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?