Financial firms fail to engage online

Digital communications - Survey uncovers belief that financial services groups are missing out on coverage.

The majority of financial services firms are not getting their voices heard because of a failure to embrace digital communications, a survey of journalists has revealed.

A digital trends survey by financial comms agency Broadgate has revealed that 85 per cent of journalists felt a lack of digital engagement was causing financial services companies to miss out on key media coverage.

Broadgate director Roland Cross said: 'Financial services firms operate in a highly regulated sector and have to deal with many compliance issues, so they have tended not to sell directly through the internet. But that does not mean they should not embrace the ability to communicate with customers via digital channels.'

The 76 financial journalists and editors quizzed by Broadgate also noted that even those firms that had invested time and money in communications tools on their websites were failing to keep them up to date. More than 60 per cent said online press releases were not being updated frequently enough, while 49 per cent lamented the inaccessibility of contact details and 40 per cent cited excessive use of password subscriptions.

An increasing number of journalists also identified non-traditional web sources as valuable tools for research. About 43 per cent said they used blogs to assist research and 42 per cent said they used online forums.

Social media are beginning to play an increasing role in influencing the news-gathering process, with 17 per cent identifying sites such as Facebook and Twitter as useful tools.

Brian Thorn, director at The Wriglesworth Consultancy, said: 'Social media are evolving into a vital business tool with commercial uses as well as a social purpose. Financial comms agencies have a vital role in educating clients and getting them to embrace new technologies. That shift in mindset is already taking place.'

However, financial services firms and financial comms agencies are playing catch-up with the consumer side of the business. Cross said: 'Financial services companies have found the benefits of social media and blogs hard to grasp.'

As an example of the power of new media in the sector, Cross cited the Facebook group of HSBC customers who expressed anger about overdraft charges on graduate accounts in 2007. This generated news coverage that forced the bank into a climbdown. 'Everybody should be integrating digital communications into their day-to-day PR,' he said.

HOW I SEE IT - Nick Bone, Associate director, Penrose.

The financial services sector has been less willing to engage with online social media than other industries. Lack of understanding is not the issue. Rather, it has been wary of social media as a viable source of information and established way of doing business. Financial markets are, after all, built on trust.

Early forays proved less than successful. Social media have evolved, however, and financial services firms are seeing their value as a speedy and accurate way of communicating with target audiences. Online initiatives such as Hub Culture, with which Penrose recently partnered, have proven more viable for these organisations.

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