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Aussie Banks and Social Media: A Strained, Hastened Marriage?

Analyzing current phenomena has always proved challenging for researchers, since it is often difficult to detach oneself to a sufficient degree as to adopt the stance of scientific objectivity. This, of course, also applies to new media, social networking, or what has been generically referred to as ‘web 2.0’. This term initially referred to any webpage whose content was mostly user generated, or amassed through contributions from a collective of any kind. The notion of collective also closely ties in with current online habits, as the users of today’s social media have been identified as ‘generation C’. Interestingly enough, that C stands both for ‘collective’ as well as for ‘consumer’, signaling the dual nature of social media: creative and consumerist all at once.

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That being said, researching the way in which social media can impact and benefit the business world is important, since they have proven their usefulness time and again. A plethora of studies has already been published on the matter; some propose a consumer-based approach, others look at privacy issues, others still take on the ethical aspect of communicating to the general audiences via platforms they mostly associate with personal connections. One model, however, stands out, since it is focused on strategy alone – it is the ‘Honeycomb’ model proposed by Kietzmann et al in 2011. This model looks at the seven elements that social platforms are built on:

  • Sharing – how much are users sharing and engaging in content exchanges?
  • Presence – are users aware of the availability and level of activity of others?
  • Identity – are the users mandated to reveal personal identification data? To what extent?
  • Relationships – how much can the users relate to one another?
  • Conversations – how much are users communicating with each other?
  • Reputation – is the social standing of users and the content they distribute apparent?
  • Groups – are the users ordered or amassed in communities?

A recent study of the extent to which Australian banks use social media has revealed that the financial institutions down under were initially slow on the uptake. At the initial time of the research, i.e. in November 2010, a precious few of them were on Facebook. Among them, Bankwest (http://www.facebook.com/bankwest) stands among those quickest to implement new strategies. Their approach was mostly organic – their number of Facebook fans is not yet huge, but it has been growing in and of itself, without aggressive promotion. Unlike most banks, one of Australia’s ‘Big Four’ took the bold decision to have not one, but twelve separate profiles on Facebook – one for each of their branches. With this, of course, comes the danger of segmenting the representation of the bank’s identity in the mind of its clients. Said bank also lacks in coherent communication across its social media profiles.

Coherence and cohesiveness is actually one department in which most Australian banks could use some guidance. Of the twelve banks analyzed over the course of this study, only one links to all of its social media profiles (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace) on its main webpage. Brand identity is perhaps the most important element to communicate within the confines of a social media strategy, since it allows users to acknowledge a profile they are interacting with as genuine and trustworthy. This brings us to yet another conclusion: it’s important to let social media strategists take over the reins and set up a singular, coherent communication campaign across all channels. It’s really no use that many of the twelve banks in question are present on YouTube, if the content they generate there is not linked to in any visible place. Last, but certainly not least, social media platforms are perhaps the best way to access genuine feedback from consumers in a real-time framework.


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