Banking on social media after the Christchurch earthquake

Last updated 05:00 07/03/2011

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In the aftermath of last month's Christchurch earthquake, BNZ turned to Twitter.

The bank used the social networking tool to help track down its 487 staff there, to let people know which of its ATMs and branches were operational and also "tweeted" to promote its fundraising efforts.

Social media editor Scott Bartley said it sent out 467 tweets and people "retweeted" its messages more than 400 times in the four days after the quake. Its tweets appeared in people's Twitter streams 93,571 times in that period.

Chief operating officer Stephen Mockett said Twitter had been an energy-efficient means of communicating after the quake, when some cellsites were down and many people could not charge their phones, and had enabled it to reach vast numbers of people easily.

Some people had indicated they would switch to BNZ on the strength of its earthquake-related social media activities, he said.

BNZ and other local banks are ahead of the global curve.

Researcher Ovum said new research revealed 60 per cent of the world's retail banks had no plans in place to use social media in any way.

Just 6 per cent of banks used it to deal with customer queries and only a further 1 per cent expected to use it for that purpose in the next two years.

Fourteen per cent used social media for marketing and a further 12 per cent planned to do so by the end of next year.

Westpac head of brand and retail marketing Ian Moody said it was only beginning to dip its toes into social media. Internally, the bank used Yammer – a social networking tool for businesses.

"That's got some fantastic traction. There's a lot of free dialogue going on between staff about a whole range of stuff. It's kind of an internal Facebook but at a business level, so it's `What did you think of this?', or `How is this working?'

The bank had used Facebook to run and promote various promotions and campaigns, such as its "hotpoints" rewards programme and Westie Pac competition for university students, rather than setting up a generic Westpac Facebook page.

"That's been more successful because it's the stuff people are interested in."

Westpac was exploring options for dispensing advice to customers and conducting transactions over social media channels, but identifying customers and protecting their privacy over those channels would be a challenge.

Customers would increasingly interact with their banks through social media channels, but physical branches would still have their place, he said.

"A lot of our customers are multi-channel. They don't necessarily have one preference over another. The key challenge for us is how we integrate all those channels in a seamless way."

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Mr Mockett said most of its social media activity was media-related rather than dealing with specific customer needs, but that would change as the "digital native" generation matured and grew.

"There's a world of people coming through today who can't understand why you'd wait in a telephone queue. They don't queue for anything and when they hit the workforce and our banking environment ... our ability to engage in a real-time basis is critical.

"People are out there talking anyway, we might as well join them. One strong principle we have though is we don't have the right to invade people's online space and time."

Identifying customers online would not be as difficult as once thought, and there were "a whole lot" of commercial environments in which individuals were being identified remotely.

"One example is an organisation in banking that is purely using smartphones and everything is photographed and emailed or multimedia messaged through."

Kiwibank digital marketing manager Sara Blake said it used Facebook and Twitter to promote some campaigns, update customers and to answer their general queries, but its social media presence was "not huge".

"We're seeing how it goes. As demand grows from customers then we'll definitely be looking to grow it. For some people who are already contacting us that way it's probably their main form of contact."

The bank had about 1300 Twitter followers, she said. Michael Ramsay, ASB internet banking acting general manager, said it had more than 2300 Twitter followers and close to 14,000 Facebook followers.

The bank launched a virtual branch on Facebook in September, which lets customers chat with ASB staff about banking matters, and 99 per cent of customers who visited it said they would recommend it to friends and family, he said.

Customers could discuss account specific matters with staff but needed to verify their identity first.

He expected a big increase in mobile banking – including mobile social media – services as smartphone and tablet use grew.

A spokeswoman for ANZ New Zealand said it was aware of the growing use of social media and was exploring its options.

Ovum analyst Martha Bennett said banks without a social media strategy were shortsighted.

"[They are] placing themselves in a dangerous and vulnerable position compared to competitors which have realised that social media can and must play an intrinsic role in their business.

"Customers are not averse to receiving promotional messages via social media or using it for customer service inquiries, so a massive opportunity to rebuild the confidence in the sector that is so desperately needed is being ignored."


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