TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: NAB gets serious about social

The bank's move to launch a purpose-built social media command centre is further evidence of the sector's resolve to reconnect with customers.

Technology Spectator

National Australia Bank's move to launch a purpose-built social media command centre is the latest evidence of the world of banking trying its level best to carve out new engagement channels in changing competitive landscape.

All four of the major banks have been trying to get their heads around how to best exploit the social media trend for some time now. Yet, until now, none of them have been bold enough to fully commit to it. The establishment of a social media command and control centre might be nothing more than a branding exercise, but it is at the very least a concrete signal of intent from NAB, that social media will be a key part of its future strategy. 

The experience imperative 

NAB began its venture into the world of social media two years ago. Back then, the bank grabbed staff members from its marketing, corporate affairs and digital teams to form the foundation of what would become its social media team.

According to Sam Plowman, NAB’s general manager direct banking, the project had a "collaborative cross-enterprise focus”. The bank quickly realised that this diversity in staffing was important, as social media can be a rather multi-focused tool. Plowman says that for NAB its use really falls into three categories: education, communications and customer service. 

It's the last category which is most vital to Australia's banking scene at the moment. Opening as many customer service channels as possible appears to be a common theme in the sector, an imperative best described by Commonwealth Bank’s CIO, Michael Harte, who recently told The Australian Financial Review  that the end goal is to have "no friction” between the bank and its customers.

Speaking at the Creative Innovation 2012 summit last week, Harte mused that somewhere along the way banks had managed to forget what they were really about – connecting with people.

"Banks lost intimacy and our goal (at CBA) is to bring it back through experience," Harte said last week.

The quest to provide this experience is forcing banks to reconsider their age-old business models, especially when it comes to ensuring that their customer base remains intact.

Extending reach 

NAB’s embrace of social media has come with the realisation that customer service today needs to exist beyond business hours and weekdays. The bank is set to trial offering customer service via social media on the weekends. Plowman added that this one day could be raised to 24-hour service, depending on the growth of social media as a customer service conduit. But as with most technology related promises with banks he didn’t give a deadline or a timeline for its implementation. 

NAB’s efforts in the social media space haven’t gone unrewarded. It’s currently the most followed of the big four banks on Twitter and is also the second most ‘liked’ bank to Commonwealth Bank on Facebook. 

In terms of reach, the bank says its social media content spread to around 12 million users over the net and within the past year its following across all channels has grown by around 350 per cent. NAB expects its new social media command centre will help further improve its customer service, but in reality the centre will just more or less solidify the positive results of its existing social media program. 

Plowman pointed out two impacts that the social media command centre will have on NAB.

Firstly, it will mean that NAB’s  hodgepodge assortment of staff managing the bank’s social media will now officially be called the "social media team”. And secondly, it will act as a "visual symbol” of NAB’s commitment to social media. Perhaps another perk of the centre is that it will also give NAB a place to train the enterprise banking customers which Plowman says have shown interest the company’s social media efforts. 

Role reversal 

It’s somewhat  curious that NAB may now end up training other businesses on how to best use social media, given that less than a year ago banks were being told to follow the lead rather than become the leader.

A 2011 report from Deakin University on banking and social media recommended that banks needed to explore how other businesses where using social media.

"It may also be possible for a bank to develop social media strategies  by exploring how other business types use social media, using the framework as the analysis tool,” the report says.

So in a space of an year a social media laggard could now end up as a leader and a trailblazer. Of course, for that to happen NAB still needs to turn aggressive intent to executable action.

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