Twitter and Facebook audiences are tough nuts to crack, but the toughest of all can be found at www.youtube.com.
YouTube, the dominant online video site, has hundreds of millions of users, but holding their attention is far more difficult than typing out 140-character messages or encouraging customers to "Like" the bank's brand. Many card issuers that have a YouTube account devote little attention to it; they populate it with repurposed TV ads and prohibit users from leaving comments.
American Express Co. divides its videos into playlists for specific audiences. Some playlists are intended for business customers, whereas others focus on consumers, TV ads and recent news.
Amex and some other companies have taken the bold move of allowing users to leave comments on the videos they watch. The comments are sometimes negative, but the companies say it is important to allow customers to communicate through this channel.
"Social media provides the opportunity for us to engage with our community of cardmembers. … We want to spur interactions and get feedback from the community," Bradley Minor, an Amex spokesperson, said in an email. "This drive to engagement is core to everything we do in social media."
It certainly is safer to not allow somebody to comment on something on YouTube, says Alan Maginn, a senior analyst at Corporate Insight. “But I don't know then what the value there is" of having an active YouTube channel, he says.
The New York-based research firm published a report this month highlighting some financial companies' uses of social media, though it largely excluded YouTube because the social features, such as comments, are rarely used even when banks and other payments players allow them.
"I just don't think the financial-services industry as a whole has accepted YouTube" in the same way that it has Twitter and Facebook, Maginn says.
Ninety-two percent of the companies Corporate Insight studied have a presence on Twitter, according to the report. Eighty-eight percent have a presence on Facebook. The companies use social media for customer service and recruitment, among other purposes.
Even on Twitter and Facebook, financial companies have a guarded presence, Maginn says. Many banks' Facebook pages do not allow users to post on the company's "wall," a restriction that gives the banks greater control of the conversation, he says.
Citigroup uses Twitter to respond quickly to customer-service issues, but its responses are not completely impromptu. It has two lawyers on staff to answer any questions employees have before they post to a company Twitter account.
On YouTube, even this level of diligence may not be enough. "To be really successful [on YouTube], it may require more effort than being successful on Twitter and Facebook," Maginn says.
A longer version of this story is on AmericanBanker.com.
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