knowing that tomorrow may actually catch them in the wrong foot as the epicentre may well be in the Social Media!
Yes, once computerisation was an equally dreaded, even dirty word. I rest my case.
(the piece was originally written for the Financial Express)