Social media for financial services – part 3

The most important part of a social media strategy is to understand your social media goals and objectives and how they tie into your overall company sales and marketing strategy.

Your digital profile is not just about your website and email any more. You need to think about your presence on the key social sites and create content that is easy to share, discuss and comment on.

Core to this is understanding the sites and tools your customers use. In the UK, professional and business use of Facebook is low. However, LinkedIn has an active professional intermediary community, as does Twitter. There are also key industry verticals to be aware of and monitor, like Steve Bee’s JargonFreePensions, FT Adviser’s community, Panacea and IFA Life.

Before you even start to engage, there are a few things to think about; is your senior management team supportive? Do you have social media guidelines for your employees that cover acceptable usage? Are your IT security and risk people on board? Who can use social media and manage responses? And do you have appropriate compliance and response handling processes in place.

Once you’ve answered all these, you need a robust social media process. This can be split into 3 parts.

1) Listen

You need to track comments and conversations about your organisation and respond when necessary. How will you do this, what tools will you use and how will you use this feedback?

2) Engage

How will you encourage feedback and comment? Remember, this is a social conversation so you need to be open about comments & responses.

3) Share

How will you share content, thoughts and opinions? What sites and networks do your customers use and what groups are they part of? Are your web site and email platforms integrated with social media?

Social media for financial services – part 2

Why is social media important? Simple, it’s huge. Facebook is the second most visited website in the UK after Google and has nearly 30 million registered users in the UK alone. In fact, if Facebook was a country it would be the 2nd biggest country in the world.

In a press release at the end of 2010, LinkedIn, the worlds largest business social network, confirmed it has over 4 million registered professionals in the UK and  had increased it’s numbers by over 1 million in just 8 months.

It’s not just their size, social networks have changed the way people communicate; whether it’s reconnecting with old school friends and workmates on Facebook or Friends Reunited, moaning about poor customer service on Twitter or joining a group of like-minded professionals on LinkedIn.

As a quick check, there are 29 RDR groups on LinkedIn – the largest membership is over 900 people. There are nearly 6,000 people with the job title Financial Adviser on it in the UK.

IFA Life, the industry vertical, has over 6,000 members.

At Scottish Life we have well over 1,000 followers on our Twitter account and it now accounts for almost 5% of our web traffic. If you look to the US, around 15% of financial advisers have a Twitter account.

Meetings without leaving your desk

Would you like to reach your customers and collaborate with colleagues but save on travel costs and time out of the office? If so, web meetings might well be worth investigating.

For example, according to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, in 2005 his company saved nearly $40 million (approx. £22m) in travel expenses using their own Live Meeting tool.

More powerful computers, greater access to broadband and faster wireless connections mean that virtual meetings are becoming a viable alternative for a lot of businesses. If you couple this with the current weather problems, recent security threats and the focus on environmental awareness, then they become a very attractive proposition indeed.

A number of options

It’s also worth pointing out that we’re not just talking about large all-singing, all dancing seminars with huge production costs. There are a number of different options out there, offering different levels of functionality to suit all budgets and needs. But it’s probably worth pointing out that there’s no point in paying for things you won’t use.

These range from simple instant messaging tools, allowing two or more people to communicate in real time, to basic solutions that will allow you to run a PowerPoint presentation with an accompanying conference call.

More advanced systems offer more bells and whistles including video, audio, screen-sharing (great if you need to provide customer support), instant messaging and virtual whiteboards for collaboration. A lot of tools will also allow you to record the presentation or meeting and play it back online at a later date, handy if not all your invited audience can attend.

How they work

Most systems work in a fairly similar fashion. Meetings can either be instant or scheduled for a later date. Typically, the instant option tends to be used for more collaborative sessions with colleagues or suppliers, whereas the scheduled meeting can be used to run a workshop, presentation or training session.

Once you’ve set-up the meeting in your tool, an email is generated with all the details in it that you can just send out to your prospective audience.

Normally they can just click on a link to register. Depending on the system, the email might also have a link to automatically add the details to their calendar. Some will also automatically send out reminders nearer the event. 

When the time comes, it’s just a question of logging on, dialling in and kicking-off the meeting. There’s normally a small piece of software or plug-in to download but you only have to do this once.

Once you’re up and running, you’ll be presented with a simple interface that shows your presentation or demo and provides easy access to any widgets the system has. For instance, a simple question and answer box, drawing/highlighting tools and a “share screen” option.

For training and support the latter is great, as it means you can hand control of your computer over to someone else o practise what’s been shown. You can also let them take over the presentation, so you don’t even have to be in the same room  or even country as your co-presenters.

Things to think about

If you’re looking to involve a large number of people, then having a one-way call, (where your audience can only listen, not talk) is much easier to manage. Its also helpful to have an assistant to manage any questions you get. 

Our experience has shown that using a separate telephone or conference call is preferable. Not everyone can listen via their computer as they might not have sound enabled or work in an open-plan office. Offering a freephone telephone number to your clients can help to improve uptake. Watch out though, as you will have to pay the costs of the calls, plus any set-up fees. 

For tools like PowerPoint, making sure there’s not too much animation or moving around is quite important, as your audience might be using older computers or slower web connections.

In practice

We’ve being using a tool called GoToMeeting, from CitrixOnline, since last year. This was introduced to complement the existing ways we communicate with our customers, allowing us to offer greater support to a wider range of IFAs. Our consultants can easily demonstrate how a product or service works and then use the screen-sharing tools to watch the customer practise, guiding them as and when necessary. 

We’ve also successfully used it as an emergency back-up for a live presentation, when a security threat meant flights were grounded.

Internally, we’ve found a number of benefits, from meeting with suppliers to training. If we’re developing some new product plans or want to show someone a presentation we’re working on we can just click on a button and we’re up and running, meaning fewer flights, quicker decisions and less early mornings.

Screenfly – great way to test media queries

Just a quick post to highlight Screenfly by QuirkTools. A simple and free way to test @media queries. This is a great way to test your responsive web designs quickly.

What are @media queries?

In simple terms, a @media query is a way to set certain CSS parameters based on media type and screen size. You can see some good examples on Design Shack.

What is responsive design?

From Smashing magazine, “Responsive Web design is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. The practice consists of a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries.”

Why I love news feeds (RSS)

Of all the “new” web technologies that’ve sprung up over the last few years, news feeds are by far my favourite.

They help me do my job, keep up with current affairs and stay up to date with my various hobbies and interests.

What are news feeds, you may ask

Sometimes called “web feeds“, news feeds are a way for sites to provide a list you can subscribe to, and then get automatic updates each time new content is added.

There are a number of different types, but the most popular are RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom.

SOUNDS GREAT, How can I use them?

To subscribe to a feed you just need a “feed reader”. This can be an online tool or some software ou have on your machine – chances are you already have something you can use already.

Google offer 2 tools you can use; iGoogle and Google Reader. Both are free and you just need a Google account to set one up.

If you want software, PC users can use Outlook. Feedreader is a free piece of kit you can download as well. Most modern browsers will also allow you to subscribe to feeds too.

There are also loads of apps for smart-phone users as well.  I use Feeddler RSS on the iPhone and iPad. This has the advantage of using my Google Reader account to login and display the newsfeeds I’ve selected.

My preference is to use an online account, like Google Reader. This means I can access it from anywhere and only need to manage one set of feeds.

Most readers will also allow you to set up categories to help you sort and store your feeds, making it easy to find what you’re looking for.

How to subscribe

To subscribe to a feed, just look for the link. This is often flagged with the feed icon – to use, just click on the link and follow the instructions.

The BBC, Guardian and Telegraph all offer feeds. They are a good place to start:

IE 8 Beta Released

The public Beta for IE 8 is now available to download. Whilst on the surface it looks a whole lot like IE7, it promises a number of significant improvements in some key areas, particularly CSS (2.1 compliant) , AJAX and the DOM. Not to mention an interesting “developer tools”, um, tool-set that will help rapid prototyping (in no way cribbed from any Firefox plugins, of course), and versioning that will allow IE7 emulation and a quirks mode for IE5 rendering behaviour.

New features include an “activities menu”, which automates a lot of the cop/paste activity and “web slices”, which at first glance appears to be a cross between micro-formats and RSS.

Having used it for all of 10 minutes IE8 seems to be heading along the right lines, although the “+” signs in iGoogle feeds no longer work and IE8 mode crashes if you’ve got iGoogle and Google toolbar up and running (switch to IE7 emulator moder), so it’s back to IE7 emulator mode for me… (it would also seem to block the “preview” rendering in Live Writer).

Windows Live Writer

This is the first post I’ve written with the above. A desktop application that MS say makes it easy to publish rich content to your blog.

I have to say I’m pretty impressed. Once it was downloaded (following the annoying trend from Google of offering me a load of software I didn’t want) it was simple to install and get up and running. I just entered my blog URL, user id and password and I was up and running.

As it’s a full app, the interface is much richer than most of the WYSIWYG editors, with a very clean interface.

As a bonus, you can also write content when offline and synchronise we you next connect. Overall, I’d say it was a winner.

More at http://home.live.com/.

It as has a number of cool features that meet the holy grail of being both cool AND useful. One of them being the insertion of MS Virtual Earth maps. You can see my office below…

Map image