A couple of days ago, I saw Chris Skinner give a presentation in which he advanced a few reasons why social media should be important to banks. His arguments, ultimately, boiled down to one main thing: social networks are where online people are, therefore, they are where banks should be too.
The thing is, I don't agree with that position much. If it were true, why aren't we all doing social media daily? If there was a business reason to be in social media, banks would flock there pretty quickly. It took 5 or so years for the flock to get there with Internet banking, and it will probably take as along for mobile. Social media has been around for more than 5 years, and I'm not seeing much flocking.
Arguments that banks "aren't innovative" or "don't get it" won't fly. The fact is, every bank has people that do get it and who are innovative. They just don't do much in the social space.
Of course, taking the negative position on banking social media is a disingenuous one for me, because I do social media myself here on this blog.
But the thing is, I can see why social media might not be the thing when it comes to a bank. Over the past few days, I've been conducting an experiment: using my Facebook status, I've been trying to see just how ridiculously uninteresting I can get before people dump me.
On the first day, I told everyone that I was still breathing.
On the second, that my heart was beating, and I was counting how many times it did it.
For the third, I said that I'd blinked, but that as it was a normal bodily function, no one should be surprised.
And today, I have uploaded a photo of the specific piece of gravel on which I stand waiting for my morning train.
Here is what I've found out so far: the less useful the content is, the more people engage with it. You'd not believe the string of emails I've been getting.
Now, although this is not an especially scientific experiment, it suggests to me you can build engagement with social media on things that are unimportant and irrelevant. But when you say things which, theoretically, would be interesting and useful, paradoxically, no one cares. Social media is a channel optimised for the insignificant.
Now I'd hardly say that finance and banking are in the insignificant camp for most people. And if that is true, and social media is good for unimportant things, what business does a bank have doing it in the first place?
Oh, you may argue that there are successful bank blogs, and there are some. Bank blogs about banks for bankers and their friends (such as this one, and BankWatch, and Chris Skinner, for example) get decent readership. But we aren't talking to customers, at least not all the time. We're the banking echo chamber.
And if you look at the successful social media experiments, such as VanCity's ChangeEverything, they aren't even about banking very much. VanCity has been clever enough to work out that they have to take a sideways approach.
But that's a special case. The rest of us still believe that customers won't respond to oblique approaches of this kind. We imagine that direct, core messages are all that customers will understand. And we would never dream of using such valuable customer contact to deliver messages that appear, on the face of it, to have little to do with selling product or enhancing service.
"Bother, we've run out of pamphlets again", is hardly the kind of thing a bank would be interested in putting on the net. But "Check out our new rate", is something you see often on bank websites.
My question is whether a venture into the banal would create bank success in the social space. My felling is it might.