Asset-based financial service sector not realising branding potential of social media

While social media is currently making waves in South Africa’s FMCG and retail sector, it is still in its infancy when it comes to the local asset-based financial services sector. Many prominent players are still relying on traditional one-way communication channels, not fully realising the branding potential of creating two-way interactions on social media platforms.

This is according to George Nyabadza, General Manager: Marketing at WesBank, who was speaking at Salvo Global’s Branding in Banking and Finance Conference 2011 held in Johannesburg on 26 -27 September.

“If conceptualised and executed correctly, social media is an incredibly effective engagement medium for interacting with consumers regarding financial issues and advice. In particular, the creation of community sites is becoming increasingly popular, both for relationship building and as hubs for showcasing innovative financial services,” says Nyabadza.

He explains that from a digital branding perspective, the world is fast-evolving and asset-based financial service providers are actively trying to foster interactive online communities rather than appear inaccessible and imposing. “The challenge for asset-based financial service providers is to be as proactive as their retail banking counterparts.”
The asset-based financier has had particular success leveraging its existing sponsorships such as the WesBank Car of the Year 2011, the WesBank Durban Ski Boat Festival 2011 and the WesBank Super Series, through the creation of community sites on platforms such as Facebook. “Through social media we can achieve the much-sought after ‘second leverage’ of our brand, which allows us to open up our sponsorship to more than the original audience.

“For example, the audience reach of our 27 year-old Car of the Year (COTY) sponsorship has increased significantly since the launch of our social media campaign. We currently have over a thousand likes in our COTY community and with the posting of real-time updates such as car voting decisions and general announcements stimulating engagements with fans on Facebook, as well as the creation of links to drive traffic to our website, we are looking to grow this figure considerably during our 2011 campaign.”

According to Nyabadza, the sponsorship communities that WesBank has created all adopt the personality of the people that that they serve and actively encourage members to share their views and experiences.

“A common mistake made by a variety of service providers is not listening to the needs of community members, as well as inadequate or lack of response. Many companies still use social media channels to simply push their brand messages or services which are often of little or no relevance to users.

“In order to grow a digital community you need to connect on an emotional level with its users. Be it financing your first car or first business, it is still a personal decision and requires a two-way relationship that can be effectively channelled via social media.”

He says that regular response is key to the creation and growth of every successful community and requires a dedicated social media manager that can facilitate conversations, create content, source fan evangelists and provide feedback in real-time.

Nyabadza explains that an additional understanding of supplementary digital channels such as YouTube and Flickr can further deepen fan or community member experiences, distributing content in fresh ways and keeping the community engaging for existing and potential fans.
According to Nyabadza, once the required level of socialising is achieved within a community, forming partnerships with other communities is the next step in its evolution. “For example, we have a brand presence on most major vehicle fan pages locally whereby we provide finance offers, offering direct solutions to consumers.

“The emergence of social media should be seen as an opportunity among local financial service players to communicate directly with consumers. By participating in finance-related conversations that are already happening online, rather than attempting to control or avoid them, companies can achieve significant brand awareness and credibility,” concludes Nyabadza. 

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