Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Final Post of 2009

As we ease into the holiday season, it is a good time to reflect on 2009 and look forward to 2010. (Not to digress, but do you say it is going to be "twenty ten" or "two thousand ten"? I use them both interchangeably.) This past year has been incredibly challenging for many of us. We've seen friends/colleagues (or even ourselves) let go, the economy tank and begin a "jobless" recovery, and the failure of over 140 banks and financial institutions in the country.

On the other hand, there have been some really good things as well. Social media has gone mainstream as organizations began (or continued) to use these tools to connect with customers and prospects. Customers have benefited through a more transparent relationship with their providers. Consumers have begun focusing on financial management tools to reduce debt and save money, often using their community to help in this effort.

What does the next year hold in store for us? I'm not a very good predictor of the future. At this juncture, there are probably more questions than answers. How will Twitter evolve next year? Will it be replaced by some other technology or continue to grow into a mature social media channel? What about Facebook? Will the growth of the boomers in the space force the next generation of twenty somethings into another social network solution? We'll just have to see how this all plays out.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Bring on 2010!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Social Media Musings before the "Big Snow of '09"

As Baltimore prepares for a snow storm over the weekend (which means all the milk and bread will fly off the grocery store shelves), I thought I'd share my own experience with the social media space. Having participated in most of these areas (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) for a while now, it is always interesting to me how the online and offline worlds collide.

On Twitter, for example, I personally follow over 300 people and am followed by about the same number. Some of these people are friends/business associates, but the majority of them I've never met face to face. So last night, as I attended the Blue Sky Factory holiday party, my two worlds briefly came together. I got a chance to talk with Mario Armstrong, a tech entrepreneur in Baltimore and a guy I've heard on NPR and other local stations over the years. He often focuses on new technologies and manages to make some very complex subjects easy to understand. While I've enjoyed following him on Twitter, it was really nice to actually talk with him in person. And,we already had some connection.

So, what's the point? I guess it's that social media tools like Twitter really can help facilitate all kinds of conversations and relationships, both online and offline. Pretty neat when it all comes together that way.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Social Media Levels the Playing Field

Last week, there was an interesting article in the American Banker about the use of social media. It focused on both large and small banks and their integration of these tools into their companies.

Bank of America, for example, uses Twitter to monitor complaints and respond to customers. They have six people who are dedicated to staffing the Twitter account @BofA_Help and monitoring conversations on Twitter. A smaller, regional bank in Wisconsin, North Shore Bank, uses Facebook as a way to connect with customers, provide photos and videos, and conduct contests.

Since we began, we've used these tools in much the same way with very encouraging results. Given our size, we don't have anywhere near the same number of resources working on our Twitter accounts (@1stMarinerBank and @FMBCustServ), much less full time. The beauty of social media, and the applications available to monitor activity, is that you don't need to have a lot of resources. It provides a more level playing field where size and scale are no longer issues. In fact, I would contend that we can actually respond more quickly and in a more personal way than our larger competitors. And in this industry, like many others, the only way to differentiate ourselves is through a positive customer experience.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Governor O'Malley and Social Media

I just finished watching a small business town hall online with Governor Martin O'Malley (D., MD). It was broadcast on blue sky factory TV, a media outlet for Blue Sky Factory, a leading provider of email marketing tools and services, based in Baltimore. It was hosted by Mario Armstrong, a nationally known commentator on technology and Greg Cangliosi, the CEO of Blue Sky Factory.

It was pretty impressive to see a Governor use a combination of visual online media while fielding questions from the audience via a hash tag(#BSFTV) on Twitter. In this fairly tech savvy area, this is great way to connect with that constituency. With the technology incubator spaces in the state, including the Emerging Technology Centers in Baltimore, the technology area has been growing even as other industries struggle.

Kudos to Governor O'Malley for using social media to reach out to the citizens of Maryland. It's a pretty good indication that social media is reaching a critical mass and going mainstream.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Evolution of Social Media

An associate and I were just talking about the evolution of our social media efforts. We've been invited to present in a social media event by the Greater Baltimore Technology Council (GBTC) in January. We are very excited (and honored) to be included in this impressive group of technology professionals.

As we started brainstorming the topic, we decided to focus on the evolution of our social media journey. Rather than talk theory, we are going to review our strategic approach and focus on specific examples from that experience. We think this will be more useful for the audience.

Our first foray into the social media world was when we established a Group page (remember them?) on Facebook.

Our goal was (and still is) to demonstrate our involvement in the community and to "humanize" the brand by including company events as well. As Facebook has evolved, so have we. We've since added a "Fan of" page, been actively updating content, and conducted contests to add followers and have some fun. We now have over 900 fans and continue to grow. Feel free to become one yourself!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When did closing a branch become newsworthy?

Late last week, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, we announced the future closing of one of our branches. As anyone in banking (or any other retailer, for that matter) knows, evaluating locations on business needs such as profitability, market share, etc. is a fairly regular exercise. We've closed numerous branches over the the years with little or no fanfare. Not this time.

In a little more than two days, there were no less than twelve local and national posts from various blogs and on Twitter. We even had a local reporter contacting us through Twitter to confirm the news and get a comment. So why such a strong reaction to what, in the past, was a non-event?

Besides the current economic environment, where the slightest corporate change is considered bad news, the web and the social media tools have changed the rules of the game. This is just one example of the ways that basic business activities are interpreted and reported. The days of corporations controlling the message is over. Now, individuals have as powerful a means of communicating across a broad audience as the traditional advertising and media outlets did in the past. Now, we have to adjust to this new reality and learn how to manage our side of the conversation. Not an easy task, is it?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pan American Bank and the Cruelty of Social Media

Okay, I have to admit that I might have contributed to the frenzy that surrounded this announcement. Yesterday morning, a press release came across my screen announcing the roll out of Pan American Bank's social media strategy including a blog, Twitter, and Facebook page. I re-tweeted that I found it interesting that they used this traditional, press release model to kick it off when social media should be, well, social and viral.
This lead some followers to go to their blog and discover that, lo and behold, their site was displaying Google ads. Certainly an unusual approach for most banks. But the real uproar was the fact that there were ads for other banks, including Bank of America, Susquehanna Bank and TD Bank, to name a few. As he noted, our @1stMarinerBank twitter account was part of the conversation as well.
To his credit, Jesse Torres, the CEO and resident blogger, quickly posted a response to the "hubbub", explaining his rationale for the Google ads and acknowledging the need to more closely restrict the types of ads to display. I don't necessarily agree with the concept of ads on a blog. However, he certainly impressed me with his transparency and honesty. Now, isn't that what social media is really all about?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The ROI of Social Media

I had an opportunity to talk to Larry De Palma of TDG-Phenix, a banking and payments consulting company, about our social media efforts. According to Larry, many of the bankers he encounters aren't seeing the value of a social strategy. They seem content to keep building branches and maintaining a "business as usual" approach. Even those who do understand and get it usually lead into the next, more challenging question of, "what's the ROI of social media?"

I have to admit that we don't calculate the ROI for our organization. But I think that is okay for us. We see it as a necessary part of our overall strategy to interact with customers and prospects and build our brand. However, there are certainly others who do. To highlight some of these, I invite you to take a look at the following video from Socialnomics, a social media blog. In a very entertaining way, it provides examples from various industries that might help you determine your companies own ROI. Included in the video is a reference to Gary Vaynerchuck, a recent speaker at the GBTC Tech Nite here in Baltimore. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Leveraging Social Media in Finance'

Delphine Vantomme of InSites Consulting authored a review of the recent SOMESSO conference in Zurich on 'Leveraging Social Media in the Finance Sector'. I urge you to take a look at the post for her perspective on the highlights of the conference.
The commoon thread I see from the presenters reinforces my previous post from the Harvard Business School newsletter. The emphasis throughout is using social media as a part of an enterprise strategy for your brand. Whether it be in customer service, human resources activities, or public relations efforts, it has to be part of a plan.
We are currently working with our mortgage business partners on re-building one of our mortgage web properties. This site has languished in obscurity for some time. While it would be tempting to jump right into a social media effort, it isn't the right time now. We have a lot of work to do before we are ready to take that on.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Social Media versus Social Strategy

In a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Newsletter, the studies of Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski and users of social networks are discussed. The article opens with a quote from the Professor, "Online social networks are most useful when they address real failures in the operation of offline networks". Keeping up with friends, establishing new relationships, and sharing photos are primary uses of these social networks. No real surprises there.
Which can lead to the question that confounds many a corporate marketing leader. How do you play in this new world of social networks? According to Professor Piskorski, " To be successful, you need to shift your thinking from social media to social strategy". Simply looking at the social networks as another marketing channel, to generate leads and click through's for your website, is inconsistent with the spirit and use of these networks. He suggests that products and services need to be changed to incorporate social networking components, i.e. make them "more social".
Certainly an interesting perspective and worth exploring. In the financial services arena, I find it a bit challenging to see a way to make our services more social. We see the current value in sharing information about the company and employees on our Facebook page (with lots of pictures, of course). We use Twitter to have conversations with others that are more immediate, whether it be promoting an event, participating in community activities, or addressing a customer service issue. I think we are evolving into a social strategy through experience.
So what about you? How do you see social media, as just another sales channel or as an overall part of a social strategy?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Research firm jumps on the Social Media Bandwagon

I recently came across a blog post from Celent, a research and advisory firm for Financial Institutions. Jacob Jegher, a Senior Analyst, recently released a report entitled "Demystifying Social Media and Next-Generation Online Banking". While we are not subscribers to Celent research (we work with a very modest publication budget), the extract seems to hit all the points I've found in our social media efforts.
I take it as a good sign that a traditional research firm like Celent is advocating participation in social media for financial institutions. We've embraced it and would encourage others too as well. Unfortunately, since I can't see the content, it is impossible for me to say how they suggest banks get involved. If someone has access to the report and can share that with me, I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"The Internet is Broken"

I had the pleasure of attending TEDxMidAtlantic yesterday. For those of you not familiar with this effort, TED (Technology,Entertainment, Design) is a " small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading". TEDxMidAtlantic is an independently organized TED event featuring speakers and performers from a wide range of fields. It was a terrific event and I would highly recommend you attend. One particular speaker, Mark Walsh, really caught my attention.
In his discussion, he declares that the Internet is broken relative to the original intent of the early Internet developers. He feels that the Internet is "filled with junk" and "promotes [a] false sense of conviviality but generates isolationism". He goes on to outline his proposal for fixing it.
I certainly understand his concern. With the overwhelming growth of Internet usage over the last 25 years, there were bound to be abuses. However, I would contend that the Internet can promote real connectivity between people, especially in the B2C arena. If managed properly, true transparency is possible. We are in the service business. In order to service our customers, we have to connect with them. This medium allows us to connect like no other. He may consider the Internet broken, but I think we are just starting to figure out how we can really use it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Personal Finances and Social Media

As we all know, social media has been the norm for most young adults for much of their lives. This audience seems comfortable sharing deeply personal information across networks in a way previous generations never did. Nothing apears to be out of bounds.

Which is what makes a recent study sponsored by AARP so interesting. It is entitled "Personal Finances: The Final Frontier for Social Media". It is available on AARP's LifeTuner website, which they describe as "an online personal finance community site born out of a growing recognition that young adults need to take a much more active role than previous generations in planning and preparing for their own financial security."

If you are in the financial services industry, it is well worth your time to read. It says a lot about how this demographic, the 18-34 year olds, feel about personal finances. Their two top priorities are managing day to day expenses and putting money into savings. However, they are more likely to turn to their parents or friends for advice than to use their expanded social networks.

I think the implications are pretty clear. We can't just assume that by entering the social media channels we will gain their trust. They aren't necessarily looking for financial advice through this avenue. We should, however, provide tools to help them more effectively manage their finances. That could (and should) make us more relevant in their lives.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Success Story from the Social Media Trenches

I've been following a very knowledgeable expert in Social Media for Financial Services, Christopher Langlois, of Visible Banking. He recently posted a presentation for SOMESSO Zurich 2009, a social media conference. It's a really good, comprehensive overview of the current state of social media in financial services around the world.

While we are mentioned as one of the active financial institutions in the US, he specifically highlights a servicing effort that resulted in a very good experience for one of our customers. Aaron Brazell, the lead editor of, was the customer and wrote an excellent account of the whole experience entitled "First Mariner Bank: A New Shining Star in Social Media PR" . In his own words, he describes how these online tools and offline efforts can work together to service customers in a more integrated way. It isn't always easy since we build a lot of barriers into our servicing channels. If you want to see just how this can work, you need to read his post.

Friday, October 30, 2009

More about Consumer Demand

Ironically, soon after my last post, I came across an article in eMarketer entitled "Consumers Demand Brand Interaction". This research really supports, statistically, what I wrote about as well. After interacting through these channels, consumers felt that they:
  • had a more positive impression of the brand
  • felt a stronger connection to the company
  • believed they had a better service experience

These positive impressions were felt by seven out of ten respondents, a pretty strong endorsement. If you aren't already in the social media space, think about the implications for you. How do you think these consumers, when faced with an organization that isn't engaged, feel about that brand? Probably the way the frustrated Florida banking customer felt.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Banks need Social Media

I recently came across a blog post titled Who needs Social Media? My Banks! The writer complains about trying to reach his local branch of a large bank in Florida. He finds it quite difficult to get a phone number let alone reaching out to his bank through other channels (ie Twitter). He is now considering switching banks.
It highlights the basic challenge we face as bankers. As he notes, we often talk about banking as a relationship between us and our customers. If so, how can you not get involved in social media? The ability to reach out, in real time, is one of the key attributes of these channels. For both parties. And isn't that really what customer service and relationships are all about?
FYI- if you are a bank with a location in Boca Raton, FL and are using social media, you may want to reach out to him. Sounds like a good prospect!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Incoprorating social media in (any) business

While the goal of this site is to focus on banking, there are a lot of really good experts out there talking about social media. I recently came across a blog post on the Web Worker Daily site called "Tips from the Trenches: Using Social Media in Business". The themes are pretty consistent with our experience:
1) Jump in and try it first.
2) Listen and learn.
3) Be authentic.
Once you are in the space, then determine if and/or how it will best work for your business objectives. I think the "Ready, Shoot, Aim" approach may summarize it nicely.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Just added a new post on my blog, Banking on Social Media.

What's a picture worth, anyway?

Social media can take many forms. FaceBook and Twitter are probably the most visible. However, we've been addressing the use of photo's on Flickr recently. As many of us are quick to admit, photo's generate traffic. People love to look at pictures, especially of themselves, their friends and co-workers.
For a brand, adding photo's of employees and events is a good way to connect with your customers. We've been posting pictures from events over the last two months, including an employee event and a grand opening of a local branch. As you begin to share these picture, be aware of the concerns of others. These can include issues of privacy and security, or creating a negative impression of the bank for both customers and employees. Ensure you have a process in place to ensure the integrity of the photo's being displayed. Addressing these concerns up front can prevent issues later on.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Recent CU Times article on social media

I felt compelled to comment on a recent post in the Credit Union Times about the dangers of social media for financial institutions. It represents the narrow minded approach that many IT and PR/Marketing people take on the new media. It harkens back to a time when organizations could control the message and means of communication. That time is gone.
The traditional media outlets- newspapers, radio, and television are no longer the powers they once were. People are talking about your brand in a very public way-whether they are employees, customers, or just interested observers. Blogs, Tweets, and FaceBook have replaced newspaper articles, advertisements, and news releases. Don't ignore the trend, embrace the opportunity to join in the conversation. You may not always like what you hear, but you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting Started

So you are thinking about getting into social media. I mean, come on, everyone is doing it, so why not us? Not so fast. Before you jump in, you reall need to figure out some things. Like, how does this fit into your business model and long term strategy? If your goal is to absolutely dominate the Certificate of Deposit market for seniors, it might not make sense to get in at all.

At 1st Mariner, our strategy is to emphasize our involvement in the local community. We have 24 branches located in and around the Baltimore region, so we are very much a part of this community. Our employees contribute many hours to local, non-profit organizations around the region. We are also focusing on the next generation of bank customers, also known as the Gen Y's. If you intend to reach and engage this audience, it is a requirement to be in these channels.

With this in mind, we went through a complete web site redesign in 2008. As part of the new "look and feel", we added a blog to our About Us section of the site. After defining the parameters of acceptable content with both our Legal and Compliance partners (an absolute necessity), we began posting financial articles and community interest stories from employees. It provides a more dynamic space for us to engage our customers directly.

As with any of this media, there are challenges. In order to keep this content fresh and timely, there should be a number of regular "contributors". We have two or three people who consistently write for the blog, but it can be challenging keeping it updated. There is nothing worse than going to a blog and finding the content is months old. Keep this in mind if you choose to start a company blog.

For those of you who are looking for a more thorough and in depth discussion of branding and the use of social media, I would suggest you check out Jeffry Pilcher of The Financial Brand . He has a presentation called Results 2.0 that addresses these very same questions. It is an excellent primer on getting started.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Some Electronic Banking History

For those of you who don't know me, perhaps it would be appropriate to give you a little background on me. First, you need to know I love technology. As mentioned earlier, I've been involved in technology work, either as a project manager or senior leader, for over 13 years. I was part of the team that built the online banking platform for NationsBank in 1996. I still have the distinction of being one of the first 15 people to have a user id in the system, which has since evolved into Bank of America's current offering. Even though I've left the bank, I've maintained accounts there to keep this id active.

It was very exciting to be working for one of the biggest banks, with some really smart people, on the premier online banking offering in the country. However, I left the bank in 2006 for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to spend more time in my hometown and get involved in the community. Second, I was looking for an opportunity to play a greater role in the strategic direction of the ecommerce channel at a financial institution.

Online banking has proven to be a game changer. It gave customers a new, more convenient way to manage their finances. For banks, it provided a less expensive channel then the traditional branch model. However, it also created a dilemma. Between online banking, direct deposit, and ATM's, face-to-face customer contact was becoming a thing of the past. How could we talk to our customers, identify needs and provide them additional products and services when they don't even visit the branch any more?

Social media provides us with a new way to reach and have two way conversations with customers and prospects. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Social Media in Banking

As a long time banker who has been involved in banking ecommerce since 1996, it has been very interesting to me to watch the evolution of the industry. We have a tendency to be followers rather than leaders where emerging technologies are concerned. The social media of today is a great example. As a senior leader at a small bank, I've been given (or taken, in some cases) the opportunity to really "play" in the social media area. With the help of my eCommerce team, we've established outlets in all the major social media "channels". It's fun, exciting, and relatively easy to get started. You just have to take the first step.

This is my first post of what, I expect will be, many more. My hope is that I can help some of the hesitant bankers out there give social media a shot. Look for more in the weeks ahead.