|Got blogs? A few pioneers have embraced this "new media" (May 2007)|
Bank pioneers in the "blogosphere" include RBC, HSBC, and Wells Fargo. Plus, tips for building your blog.
By Lauren Bielski, senior editor
Not exactly a banking staple, a few pioneers have embraced this “new media”
Citizen journalists and uppity political bloggers may have seeped into the public lexicon, yet chances are, you haven’t thought all that much about blogging in a business context.
But all user-generated websites of informal, semi-regular “e” dispatches aren’t strictly personal, radical, or unserious. A handful are kept by CEOs and other key execs at Fortune 500 firms. (You can see, or add to the list at, http://www.socialtext.net/bizblogs/index.cgi.) These forums blend in commentary, opinion, and forecasting on corporate and industry undertakings with oblique marketing references designed to generate product or service buzz with a ring of authenticity. Or at least, that’s what the best of them accomplish, notes Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing (http://toprankblog.com)
Certainly, there is hype surrounding Web 2.0 with its dual message of the internet as application platform and internet as the ultimate participatory forum (Tech Topics, April, p. 53.) And, blogging is viewed as a staple of this new internet. Yet out of the glare, the reality of user-generated content is a mixed bag.
The writing can be freeform, to put it politely. “Many blogs look horrible,” Odden says, offering another sort of criticism, admitting later that “boring,” or “safe” might be better adjectives.)
“Corporate creators don’t make these blogs easy to subscribe to, search through, or otherwise interact with,” he says.
Some industries have a strong showing of blogs (a.k.a. weblogs), but they’re not yet a banking staple.
“The banking community is known to be conservative,” notes Diana Owen, a professor at Georgetown University who teaches new media. Compared with other sectors, she hasn’t seen many blogs written by bankers or about banking. But there are a few.
Royal Bank of Canada (http://blogs.rbc.com/innovator), became a notable exception when it devised a contest around innovation earlier this year and made a blog, avatar (a digital character resembling animation), and online video core constituents of its marketing plan. “This was our first year of the contest and we only notified 18 universities originally,” explains Dr. Anita Sands, head of innovations and process design for RBC. The contest challenged Canadian youth to predict how today’s teens would influence the banking industry, and “how a bank should conduct business in light of this.”
Sands explains that word of the contest spread virally. Ultimately, contestants came from 45 different colleges. Experience with the blog, which discussed various innovation topics and was used as a way to communicate contest developments, was a good one, says Sands. She adds that RBC also has internal blogs, one for the sales organization and one for her own innovation team, which helps with collaboration, tip sharing and inter-office communication.
Another well-regarded exception in the blogosphere is Wells Fargo, which maintains three blogs. One of them, http://StageCoachIsland.com, is an online virtual world operating privately within the public Second Life virtual world. Launched in 2005, the site is designed to appeal to young adults and let them, “connect with friends and make new ones, and learn smart money management,” as it says. A bank spokeswoman declined to speak about the blog.
Another big bank, U.K.-based HSBC Group, generates a topic of the week and invites registered users to comment (http://www.yourpointofview.com). Reagan Savage, brand communication manager, says the blog, which posts a series of questions, is designed as part of a larger brand campaign, which emphasizes individuality, shared ideas, and the insights that can be gained from leveraging individual differences. (Some of the print ads appear on airport jetways.) “It makes sense that we would tap into Web 2.0 as part of this,” says Savage.
Violent video games is the subject currently being featured in the ads. It appears as a question on the blog, which runs with an editorial calendar. “Our research shows that people who take the time to add their views and blog tend to value our bank more and think of us as a partner in managing their finances.” Not content to leave it at that, HSBC is also video blogging. One live event recently took place at a branch at 452 Fifth Avenue, New York.
“We featured theatre scenes in branch windows depicting different aspects of creativity,” the exec recounts.
“People walking by could SMS text a word used to describe the scene and it would show up on digital signs. Now the video is available on our site.”
Tech a big lure
Many segments of the technology industry, unsurprisingly, have generated a volume of blog submissions on par with that attributed to celebrity gossip or political sites, all clearly of broad audience interest. (As an example, former Red Herring writer and author Om Malik generates loyal readership on GigaOM site, and is a “rock star” of the field. So is Robert Scoble, a tech evangelist at Microsoft, whose Scobleizer column is a must-read for many tech enthusiasts.)
Certain retail industries also have made use of blogging to serve as another window into product commentary and product wares.
Besides the handful of blogs cited above, the financial services industry has a collection of useful sites mostly from experts or consultants of some sort. Netbanker (www.netbanker.com), by editor Jim Bruene, with Financial Innovations in Seattle, reports on online banking, mobile banking, and other technology and banking trends.
Bankervision (www.bankervision.typepad.com), written by James Gardner, director of retail global banking in the financial services group at Getronics, also touches on a wide range of insider bank subjects, with a special interest in mobile banking. Finextra Communities (http://www.finextra.com/community), includes the futurist writer Chris Skinner, once with Unisys, Wang, and IBM among others. The community site looks at broad retail banking trends. It has sections for wholesale banking, cards, online banking, and payments, among others.
A few blog pointers
For those who may be interested in blogging as part of a broader marketing effort, a recent survey of bloggers conducted by the Center of Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, yielded this advice in its executive summary:
1. Blogs take time and commitment (the worst blogs are updated infrequently).
2. Blogs must be part of a plan. Have a designated focus and key objectives outlined for the site in advance of that first post.
3. Blog posts should be, in effect, a form of conversation. That is, they should be an open, somewhat informal invitation for debate or exchange of opinions.
4. Transparency, authenticity, and focus are good. Bland is bad. Many people are looking for someone who is in authority to share their ideas, experiences, or suggestions. BJ
The electronic version of this article available at: http://lb.ec2.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/sb/ababj0507/index.php?startid=6
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