Financial Services Roundtable: Digital investment

From regulatory compliance to thought leadership, social media is giving financial services entities more opportunity and responsibility to engage numerous audiences.

Financial Services Roundtable: Digital investment

From regulatory compliance to thought leadership, social media is giving financial services entities more opportunity and responsibility to engage numerous audiences. Sector leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid to discuss digital's impact at this Peppercomm-hosted roundtable in New York City. 

Rebecca Acevedo, VP, external comms, TD Bank
Michael Arcaro, corporate external comms head, Lincoln Financial Group
Sam Ford, director of audience engagement, Peppercomm
Eric Haberacker, retail social media manager, Vanguard
Jessica Morris, MD, New York, Fishburn Hedges
Jake Siewert, global corporate comms head, Goldman Sachs
Thomas Walek, president, WalekPeppercomm

Challenges of compliance
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
From the FFIEC [Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council] to the SEC, numerous guidelines now exist as to how financial companies can communicate on social media. Has this helped eliminate uncertainty around regulatory compliance? How have your companies and clients adjusted outreach efforts?

Thomas Walek (WalekPeppercomm):
The financial services industry has always been an early adopter of innovative technology across the board. With social media, though, it's been the opposite. We've been very slow to the game because of regulatory issues and compliance.

In listing things changing the game, you must talk about the Jobs Act, which is going to open up communications possibilities for private funds. Social media is a huge part of that, but barriers do remain in terms of regulation. For example, a broker-dealer in Minnesota recently wrote an article for a blog site. The local state regulator said he couldn't do that because the copy of that blog looks like advertising.

Another obstacle out there is our business culture. Just because my hedge fund client can start doing all this stuff on social media it doesn't mean it will. They would very likely ask, “Why should I be doing what Robin Thicke does? Tell me again why that's a good idea.” For many in this sector, it's not a part of their culture and they don't easily see the ROI.

Rebecca Acevedo (TD Bank): We are so used to being heavily regulated that when we build our social media programs we have to be compliant. We have to document everything we do. All our policies and procedures have to be in place before we launch our programs. And all employees have to understand that.

Michael Arcaro (Lincoln Financial Group): Everything we do is underpinned by compliance. Our social media strategies hinge on a collaborative effort across the company and compliance is front and center at the table for all those conversations. Our hope is that this holistic approach – as opposed to looking at it post by post – achieves compliance. We view this as an opportunity, not a challenge.

Eric Haberacker (Vanguard): For 30 years, Vanguard has grown through word of mouth – and social media is word of mouth. As such, we've embraced it because it's just an extension of how we do business.

We view social as a great way to continue our brand messages. And inasmuch as we are direct to consumer, we simply have to be there to conduct business. However, we are also b-to-b, so we have to figure out how we navigate those two different audiences. But you must have policies and procedures in place to comply with regulations and then you can execute social media strategy.

Sam Ford (Peppercomm): A key concern is the freeze factor that happens with the ambiguity surrounding regulations, which often don't address more than they do address. In a lot of sectors, the idea is often that if regulations don't specifically address something, we can proceed unless we're told not to. In the financial sector, if it's not explicitly noted that we can do something, there's hesitancy because the damage that could be done if you run afoul is far greater than the benefit of taking the chance.

Ilya Vedrashko of ad agency Hill Holliday once told me, “I don't understand why b-to-b companies have such difficulty with social media because social media is about personal communication and one-on-one discussion, and that's what b-to-b is. It ought to be the consumer brands that struggle at social media because the relationship with the customer is not nearly as direct.”

A key question with regulation is where does it end? In a generation that has grown up online – personally and professionally – when are they representing their personal brand and when are they speaking on the company's behalf?

Jake Siewert (Goldman Sachs): The corporate communications piece of social media will sort itself out. Everyone is more accustomed to it now. And if you look at it from the regulators' perspective, social media is an ideal way to share a lot of information instantaneously, so it should be in their interest to recognize and acknowledge the challenge.

The employee piece will be tricky. Many of our staffers, particularly the younger ones, have lived their entire lives in the social media space. They don't differentiate – or it's hard for them to differentiate – between what they're saying and doing on social media platforms and what they're doing in their work.

I see this when our interns arrive every summer. I look at our Twitter feed and they're all tweeting, “Hey, I'm showing up at Goldman Sachs.” Two minutes after they get in the door, someone tells them, “Don't ever do that again.” When you walk around the trading floor, you see people on their Bloomberg machines or on their computers, but also on their iPhones, iPads, or smartphones. We need to figure this out because so many employees communicate on all these channels.

Jessica Morris (Fishburn Hedges): Another angle to this story is the international dimension because the regulations and guidance coming out of the US are very different from those in some other areas of the world.

In the UK, for example, it's terribly cautious. The recently formed Financial Conduct Authority has said its guidance won't change. It's media-neutral. We just have to be frightfully fair, clear, and not misleading in everything we do, whether on Twitter or in traditional media.

The bottom line is this: social media is a reality. The breakdown in trust among consumers and investors alike has been so worrisome. This is both a massive risk and an enormous opportunity for us as communicators in the sector – and we have to rise to it and try to find an answer.

Internal behavior
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
How are financial services companies working with employees to make sure they are using social media channels effectively, but still in compliance with regulations?

Siewert (Goldman Sachs): This isn't an insurmountable challenge. As I like to remind people at my firm, everyone at Facebook is on Facebook and somehow they managed to have an IPO even though that's a company where everyone was accustomed to sharing a lot of confidential information because everyone had access to the same systems.

The financial services industry is certainly challenged by this because we have more rules and regulations than technology companies. Furthermore, the regulators, in light of what happened in 2008, are all over us, as they should be. We must evolve quickly and recognize that people conduct a lot of their conversations and their lives in this space.

In some ways, this just comes down to common sense. In the same way you used to tell people, “Don't go to a bar and divulge client information,” you use your head. You can't anticipate every situation. Ultimately, you have to rely on people's common sense. We can't afford to put a whole bunch of rules on people because they can – and will – go to Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. The truth is, if you try to control them too much in this regard and make your company seem as if it is still in the pre-digital media age, you'll lose good people – and who can afford that?

Acevedo (TD Bank): We shouldn't impose rules on people. How would you enforce them anyway? What we have found successful, though, is to continually evolve our internal guidelines. Establishing boundaries within which our employees must stay. Helping them understand that when they post as their personal selves, make sure it's clearly that and not the opinions of the bank.

It's important to stress to your employee base why the entire company needs to have one voice. It's equally vital to help them understand what they can and can't say, much the same as you do when they go through their compliance training. Most of all, you must help them understand that when we talk about privacy, social media is part of that.

Walek (Walek): Social media is a land of firsts. It is often referred to as the first channel for two-way communication. And it's very easy to use, which is a factor to consider in the financial sector.

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board said you cannot prohibit people from using social media, talking about their work, what they do, and what their company is about. A client of mine recently spoke to me about how his company can't warehouse employees' communications on social media sites, as they do with e-mails and instant messaging. There's no track record, plus they have no authority to get people's passwords. This isn't surprising, it's just reality – and it makes people uncomfortable.

Another concern in all this is the proactive leaking of information very easily and quickly – a particular worry in the financial sector. It limits what can be controlled.

Morris (Fishburn): I view all this as an opportunity to develop messages and ways of talking and articulating what it is that we, as financial institutions, are doing. There should be no difference in the power by which the individual employee can act as a brand ambassador at the bar and via their social media interactions.

This all connects to message continuity, as well, and forces us to think about our outreach. We need to get much more into words, not one to four sentences. We must think about images. We must communicate in ways that unlock concepts in people's minds that they can articulate, will resonate with them, and be true to the essence of what we want to say. And we must get away from being too literal.

That's the challenge with social media, but it's also our opportunity if we can be the first ones to at least drive the conversation internally, even if we don't have all the solutions.

Ford (Peppercomm): A big breakthrough we've made with some clients – and it sounds so small – is to decide social media is equivalent to a conversation rather than publishing. A lot of clients were still regulating this by going through the same compliance mechanisms they would for a press release or an op-ed, but if individuals state something online continually, that's not tenable in the long run.

There is also an obvious difference between company spokespeople and the general employee base and how we would regulate these things. In fact, I don't know if it behooves the industry to wait for the regulatory bodies to solve these issues first.

Haberacker (Vanguard): The real challenge is figuring out what is considered conducting business versus just having a conversation about what you do at work? Are you trying to bring in new clients? If that's the case, you can do that around the bar, but the difference in social media is it's documented. It's not necessarily documented when you're sitting over a beer and having a conversation.

At Vanguard, we're going the opposite way. We've scared our employee base so much that they refuse to engage in social media. We're working backwards to try and open that up because our employees are our best advocates. They're the ones who have committed their livelihoods to our organization.

Siewert (Goldman Sachs): You do want your employees to be ambassadors for your brand, but often if they're engaged in social media, it's not clear who they work for or they are hiding their identity.

We first launched our Twitter handle and started really getting active a year or so ago. After about three months, we looked at our followers and could not identify a huge number of them. We're almost positive they all work for us or are in finance, but a lot of our followers chose not to identify where they work.

If you want your employees to be active on social media and identify themselves as being employees at the company, you have to create an environment where they feel comfortable doing that.

Ford (Peppercomm): Regulatory rules often butt heads, especially when looking at the relationship between transparency and disclosure. Numerous situations could arise where our employees are concerned about sharing on one hand, but on the other we might encourage them to do so for the sake of transparency.

In fact, another real challenge is transparency. We all want to make the financial industry more transparent to our customers and the general public. Social media is a great place to do that. We have to figure out the best way to make that happen – and encourage all employees to do so.

Haberacker (Vanguard): A big challenge with our employee base is that we want them to know what they're allowed to do. Actually, “allowed” is a strong word. We want them to know what they're capable of doing and what they should be a little leery of doing. In the end, we must put the power in employees' hands so they can communicate our message the right way.

Arcaro (Lincoln): Recently on our Facebook page, a customer had a complaint and someone who was not a designated spokesperson for Lincoln responded. Their intentions were absolutely genuine and the response was wonderful, but it was still not the proper process. We went to that employee in a very encouraging way to educate them instead of slapping them on the hand to say, “You can't do this.”

It is very important to find a constructive way to say, “Listen, we have a process and guidelines in place for a very specific reason, from capture and from a regulatory perspective.” At the same time, we want to acknowledge that this employee was being very sincere and is someone who believes in our brand and wants to help customers. Though the proper process wasn't followed, this employee is still an excellent brand ambassador. We need to encourage that in a manner that stays within our policies and guidelines. 

Simplifying the complex
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
The broader public often finds financial information hard to grasp, but that's an audience this sector is increasingly addressing. How do you make it less complicated? How are you putting a more consumer-friendly face on your organizations?

Morris (Fishburn): I have a wonderful example. UK-based Seven Investment Management has actually formed a partnership with the designers of video games Donkey Kong and Golden Eye to design a new portal on mobile devices that allows their customers – and they have about 5 billion pounds under management – to play with their investment interactions.

This is a case study in matching that institutional ambiguity and complexity that can be so off-putting to all of us with some of the creativity and simplicity that you can get online.

Arcaro (Lincoln): We view social media as a courtship. We want to raise awareness and educate people on topics that are at the heart of securing their financial futures. We do that by clearly providing them with information or perspective on solutions, but doing it in a way that is more educational awareness, as opposed to sales-y.

And we really view it as a courtship where they get to know who we are as an organization, your values, and your commitments to not only customers, but also communities. We also focus on giving them a holistic picture that ultimately simplifies Lincoln Financial in the hopes of creating that next level of engagement where you point them to rich content and they take that next step to say, “I'd like to meet with a financial advisor.”

Acevedo (TD Bank): Social media is just another extension of what we are – and we're big on the idea of banking being a people business, a trust business. Social media helps us bridge that relationship with our customers like nothing else can.

Take our Bank Human campaign. Banking is about being human or bringing the human element back into banking. In the social media space, we have 10 dedicated people on our Twitter handle to answer consumer questions on a regular basis. We are committed to answering them and having a resolution in less than four hours.

As part of being the “human bank,” we had our social media specialists tell their story on YouTube, so when you go to our Twitter handle, you know who you're talking to. It's another bridge to the customer.

Haberacker (Vanguard): Social media is the perfect outlet to make complicated financial messages simple because people have opted in to hear your message and you can serve it in bite-sized chunks.

We're an index shop. We offer up mutual funds. What is one of the great values of index mutual funds? The cost structure. They're less expensive than some other investments. One way we promote is through our At-Cost Cafés, which are trucks that tour the US. They help drive home the point that cost matters and social media is being used to amplify that message. On these trucks, we serve up coffee at cost, which is how our investments are served up. Social media is the perfect way to pull people into that because it's where everybody is living their daily lives.

Walek (Walek): A big part of our job has always been simplifying the complex, regardless of channel. Education has always been very important in financial services. Social media is ideal for that, but we also have to remember that the way we educate people on financial matters needs to be fun, short, entertaining, clear, and – most of all – simple.

Equity tail risk hedging is very complex for the unfamiliar. In communicating about it, I compare it to a board game. In the financial tech arena, you often talk about concepts such as secured files and synching. How do you simplify that? Infographics. And not only is social media the perfect place for that, but people also expect to see it on digital channels.

The white paper is another tool that used to be – and still is – fundamental to our jobs. However, where they used to be more academic, they're now more accessible. Many are shorter, too, which plays into accessibility.

Haberacker (Vanguard): You can continue the academic nature of these white papers, but now you have the opportunity to pull out pieces and make them more widely accessible on social channels.

Ford (Peppercomm): Storytelling is so important to this conversation. Look at what brands are doing in some other spaces. We've seen companies hire journalists, storytellers, content creators. With the Web, rather than relying on a journalist to tell our story or paying for ad space somewhere, we can tell stories directly to audiences, which is something we have barely wrapped our heads around.

Many companies now hire journalists and are turning their websites into newsrooms, and not just news about the company, but also their people.

Another aspect we need to get more comfortable with is listening to what other people are saying. If you see a blogger who gets it right about you or an issue you care about, retweet them and share their stuff. You don't even have to be the one to create the content. Part of the intelligence is in finding that kind of information for your audience.

Morris (Fishburn): As Tom said, we've always sought to simplify finance. Where we've struggled – and we have a real opportunity to move now – is in making our messages more interesting and “stickable.” That is where social media really helps – because of the interactive elements – and there are some interesting examples.

American Express began its #PassionProjects [a six-month social media competition] in June. People answered questions about their passions in 120 characters. The best people got $2,000 in gift cards to spend on their passion. That's simple, it's stickable, and it establishes American Express' brand.

Preferred platforms
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
What social media platforms are you focused on presently as you continue to pursue effective multi-audience engagement?

Haberacker (Vanguard): We have 600,000 followers on Google+. That's a staggering number – and we're still just using it as a branding tool. Nobody has really harnessed its power. Few people even talk about it, but it's the second-largest social network in the world. 

For one, when you have that presence on Google+ and somebody searches your brand name, your Google+ content appears on the right-hand side of that search. It's pretty powerful and it's free. That doesn't even include other offerings such as Google+ Hangouts and free video conferencing.           

Siewert (Goldman Sachs): We decided to start with Twitter because it was the easiest way to showcase a couple things we really sought to highlight. One, that we're more open and transparent, which we've been heavily criticized for. One of our biggest challenges has always been showing the work we do for clients, which is plentiful, but hard to describe. Oftentimes, it's also confidential or very in the moment.

We also have enormous amounts of great research, but because of the regulations we can't share it with the general public. So one of the things we've done with Twitter, our website, and YouTube is we take some of our leaders who are particularly strong in a sector and videotape them talking about what they are telling clients about global trends, macroeconomic trends, and so on. Two or three minutes, we put it on our site and YouTube, and tweet it out. Simple and effective.

What I've also found very interesting is that some of the things that get the most attention are the least complicated things we put out there. Our building is on the Hudson River. A staffer snapped a quick photo of a boat salute that was part of a 9-11 ceremony. We tweeted it out and it got re-tweeted to an enormous degree. It was noteworthy because it shows us as human beings who live and work in this area that was devastated just 12 years ago. That kind of message helps us a lot.

LinkedIn is another platform we're just beginning to understand in terms of its brand-building power. Everyone who wants a job at Goldman follows us on LinkedIn – and that's a pretty sizeable number and a great audience to whom you can broadcast messages. We'll be doing more of that.

Acevedo (TD Bank): We have an internal social media platform to help connect our employees to one another. We launched Connections – an IBM platform – inside our bank, which enables you to create your own communities about anything from banking to football. It fits with our culture and it also has proven to be a great tool to educate managers.

It's almost like a virtual workplace where someone working on a project in South Carolina can converse with someone in Maine or New Jersey. It's taking social media from the outside and bringing it in. We've been using it for about two years and are still adapting, but it's proven very effective at connecting our people.

Arcaro (Lincoln): With Facebook and Twitter, though continually evolving, we have our feet under us. We're now turning our attention to LinkedIn and YouTube. Beyond that, we're in the process of building an external social media newsroom to drive people to rich content that will engage them on many different levels.

Strategically, we're trying to tell a three-dimensional story, so many of our social activities have video components. This newsroom, for example, is traditional from the perspective of reporting on earnings and the like. It could have news releases, but right next to that you might have a thumbnail sketch of a man-on-the-street interview where we're talking to somebody about taking charge of their financial future.

This newsroom is a platform that will deepen who Lincoln is in a way that is more engaging and allows people to share, retweet, whatever.

Ford (Peppercomm): We often tell our clients that even if they weren't quoted in a story, if the company has a perspective on that subject, the comments section is a great place to chime in. From a search results perspective, it often returns quite favorably, especially when you're thinking about building up the thought leadership profile of an expert within your company and showing your expertise on a certain subject.

For example, if you comment on a Forbes article, you have to create a Forbes profile. Suddenly your comments start getting archived and your Forbes profile comes up. It's a great way to get your executives out there more frequently, commenting on subjects they care about in ways that take up only 10-15 minutes of their time.

Message boards and forums are another unsexy, but powerful platform. Discussion boards are among the oldest Web technologies and are easy to forget about. However, some of our audience – in the financial sector in particular – still spend time there. We ignore some discussions that happen there in favor of today's big social media platforms. Sometimes, though, it doesn't hurt to go backward a bit technology-wise.

Morris (Fishburn): Nitrogram, which is Instagram's analytics service, recently published the most popular sites. The first financial institution placed 258th, which means these companies are not reaching people on a visual level. Instagram is a challenge, but also a great opportunity for us.

On a separate note, there's an assumption that we always have lots of things to say on social media, but it can be a real challenge. Some financial clients are terribly dry, but social media both allows and encourages you to think more broadly. It gives you the chance to display the character and personality of your brand.

As a general rule, the basic rules that work well for PR apply for social media, too. One client of ours starts every tweet with its name. We advise them to mix it up. Beyond that, it's crucial to listen before you tweet, blog, or whatever. Again, basic PR rules also apply to social media.

Haberacker (Vanguard): The feedback we get from our most senior leaders is “don't be part of the noise.” Solid advice.

Walek (Walek): Regardless of audience group, everyone wants video. That's the platform to focus on.

Another thing people like, particularly in the financial sector, are intelligent two-way conversations. In truth, I was shocked when CNN killed Crossifre, though they just brought it back in mid-September. That's a content offering people respond to.

Acevedo (TD Bank): Jessica spoke of basic PR rules applying to social media. Here's another one: know your audience and where they are. You don't have to be on every social platform. Some might not make sense for you. Before you figure out how to best engage your audience, you have to know where you will be engaging them.

Establishing expertise
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Social media greatly increases the opportunities for top corporate executives to establish thought leadership – an option that could be particularly attractive in the financial sector. How can companies or clients use social to amplify their leaders' sector expertise?

Walek (Walek): The LinkedIn Influencer program is certainly a powerful player here, but a lot of the names you'd expect, such as Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Everyone wants to know what they think. However, there are names on that list that surprise me.

Tomasz Tunguz, a partner with VC firm Redpoint Ventures, has thousands of followers. He's making social media work and he is a thought leader. How does he do it? Well, as I often tell clients, you need to have something to say and that all starts with thoughts. Seems obvious, right?

There are plenty of ways to build your thought leadership position. You have your own blog and branded social media outlets, but then you leverage that through traditional media, through, through the FT. But it all starts with saying something and that begins with worthwhile thoughts.

Morris (Fishburn): It's easy to want to establish thought leadership, but you need the right content to do it. One thing I strongly encourage senior executives to do is become voracious consumers of social media. How often are they looking at Twitter? Do they really know how LinkedIn works? Have they ever been on Instagram? How many YouTube videos have they done or seen? It seems obvious, but simply becoming more social-media literate is a great starting point to becoming a thought leader.

Arcaro (Lincoln): Understanding social media is obviously important, but it's only one component of thought leadership. A company that does it well is Prudential Financial – and it has been strong in this regard since the early 2000s. The way it marries research, social media, basic media relations, and just making sure its senior leaders get out there. It represents a company that is looking at this in the right way.

Ford (Peppercomm): A main focus for us now is trying to figure out how to get people active on Twitter in a way where they are saying and sharing things that are compelling enough so that journalists and other people will start coming to them, rather than us having to go out and pitch them. This is where you can't think about social media in a vacuum, but rather about how it connects to all your other media strategies.

If I can offer an example of best Twitter practices, I'd look to Paul Heyman, the professional wrestling manager. He fights with fans on Twitter. He antagonizes them. He says, “If you're going to insult me, spell correctly.” He acts that way with live crowds and he acts that way on Twitter. His persona is that of a jerk and the way he tweets is totally authentic to that. He doesn't have to tweet that he's a jerk.

We obviously don't want our leaders to be jerks, but we want them to be the experts they are that got them to their positions. Be the same person on Twitter they are in reality.

Haberacker (Vanguard): We're trying to lead with thought leadership, but also accessibility. We'll put our CEO Bill McNabb out there on Facebook for a day and let him handle the questions. We'll put thought leaders from around our organization out there for a lunch hour and let people ask them questions. It makes sense because people want to engage them and they get direct access. That's a door social media opens for people.

Listen to learn
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
In a sector such as financial services, which is complex yet very poignant in people's lives, the importance of listening takes on great significance. Are your companies truly listening to their audiences and other sources? How is the information gleaned from that being used to inform strategies and programs?

Ford (Peppercomm): In his book Chief Culture Officer, cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken argued that every company needs somebody at the C-suite level whose job it is to listen to what's happening in culture and continually bring it back to the C-suite to say, “Here's what's happening. Here's what's changing in the world. We need to think about this.” This is certainly an interesting concept for financial companies, but it would be so valuable.

You don't necessarily want one person solely responsible for this because every person in a company needs to be a chief culture officer of sorts. However, it becomes an issue of time. How do we enlist all our people to find some value in paying attention to the world around them? The presumption is if you talk about anything not directly related to your company, it's a misuse of time. In truth, though, it is far from that.

As McCracken notes, all sorts of business opportunities are lost when we don't pay attention to the world around us and simply bury our heads deeply into what we're selling or doing. Listening has great value and an increased effort to do so would certainly benefit companies in this sector. 

Siewert (Goldman Sachs): There's enormous value in getting senior people in particular to look at these channels to see what's going on out there. It's a great opportunity because people are talking and thinking online in a way they didn't before.

Think about journalists, a group everyone needs to still be listening to. In the old days, you'd call them on the phone to ask, “What are you thinking of writing?” and they probably wouldn't tell you. Today, on social media, they tell you what they're working on. They're chatting with colleagues. They're chatting with a source on Twitter. It's occasionally useful to watch and see what they're doing and also engage them in real time.

Our brand happens to generate a lot of animosity, so the trick is to cut through the noise, conspiracy theorists, and flat-out haters and find the thoughtful critics of the financial industry as it evolves. Those people are worth listening to, but you need to make the effort to do so – including our most senior executives.

Of course, another factor to consider is that everyone can be a journalist now and there are so many people from unusual walks of life who have generated – very quickly – mindshare and interest. That's a reality that traditional institutions, such as those in the financial sector, grapple with. By and large, though, that's a good thing.

Haberacker (Vanguard): The real-time nature of social media is something organizations must get their arms around. It's not the only thing your organization will react to, but it's one of the voices you would be listening to. It's also another input you must figure out how to apply to the bigger business decisions you make.

Companies such as Dell, Gatorade, and Cisco have established great listening centers. They all feed into that client or business insights division and help these companies determine whether a certain business move is worthwhile. And it's crucial to remember that you shouldn't act on the flavor of the day without giving it some time to become the flavor of the week, or month, or year. Once it becomes that, then you can more effectively decide whether or not to make any moves based on that.

Walek (Walek): We all listen. Clients listen. The problem is the noise. We've already spoken about not generating noise, but we also don't want to spend a lot of time reacting to noise. As we've seen in the news business, things show up on social media first and eventually get into traditional media. In the same way, things about or of concern to our clients or executives can first surface on social media. As such, it becomes more challenging to identify the influencers, though all companies do have ways to figure out the people they really care about.

Ford (Peppercomm): Listening often becomes most vital during a crisis situation, but that's not the time to only start paying attention. If you do that, you haven't been listening long enough to know who is really credible and what they talk about. In turn, it's hard to make key decisions based on that.

Morris (Fishburn): There are some interesting examples of the crowdsourcing of views and opinions that really enable financial institutions to learn more effectively and immediately from customers and feed that into their programs.

Barclays is crowdsourcing family views on its website about people's huge fear around debt. Topics include financing their children's education, getting their kids onto the property ladder, and so on. Crowdsourcing is a very interesting avenue to glean insights – one from which financial companies can certainly benefit.

Arcaro (Lincoln): Our response to consumer concerns is among the most important things to define our or any brand. If someone complains to us on Facebook, for example, they're not upset about the fact their zipper doesn't work on their jacket. They are complaining about being 20 weeks pregnant and being denied disability. We're dealing with very emotional life situations.

We're not going to handle the situation fully in social media, but we're in there listening, responding, and acknowledging. For Lincoln, listening is as much about responding as it is anything else.

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