For banks, Twitter is a stunt

Over at Visible-Banking Christophe is counting the banks who have put themselves up on Twitter. There are quite a few of them.

I think banks being on Twitter is a stunt. It is good for getting the attention of the social media mavens, but can hardly be economic if you have need to reach thousands of customers. It is one of those fashionable things that the "in" banking crowd always jumps right onto the second it comes out, only to quietly drop later on when it turns out to be a fad.

I am reminded, between you and I, of the fervour over virtual worlds. That particular fad is one that you hardly ever hear of now.

Now, I realise that Twitter is getting a lot of press right now. I accept that every man and his dog appears to be talking about it. I'd even concede that there are lots of people actually using it.

But who are these people, when all is said and done? Are they the social-media aware cognoscenti who always adopt everything early? Or are they, actually, ordinary people who open ordinary accounts and do ordinary business with banks? I think the former.

This brings me back to my comments on the economics of Twitter, and previous comments on the economics of social media in general for banks. As I said before, content is interesting to readers when it is relevant to them. Creating relevance is a matter of being personal, of knowing unique things that are interesting to a small number of people. Creating that kind of content at scale is expensive. You can imagine rooms and rooms of people – a Twitter Centre, if you like, of people who only do this kind of work.

I don't think so.

Christophe goes on to present some statistics. Apparently, world-wide, there are some 27,000 people following all these banks on Twitter, which is an average of just over 350 customers each. Only 14 FIs have more than 500 followers.

Now, I'd assume that each of these institutions has someone whose role is, at least partially, dedicated to servicing that Twitter account. With less than 400 customers to serve, I suppose it is possible, even, that they can create some content which is interesting enough to keep their followers signed up. But what if they had thousands of followers, or tens of thousands? Creating relevance for so many is not likely to be something one person can do.

But all of this is irrelevant, really, because the Twitterati aren't interested in content at all. Their primary interest is counting the number of followers they've acquired. It is a badge of honour: you are someone in social media if you have thousands of followers, and noone otherwise. Twitter is a way of keeping score, a means of being part of the "in crowd".

Which brings me back to my initial point.- that Twitter is a stunt for banks. It is an interesting experiment, but surely noone thinks Twitter is going to be a channel choice that many customers are going to use regularly.

Bank innovators would likely be better off getting their mobile-phone houses in order, rather than striving for the coolness of being the biggest financial services thing on Twitter.

11 Responses to“For banks, Twitter is a stunt”

  1. Joe Young
    April 28, 2009 at 1:24 pm #

    That was a thoughtful post and I do share some of your sentiments. However, there are many banks that are embracing social networking “technology” at least here in the US. I know of one major FI that has done a great job with leveraging a corporate social network for improved employee retention, creating diversity affinity groups, and other social initiatives that are work related (and their use of it is primarliy internal). Twitter is loosely connected to a lot of other more robust social media but the value proposition to both the banks and their customers is there. Customers want to connect with what they care about (bank, their friends who bank at the same place, etc) and Twitter is another way to do that. Now with all of that said, there are people that use Twitter and their following with a badge of honor which is that trendy part of good technology. Twitter popularity will probably subside but I commend the banks who got on board and are demonstrating they are in tune with their customers who utilize Twitter.

  2. April 28, 2009 at 2:42 pm #

    First off, I’m completely with you that Twitter gets more attention than it deserves based on current usage. And I’ll agree that for most banks using Twitter it is a stunt, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
    It’s not just about followers; and it’s more about listening than about talking; consider Twitter just one part of the broader web conversations: granted there is a lot of noise, but does that mean we just shouldn’t listen at all?
    For an example, check out the system used by Comcast for listening:

  3. Samantha
    April 28, 2009 at 11:49 pm #

    I read an interesting article on this very topic yesterday:
    The author’s comment “Either they fill it with mundane personal detail, or they fill it with mundane professional detail” is so very true……and speaks to your point.
    I’m starting to feel that Twitter is like the iPhone and even though the iPhone has had a remarkable entry into the marketplace it has still yet to solve world hunger or more importantly Swine Flu!
    Yes, a stunt or a fad could well be true for Twitter and then the “in” crowd will find something else to play with!

  4. April 29, 2009 at 1:42 am #

    Banks/Brokers could use Twitter to actually talk to their customers at a time where people feel contempt towards their banks but most will just spam them with articles/information they don’t need (or will not be able to say anything really useful for compliance purposes).
    The best example of a financial firm using Twitter I think is @CMEGroup (

  5. April 29, 2009 at 12:37 pm #

    I know you’re not a fan of social media, but do you really think banks can get out of this mess by staying disconnected from their market?
    I couldn’t believe you actually said this:
    “…social-media aware cognoscenti who always adopt everything early? [aren’t] ordinary people who open ordinary accounts and do ordinary business with banks”
    Do you really believe that banking customers and social media users are two separate and mutually exclusive entities?
    Back in 2007, Strategy Analytics conservatively projected that there could be 1 billion people using social media by 2012. That’s 1 out of every six people on the planet. I think some may even have bank accounts.
    That number of people may be just a flat group, or it could become the new hierarchy, the influencers and bringers of change. Now is the time to influence the influencers, not distance yourself from them.
    Twitter isn’t about connecting to all 60,000 of your bank’s customers. Its about opening a channel. About passing on good stuff and damage-limiting bad stuff. It’s about learning.
    And while I agree that Twitter has yet to achieve critical mass, isn’t it a bit silly to write it off so soon?
    Let’s show you why, US figures only:
    Google appeared in 1998. After 3 years, it had 18 Million unique visits.
    Facebook appeared in 2004. In 3 years, it had 27 Million unique visitors.
    Twitter appeared in 2006. In 3 years, it has 8 million unique visitors.
    Now that rise isn’t as meteoric as Googlebook, certainly but an impressive start, none the less.
    Never underestimate the power of crowds is the lesson to take from this. How big is the average bank’s customer focus group – yet they mould a bank’s policies, don’t they?
    Let’s rejoice that some banks have the vision to go out into their market. Its a low cost endeavour with potential high value rewards. Why dismiss that?
    Maybe you could start your own social network. “Sitter”.
    For bankers who aren’t going anywhere and nothing to tell anyone and don’t want to listen anyway. The entire high street would sign up to that, right away.
    That post could well come back to haunt you, James…

  6. April 29, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

    Interesting James
    A man returns from holiday and sets out to pour cold water on the latest networking craze … same man is a blogger, social meida aware maverick … he’s on linkedin and stuff … yet doesn’t get Twitter.
    Must admit, neither did I until I started using Twhirl, Tweetdeck, Twitscoop, Monittor and all the other tools you can add on to Twitter to make it really worthwhile.
    A great information sharing service and real-time news service (see my G20 protests write-up: ).
    Rather than respond here, the last time you goaded my goat I poured out endless words on why social media and networking is relevant to financial services, and a lot more since.
    It’s all summarised here:

  7. April 30, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    Is this link bait? Even so I will bite.
    “I am reminded, between you and I, of the fervour over virtual worlds. That particular fad is one that you hardly ever hear of now.” Comparing a graphically intensive 3d world that requires a hefty download with a razor thin open conversational utility is not really comparing apples to apples is it? I agree they both received lots of hype but Second Life never experienced the growth curve that Twitter currently is (although lots of people join and don’t really get it). Does second life functionality allow a customer to walk out of a branch after a poor experience, send a text that can then be read, syndicated, indexed, searched by anyone in the world? I am sure you are monitoring
    The @ASk_wellsfargo and @BofA_help are great examples of proactive listening. I agree not all customers are on Twitter but as more of the world does move online it makes sense for banks to operate where those people are.
    I agree with your last statement, banks do need to get there mobile phone house in order but they also need to understand what people are using those devices for… gets a lot of use by me 😉
    So when are you joining Twitter James?

  8. May 1, 2009 at 5:13 pm #

    Twitterati vs the banks

    Twitter is one more thing that somebody said of it: “this changes everything”. [656 hits for that exact phrase on Google, and probably bigger now] One of my favorite reads is Bankervision, and author James Gardner had the audacity to…

  9. May 14, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

    I think your point about stunts is a good observation, in the sense in that community banks aren’t real sophisticated in general when it comes to marketing. They often fail to master the basics of mediums such as print and radio, so to think that they could understand social media which is really about 6 disciplines rolled into one, would be pretty unrealistic. So many will tend to see a tool and try to jump all over it-,i.e. jumping on Twitter and shouting out “Great rates on CD’s – com in today” – I’ve been blogging for months that banks need to embrace social to reach out to build better relationships with the community. Hopefully, they’ll soon listen.

  10. June 8, 2009 at 6:07 pm #

    Twitter is yet another opportunity to engage with customers and potential customers. It’s not a divisible “channel”, but part of a mix including Facebook, blogs etc. They’re all becoming intertwined, yet engaging with each gives you access to different people at different times, depending on where they are and what they’re doing. Maximum flexibility for all. Which means Twitter – or any one of the networks – is actually the tip of an iceberg.
    But how could you know that this phenomenon has no benefit for engaging with your customers until you’ve tried it? Why would it be uneconomic to start small and watch how it develops? Could the bank bring something to Twitter that’s unique and attracts a new customer base? Again, it won’t “know” until it tries.
    So I don’t think it’s the medium that’s uneconomic, it’s the bank’s attitude to engaging with its customers: the entrenched belief that if it’s not “mass” and doesn’t “scale” there’s no point. Whereas numerous trends are telling us all that people are sick of being treated as a “mass” and are looking for a unique set of relationships and communication flow of the kind that Twitter, Facebook, iGoogle etc etc gives them.
    Can your bank survive in a world where there is no “mass”? Where each customer believes he or she has a unique set of products and relationships?
    My guess: No.

  11. June 18, 2009 at 6:42 pm #

    Whether its the “in” thing to to or whether it’s actually expanding customer service, top banks are getting on the “twitter wagon”. If you do apporve of bank tweeting their way to the public you should visit to follow bank feeds, conversations, and news.

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