Banks weather storm of criticism on social media, new report shows

As banks continue to be pilloried by consumers over interest rate rises and exit fees, a new report has found major financial institutions are surviving attacks and attracting positive sentiment on social media channels.

The result comes alongside a separate survey conducted by DBM Consultants, which has found that business customer satisfaction among major banks increased once again in October, which each of the four major banks recording a rise for the first time.

The new report from PR and social media agency Memery, which was compiled by using software tools to scrape data from blogs, forums, Twitter and Facebook pages, found that on average, dialogue about banks on the internet is more positive than negative.

However, general manager Matt Granfield says Suncorp has beat out rivals with a 30% positive sentiment score by emphasising its various community involvement strategies online.

“We were surprised, to be honest. We thought all the banks would be similar, so we wondered why Suncorp was doing so well. What we found is that most of the conversations relate to what they’re doing in the community.”

“Suncorp was one of the only websites to have their community link clearly positioned on the homepage with easy navigation, engaging photos and Facebook generated content whereas competitor’s community content was hidden in other links on the website, content was extremely lengthy and disengaging.”

Granfield says users would largely ignore comments on interest rates, and would instead focus on strategies like the Youngcare donation campaign, in which Suncorp would donate a dollar for every person who “liked” the campaign Facebook page.

In comparison, Granfield says other banks’ conversations were dominated by talk on interest rates, exit fees and loan comparison tools. Westpac came in second with an 18% positive rate, followed by the Bank of Queensland at 11%, ANZ at 6%, Commonwealth at 4% and NAB at 3%.

Bendigo, Bankwest and St George all received “neutral” scores. Granfield says the study shows that even if exit fees are scrapped and interest rates are lowered, banks won’t win consumers online unless they interact in a different ways.

“All of the banks have a social media presence to some extent, and they are all being talked about on Twitter. But the difference is that Suncorp is actively putting out information about its community-related messages and its marketing strategies.”

The tool itself assigns scores to every mention of Suncorp in a blog or Twitter update. For instance, someone saying they “hate” Suncorp might give a score of negative one point, while someone saying they “love” Suncorp would give a positive score of one point.

Granfield says the issue for businesses is that even if they aren’t on social media, people are going to be talking about them.

“It doesn’t matter if you aren’t there, people are going to be talking about you. The average person on Facebook has over 200 friends and if brands can get people talking about them, the sentiment spreads – whether it’s positive or negative. That’s how social media works.”

“You need to give your customers a reason to talk, which is what Suncorp has done here. If you give them a reason to talk and they say nice things, that message is going to be heard.”

SR7 chief executive James Griffin agrees, and says this is critically important because social media conversations are starting to impact on revenue.

“What we are seeing here is that businesses are starting to see a relationship between social media conversations and their bottom line, and that is going to continue into 2011. People will use social media to express their frustration with a product or service, and they are going to tell their friends. That’s why you need to monitor these things.”

“If you’re going into 2010 and you don’t have any sort of idea of what is being said about you, you are not positioning yourself well for the year ahead at all.”

Meanwhile, new research from DBM Consultants has found that sentiment among business consumers regarding their banks is actually positive – although it admits the survey was taken before the latest rate rise and this could impact the result.

The data shows that whole-of-market satisfaction scores rose to seven or higher, for the first time. Westpac rose to 7.2 from 7.1, the highest score among businesses, while Westpac also took equal first because the different between the scores was “not statistically significant”.

ANZ gained 0.2 to 70.0, ranking equal third with NAB.

DBM managing director Dhruba Gupta says interest rates do play a part here, but not a significant one as micro and small businesses “do not have significant borrowings” – and it is the micro and small businesses which have reported the largest increases in satisfaction.

“We know from other research in BFSM that customer expectations are easily raised by an increased business or sales focus. Delivering on these promises is essential to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction” Gupta says.

The study, based on responses from over 19,250 “decision-makers in business banking”, has also found that while micro and small markets improved over the last quarter, average satisfaction in the medium and large markets was steady or slightly lower over the same period. The difference of sentiment between these markets, Gupta says, “has now all but disappeared”.

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