Financial Services Blog Ecosystem

The Financial Services Blog Ecosystem aims to build client and prospect conversations about the desired outcomes of financial services firms’ clients, whether paying for university (consumer banking); easier global expansion (treasury); secure retirement (investment); protecting property (insurance). The blog is the heart of an ecosystem of high-quality, business-relevant interactions that the team builds over time, driving reputation of the brand and of individual contributors (bankers, representatives, relationship managers).


Summary

Concept

  • Financial services blog focused on consumer, small business or institutional client desired outcomes (of using financial services), not products.
  • Relevant to B2B and B2C banking, insurance and investment.
  • The blog shares content but the goal is creating a water cooler inviting people to interact.
  • By focusing on client outcomes, the blog increases engagement and distinguishes itself from product-focused peers.
  • Contributor team conducts outreach, weaving a web of interactions between its blog and relevant platform venues: forums, blogs, LinkedIn, etc.
  • The ecosystem takes shape in stages, as a function of interactions in high-value venues.
  • The blog serves as the heart of the business’s social ecosystem.

Outcomes

  • Relevant interactions boost quality of trust and relationships, as shown by progress up the hierarchy of social actions.
  • Live, asynchronous interactions can inform digital marketing & content strategies, increasing relevance.
  • Thought leaders, by interacting in public, drive their credibility and reputation.
  • Once thought leader pioneers prove the concept, others will want to join the initiative.
  • Readers will inquire about the firm’s products and services when the right trust level is reached.
  • Product management uses real-time insights into client challenges and opportunities to design more services and relevant content.
  • Various business units use outcomes-based insights for cross-selling.
financial services blog ecosystemMore social business
in financial services

Expanded Description

Concept

Financial services, like all brands, talk the talk of being “customer-focused,” but the blog ecosystem opportunity shows that they can walk the walk. The focus is engaging clients and prospects around the outcomes they want to achieve by using business banking, consumer banking, insurance, investment services, etc.

Since actions speak louder than words, the team serves people in public, and it doesn’t promote the firm or its products. This also helps firms to avoid many regulatory snafus because they are not selling, although they may respond to questions that readers introduce. Engagement Contributors are mentored in how to walk the line.

Key Features of the Financial Services Blog Ecosystem

  • A financial services blog is oriented to specific stakeholders’ (clients, prospects..) desired end results by using financial services, not the financial products or services themselves. Most banking, insurance and investment blogs talk about themselves and their products, but this blog will distinguish itself by focusing on what impact clients want to achieve. The focus is specific business [personal] situations, issues and opportunities.
  • A digital social ecosystem surrounds the blog, which serves as the heart of the ecosystem. The ecosystem begins with platforms like industry forums and blogs as well as relevant platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, YouTube and others. The Contributor team creates the ecosystem by interacting in its venues.
  • The Contributor team includes relevant thought leaders, who author blog content and respond to comments, and marketing/social business specialists who conduct most of the outreach.
  • The team builds the ecosystem in stages, according to business outcomes indicated by quantitative metrics.
  • For more on the concept, see referenced case studies under “More Information,” below.

Process

The purpose here is to outline the process of building a blog-powered financial services ecosystem, just to provide an idea of the concept; please post questions using comments, or email us for more detail.

Strategy and vision

  • Audit the ecosystem of social venues that is relevant to your organization’s business, services and products. You need to understand who is online and what they are trying to accomplish. The audit should include identifying specific conversations of stakeholders that have the deepest impact on your business strategy. It should also identify workstreams, which describe what stakeholders are doing. Your audit can serve as a feasibility study.
  • Second, analyze your firm’s organization, product portfolio and personalities. Which area(s) are feeling the most pain? Which have a few client-facing bankers/professionals/relationship managers with real innovation experience?
  • Assuming you find relevant conversations and at least one area of the firm that is motivated and able to contribute, define your pilot(s). It is best to scope two to three pilots in order to reduce risk (one or more will succeed).
  • Your strategy is based on real proof that the clients and prospects you want to engage are online talking about relevant topics, and it assesses your firm’s readiness to engage. Your audit of the ecosystem will teach you a lot about what’s available and how your firm can distinguish itself. Use pilots to test and evolve the strategy.
  • Strategy should prioritize and sequence pilots and their design; pilots start small, but they should be designed to validate/evolve key aspects of the strategy before scaling the effort.

Execution

  • Select teams carefully; remember, you are starting small, so you don’t need more than a few people to contribute a few hours each.
  • Financial services firms have deep and broad relationships; client-facing professionals can collaborate to invite complementary clients into conversations.
  • Anticipate a process to build the Contributor team. Your audit will help you raise the interest of potential Contributors, who write posts and interact with readers. Robust due diligence is the cornerstone of success here; once you discover stakeholders having high quality conversations about the outcomes they want to achieve with products like yours, some of your colleagues in various silos will get excited. That makes it real for them.
  • Be patient and persistent; in most financial services firms’ employees have endured many years of fearmongering about “social media,” and most are hesitant to get involved. While we de do not recommend underestimating the challenges that regulated industries face, we know that most can pursue online interactions. We recall that, only a few years ago, financial services executives used the same arguments to explain why “regulated firms can’t have websites.”
  • A key to success is to realize that you can start with one thought leader Contributor if necessary. We recommend having several, but all it takes is one leader to commit.
  • Expect that even the most enthusiastic bankers will need mentoring in how to act online to increase trust and business. The beautiful thing about social business is it’s transparent; once you model behavior and results, you serve as your own example for good and bad practices.
  • Marketing/social business supports the thought leader(s) by conducting outreach to relevant platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube. We recommend staging the outreach effort carefully to expand it in a controlled way, based on results. The audit should rank social venues based on most relevant stakeholder and workstream activity, so you can engage the highest ranked first. They will probably include specific groups, forums and blogs (i.e., blogs and forums on treasury, consumer finance, homeowners insurance, investments, retirement).
  • Create tools like pilot charters that explicitly define goals, processes, resources and roles, but don’t boil the ocean. Ours are typically four pages long. Also create templates for each role, so they know exactly what to do. Creating templates for each role (for example, maybe one role specializes in contributing links, while another one sparks and manages conversations) takes the biggest risks out of the pilot. People need guidance, so give it to them, but don’t be formulaic; social business gets the best results when people are free to be themselves. Create templates before you approach Contributors, who are much more likely to get involved when they see in black/white what the Contributor commitment is.
  • Phase2 involves expanding the Contributor pool and conducting blog outreach. Blogs are the ideal heart of a financial services ecosystem because they are rich content, they enable granular syndication of content to other platforms, and they are interactive.

Projected Outcomes

Outcomes happen over time, and these are given roughly in order. Please note that this is a generalized suggestive list.

  • Metrics should be grounded in measuring the depth of trust and relationship. CSRA constructs a hierarchy of social actions to measure increasing commitment that is reflected by readers’ social actions (liking, commenting, referring friends, talking about the blog in other platforms, inquiring about your products and services).
  • Outcomes will depend on the culture and habits of the stakeholders you want to engage; however, wherever you start, your interactions should start “climbing” the hierarchy over time when you are interacting appropriately because trust and commitment are increasing.
  • The stakeholders determine how much trust must be build before they start inquiring of your products and services. When you show stakeholders through your consistent responsiveness that you care about them, and you offer useful assistance and information, they will prefer you and want to buy from you because you inspire them.
  • Contributors are also “stakeholders” of this initiative; its leaders must strive to make participating rewarding for them to build the Contributor bench strength and diversity. When you design Contributor roles realistically, others will start asking to get involved. This is a key milestone to successful initiatives.
  • Depending on stakeholders and topics of interaction, readers of the blog will often start commenting on each other’s comments and even making suggestions related to outcomes. This happens only when the level of trust in the community (blog readership) is high enough.
  • Metrics should show cross-pollination of interaction to other platforms.
  • “Product management” can tap into the conversations for insights into creating new products and services that can help clients achieve outcomes more easily and profitably.

More Information

Several case studies can illustrate the blog ecosystem, PutnamKinaxis and Indium. Find even more case studies here.

CSRA social business opportunities are the highest impact opportunities that we see in the market, so we are actively pursuing work in these areas. They enable leaders to transform their business processes ahead of the market, putting competitors at serious disadvantage.

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