Can Banks Avoid Being Friends with Facebook?

image Last Tuesday, we published our first full report on how financial institutions can leverage Facebook for marketing, delivery and customer service. Then a day later, Facebook changed the rules for brand pages, forcing a redesign to the new "timeline" format (see third screenshot below for example; note 1).

It is largely a cosmetic change, akin to swapping out the window coverings in a branch. But it’s still annoying that the Internet giant only allowed 30 days to make the change. Obviously, the company still doesn’t know (or more likely care) how long it takes to revise marketing materials in the real world. 

While the timeline change doesn’t materially impact the tactics we looked at, it does illustrate a downside of developing on the Facebook platform (note 2):

  • Facebook sets all the rules and you must adapt to them
  • Facebook evolves faster than most brand marketing strategies, so it takes a commitment to keep up with the changes (this can be outsourced of course)
  • Facebook is so popular, and has so many ways to grow revenues, it’s not likely to listen business customers’ feedback (yet)

While those drawbacks may temper your investment for now, it doesn’t change the fact that you MUST pay attention to Facebook.

Why?

Whether you like or not, your bank is already on Facebook. Virtually every business entity of any size has a placeholder page on the social network (see the Fifth Third Bank placeholder below). These pages are closed, no wall posts, and generally pulled from Wikipedia company descriptions. So, they are relatively innocuous and are better than having users instead land on a random "yourbank sucks" page.

However, do you want customers or potential customers, evaluating you based on the intro to your Wikipedia page? And while there are very few (zero?) users searching inside Facebook for a bank, prospects will stumble on to your Facebook page from Google searches (see Astera CU search below).

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Bottom line
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While it’s not going to make a dent in your non-interest income shortfall, a few days spent sprucing up your Facebook page is a cost of running a consumer business in 2012 (see post-Timeline page at Oregon Employees CU below).

Larger investments are harder to justify (obviously). Consumers are not clamoring for "more bank" in their social networks. But based on the history of other media, consumers will put up with plenty of advertising noise as long as there is something in it for them.

We believe that eventually most banks will have at least a semi-sophisticated presence in Facebook (think website circa 2000). But given that the platform is still relatively unstable, there is no huge rush to go beyond the content basics.

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Facebook placeholder for Fifth Third Bank (link)
Note: Surprisingly, 3,400 fans

Fifth Thrid Facebook "placeholder" page

Google search results for "Astera Credit Union"
Note: Astera’s "unmanned" placeholder Facebook page is the sixth link on Google organic search results. LinkedIn is second.

Organic search results for Astera Credit Union

Oregon Employees FCU has the first FI "timeline" page I’ve seen (link)
Note: Like activity is even more prominent than the old format

Oregon Employees FCU is one of the first FI timeline formated pages 
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Notes:
1. There are many resources available for brands looking for timeline tips for example here, here, and here.
2. Those of you with apps in Apple’s iOS store face similar ever-changing platform requirements. However, there is usually more lead time to make changes.  
3. Picture credit: Connect Media Blog

New Online Banking Report Published: Banking on Facebook

image We just published our latest report, Banking on Facebook, which looks at why you should establish a presence on the social network. And more importantly, what you can do to make the effort pay off.

To some extent, this report was overdue. Facebook has been a major social force for four or five years. However, it wasn’t until recently that brands have taken the platform seriously.

And while soft drinks and social games may dominate Facebook brand pages now, every major brand will be there eventually, financial services included. The opening to our report lays out the opportunity:

If there was a neighborhood that 90% of your customers visited frequently, many every day, how much would you pay to have a presence there? If you were small, maybe $10,000; if you were Chase, maybe hundreds of millions.

But what if it cost almost nothing to set up shop there? Basically, that’s Facebook: a place most of your customers frequent and where brands can establish a page for exactly zero dollars.

clip_image002In the 56-page report we cover:

  • 12 main reasons you should invest in a Facebook brand page
  • 12 primary components of a Facebook brand page (see screenshot below)
  • 42 advanced tactics for your Facebook page
  • 47 financial institutions worldwide with more than 100,000 Facebook fans/likes
  • Consumer interest in viewing bank account info, spending info, and credit info within their Facebook page
  • The importance of Facebook’s new "Action" buttons for banks (inset)
  • 23 Facebook terms you need to understand (e.g. social plugins)

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About the report
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Banking on Facebook (link)
It’s time to set up shop in the dominant social network

Author: Jim Bruene, Editor & Founder

Published: 28 Feb 2012

Length: 56 pages, 10 tables, 12,000 words

Cost: No extra charge to OBR subscribers, US$495 for others here

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Sample screenshot
: We use Lending Club to illustrate the basic components of a Facebook brand page

Sample Facebook brand page from Lending Club

Encouraging Customers to Post Bank Reviews on Yelp and Google

image Third-party review sites have come and gone over the years, but only recently have mainstream consumers been exposed to them through prominent placement in Google organic search results.

As you can see on our search for “Wainwright Bank,” a link to its Yelp review is on the first page of Google organic results. It’s the third-highest result, not including those that link directly to the bank’s own URL (see first screenshot).

Luckily for Wainwright , it’s the top-rated bank in Boston according to Yelp. In fact, because reviews are aggregated by branch, the bank dominates Yelp, hogging the top four slots (see second screenshot).

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Analysis
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Posting bank reviews doesn’t appear to be a compelling activity. Yelpers spend most of their time reviewing eating and drinking establishments. The most-reviewed bank in Boston is the Alewife Brook Parkway branch of Wainwright with a whopping 14 reviews (average: 3.5 stars). And it takes only six reviews to crack the top-10-most-reviewed in Boston. In contrast, the tenth-most-reviewed Boston restaurant has 554.

And because each branch is ranked separately, just a handful or positive, or negative, reviews can have a huge impact on rank.

So, it might be tempting to encourage reviews by your employees, or employees of your vendors. Don’t do it. Not only is it the wrong thing to do, you stand a very good chance of getting caught. And the ensuing blog post exposing the subterfuge will not only be embarrassing, but also is likely to be ranked higher on the Google results page than the Yelp reviews.

However, you can play the game ethically by subtly encouraging customers to post reviews on Yelp, Google and other local review sites. For example, Amplify Credit Union has links on its Contact Us page that make it easy for users to post reviews at Yelp and Google (see third screenshot). Note that the CU does not try to sway users to post only “good” reviews.

Google search for “Wainwright Bank” (16 March 2011 from Seattle IP address)

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Top-rated banks and credit unions in Boston according to Yelp reviewers
Note: There are only 31 total reviews across the top-5 banks

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Amplify Credit Union Contact Us page with links to Yelp and Google (link)

Amplify Credit Union Contact Us page with links to Yelp and Google

With the Launch of Foursquare-powered Social Currency, American Express Now Has 7 iPhone Apps

In the spring, we predicted that 10 to 15 years from now there would be tens of thousands of iPhone apps from financial institutions alone (note 1). Our reasoning: Many (most?) larger FIs would have more than one app, perhaps dozens. At that time, nine financial institutions (note 2) were tied for most-prolific app deployers, each with two iPhone apps.

imageToday, I found out that American Express has blown that record away. With the release this week of a youth-oriented Foursqure-powered app, Social Currency (app link), the card issuer now has seven apps available for the iPhone alone (but still none for the iPad).

AmEx iPhone lineup
Two are from American Express Publishing (making the comparison to other financial institutions a little unfair):

  • Best New Chefs
  • Eat and Drink

Two are published by other companies:

And finally, three more from core card-issuers:

  • American Express used to access most AmEx cards
  • OPEN Forum for small business clients
  • mobileXtend that can only be used by employees of corporate clients who have licensed this service option 

American Express has seven apps available for the iPhone
Note: Shown here in search via iPad (22 Sep 2010)

American Express has seven apps available for the iPhone

Notes:
1. See Online Banking Report: The Case for Mobile Banking (published March 2010)
2. See Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking and Finance Apps (published April 2010)

Launches: Swipely is a Yelp/Twitter/Bankcard Mash-up

image This week I received an invitation to Swipely’s closed beta (request one here). As a fan of its closest competitor, OBR Best of the Web winner, Blippy (note 1), I’ve been looking forward to testing out the newest entrant. 

Both services allow you to register ecommerce accounts, including credit or debit cards, so that transactions can be streamed to your friends and family, or the whole world if you so choose (note 2). Detractors cannot figure out why anyone would want to do that, but that’s also what people said about Twitter, which is now approaching 200 million worldwide monthly visitors

But I’m convinced the naysayers simply haven’t used Blippy or Swipely. The startups are simply convenient platforms for sharing interesting experiences, downloads, or purchases. It’s not the collapse of privacy as we know it (that would be Facebook). The typical Blippy/Swipely user might stream their Netflix queue, iPhone downloads, or a meal eaten at a local favorite.

Contrary to what you might read, there is very little oversharing. Generic posts such as “spent $7.29 at CVS” are rare. Sure those people exist, just like the Twitter users sharing what they had for breakfast, but they are the exception. Like Yelp or Facebook, most users strive to share things that are interesting to both them and others (note 3).

Providence, RI-based Swipely, which has already raised $8.5 million in capital, encourages users to comment and rate purchases on a 5-point scale. If it catches on, Swipely could build a database of user experiences and merchant ratings that challenges Yelp or TripAdvisor (note 4).

Bottom line: Will the services prosper? I think semi-automated transaction sharing is here to stay and will become a standard feature in larger social communities, e.g., Facebook, Twitter and Yelp. It also makes sense as part of larger OFM/PFM efforts (note 5).

I also think there is a place for limited transaction sharing among customers of financial institutions, primarily among joint account holders and employees of smaller businesses (see previous post).  

On the other hand, I’m not sure if Blippy/Swipely will become popular destinations on their own. It’s more likely they’ll end up powering services baked into other sites. That said, if the startups can figure out how to get the Internet masses to make the effort to rate and post millions of transactions, they could become household names.  

Swipely transaction stream across all users (7 June 2010)
Note: My just-posted transaction is at the top of the stream

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Notes:
1. See Blippy’s FinovateSpring 2010 demo here; see previous posts here.  
2. Swipely doesn’t currently support direct downloads from ecommerce accounts, but you can forward email receipts to the service for posting.
3. Both services offer a mix of automation and manual entry to make sure the posting process isn’t too much of a burden, but keeps things relevant. On Swipely, the default privacy setting is for the user to manually approve each transaction before it is posted. And in contrast to Blippy, the amount of the transaction is NOT included in the post.
4. You can understand why the VCs are investing.
5. See our most recent Online Banking Report for more on Online Financial Management Features for Online Banking.

My Favorite Presentation of 2010: Glenbrook Provides Roadmap for Web 2.0 & Social Payments

imageI am a huge fan of Glenbrook Partners, the Menlo Park-based payments consulting firm. I first visited them when I was transitioning from closed to open blogging in 2006. Scott Loftesness and company were enormously helpful back then even though I was potentially elbowing in to their space. It’s a kindness you never forget. I look forward to my daily dose of PaymentsNews and the occasional meetup at conferences.

But I’d never had a chance to attend one of their presentations until two days ago at NACHA Payments 2010. What a treat. Partners Erin McCune and Russ Jones drew the dreaded 8 AM Monday slot in a breakout session immediately preceding the Jack Dorsey/Square keynote. So only a 100 or so lucky attendees got to see them knock it out of the park. 

imageAnd as much as I enjoyed seeing Square and Wells Fargo’s Steve Ellis go at it on the big stage, Russ and Erin would have delivered more value to attendees. They took a nebulous and confusing topic, alt-and-social payments (see inset), and made sense out of it in a 68-slide deck (see table and chart below). Let’s all agree to use these terms going forward.

And to top it off, Glenbrook closed the presentation by showing alt-payments in use in the real virtual world at my favorite virtual pet site, Foopets (see previous post and note 1).  

Luckily, you still have a chance to hear an expanded version of this talk via Glenbrook’s live webinar next week on social payments (small registration fee required).  

Glenbrook Partners deciphers Web 2.0 payments terms…

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…and it’s created a social payments classification system

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Source: Erin McCune and Russ Jones, Glenbrook Partners presentation at NACHA Payments 2010, April 26, 2010
(reprinted with permission)

Playing Foopets costs money…

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…but young gamers hitting the FooBank have more payment options than just their parents’ cards
Note: We previously covered Kwedit here

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Note:
image1. Glenbrook says that virtual pet owners spend about the same on their virtual pets, $25/mo, as real-world pet owners spend on their real-live pets. Amazing! If only Pets.com had thought to sell virtual dog food instead of the real stuff, we might still get to see the sock puppet all over Facebook.

Citibank Launches a Blog at New.Citi.com

image One of the things I enjoy about using Gmail are the one-line ads displayed across the top of the screen. It’s fascinating to see how Google’s algorithm attempts to figure out what’s on the top of my mind by reading my recent emails (goodbye privacy).

Last week, it correctly deduced that I’d be interested in a new initiative by Citibank; unfortunately, I didn’t capture the exact ad, but it pointed me to the URL <new.citi.com>, which itself was enough to get a click out of me.

To my surprise, new.citi.com is an online microsite aimed at sharing the things Citi is doing to bring itself back from the brink. And it’s being told in blog format. It started in February with seven posts on Feb. 1. There was no activity for two weeks, but since then the bank has posted 15 new entries, about 2.5 per week, a good pace.

The content is good. For example, yesterday they wrote about their no-overdraft philosophy on debit cards, a policy they’ve always adhered to. The bank even linked to Ron Lieber’s NY Times, Your Money column, “Overdraft Protection. Why Bother?“, just like a real blog.

The design is attractive and consistent with Citi’s brand identity (see screenshot below). But it’s a little over-indulgent for a blog. Above the fold, all you see are Citi executive testimonials and an undated post from CEO Vikram Pandit permanently anchored there. I recommend activating the upper-right mute button to obviate the annoying little jingle that plays each time you click a new page. 

The bank allows comments, moderated of course. Most posts have just one or two, but the anchor post has 60.

It’s good to see another major bank blogging, especially after Bank of America killed its innovations blog (note 1). And it’s a solid effort, good for the bank and its brand. A little restraint in the design department and this would earn an A grade. 

Citi’s corporate blog site (19 March 2010)
Note: You can get rid of the faces by clicking on minimize, and mute the jingle with the speaker sign, but few users are going to see those, or know what they mean.

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Note: For an even better example, check out Truliant Federal Credit Union’s superb new blog. The CU has an internal team that’s been doing five relevant posts per week since Jan 27. 

Blippy Demonstrates the Power of Real-Time Streaming of Financial Transaction Data

image Blippy has been one of the more controversial financial entrants in the past few years. Observers have called it the “end of privacy as we know it,” a way to take “oversharing to a dizzying new level,” and a “great tool for phishers.” And those are just the people who like it.

Blippy, a kind of Twitter meets Yodlee service, allows users to stream their purchase activity to the startup’s website. Users can choose to publish data from credit and debit cards, bank accounts, and/or directly from purchase activity at ecommerce-partners sites (see list below). It’s the ecommerce transaction stream that provides the richest data describing the actual product purchased or rented rather than just a dollar total.

For example, here’s an entry from @Julia who’s connected her Amazon account directly to Blippy (note 1)  As you can see the Amazon purchases are shown in detail and one of the items, a giraffe teether, has elicited a question/comment from a friend (highlighting ours):

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In comparison, credit card transactions list only the merchant name and not what was purchased. However, Blippy allows users to annotate their transactions to add that detail, as you can see in the following entry. 

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One of the most common ways Blippy is used is to stream media consumption via iTunes and Netflix. Here are the three Netflix movies on their way to @crobertsjr:

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The Palo Alto-based startup received a $1.6 million angel round in January 2010 from Ron Conway, Jason Calacanis, Twitter’s Evan Williams, Sequoia Capital, Charles River Ventures, and others. 

How it works
I got my first taste of Blippy after it opened to the public on Jan. 14. It’s simple to get started, calling for just an email address, screenname and password. You also have the option of finding friends using your email address book or choosing from a list of 13 suggested people including Blippy founder Philip Kaplan (@PUD) and interstar Jason Calacanis (@jason).

But you don’t even need to register for Blippy to see it in action. There’s a live stream on the homepage that anyone can watch (see screenshot below). If Blippy follows the Twitter/Facebook model, they will soon have an API available that will let outside developers tap the data stream.

Usage stats

  • Number of beta users: More than 5,000 who streamed $4.5 million worth of transactions
  • Most-streamed merchant: Netflix with 54,000 entries
  • Most prolific spender (that I ran across): Foo Bar (@foo), who does not identify himself other than CEO at a gaming startup, has linked his business credit card and streamed more than 350 purchases worth more than $300,000 (he’s a big online advertiser at Google, MySpace, Facebook).
  • Most-followed user: Leo Laporte (@leolaporte), from the Premiere Radio Network, with more than 2,600 followers

Features/benefits

Data sharing within workgroups:

  • Ability to share financial transactions within a family, a workgroup, or small business. It would be a great way for financial gatekeepers, e.g., the bookkeeper, CFO, or even board members/investors to keep tabs on company spending (see @foo above).
  • Ability to annotate expense streams. Users can add short descriptions to expense items so their followers can see the specifics.
  • Ability to discuss/comment on expense items. For example, CFO can ask “why did our Google AdWords expense spike yesterday?” and anyone in the group can comment back with an answer or speculation. We use Yammer in our company for this type of back and forth. 

Product research/social networking:

  • Ability to find other customers of the same store
  • Ability to discuss product or media purchases with friends or strangers
  • Ability to post positive/negative info about purchases (yours or others)
  • Ability to find previous purchasers of a product you are considering (currently not supported through search)
  • Ability to compare how much people paid for a certain item (not currently supported through search)

Personal financial management:

  • Ability to annotate expenses for future reporting (e.g., marking taxable items)
  • Store transactions free for as long as Blippy keeps the servers running
  • Ability to search own transactions

Financial institution opportunities
1. Card companies and banks should create similar sharing functionality for alerts; especially for small business clients. While public posting of purchase data may never have mass appeal, there are many private uses for real-time transaction data.

2. PFM’s should be building this functionality now to get out in front of Mint/Intuit who could simply acquire Blippy and incorporate real-time data flow within weeks. 

3. Once the Blippy API becomes available, banks should tap it to allow their customers to use it directly from within online banking.

Analysis
Whether Blippy lives on as a standalone service is difficult to predict. It depends on whether these capabilities are incorporated into other social networks, particularly, Facebook (note 2) and Twitter. And how fast card issuers move to make real-time transaction info easily available to their own customers.

image But regardless of where the company nets out, Blippy should be credited with pioneering real-time financial transaction flow, something every financial institution and ecommerce company will support in the coming years. As a result, we are awarding Blippy an OBR Best of the Web award, our first of 2010 and just the third in the past 14 months (note 3, previous winners).   

Blippy Homepage (14 Jan. 2010 7 PM Pacific)

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 Optional sign-in to Gmail, Yahoo or AOL to locate friends on Blippy 

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Purchases/activity at these merchants can be automatically tracked
Note: 13 ecommerce merchants currently participate (Amazon, Apple iTunes, Audible, Blockbuster, GoDaddy, GroupOn, Netflix, SeamlessWeb, Stubhub, Threadless, Wine Library, Woot, Zappos)

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The Blippy real-time transaction stream
Note: You can choose to watch all activity or just that of the people you are following

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Notes:
1. If she hadn’t given Blippy her Amazon login info and linked only her credit card, there would be no product detail. It would just show as $80.95 spent at Amazon.
2. Blippy is similar to Facebook’s ill-fated Beacon service launched in Nov. 2007. The service was quickly toned down, then eventually dismantled, due to the privacy brouhaha that ensued. Blippy is very different because its users are signing up specifically to share purchase info. 
3. OBR Best of the Web awards, from Online Banking Report, are given periodically to companies that pioneer new online and mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important development. Blippy is the 76th recipient since we began awarding it in 1997. There were just two winners in 2009.

Chase Bank Invites Business Customers to Join Business Advisory Board

image I received an email this morning (see below) from Chase Bank inviting me to participate in a new Business Advisory Board, powered by Lightspeed Research. My colleague also received the same invite for his separate account, so it doesn’t appear to have been a particularly selective emailing. Both accounts were acquired by Chase in the 2008 WaMu debacle.

To sign up, users simply complete a 10-question one-page online form (first part shown below in screenshot 2) which took just under six minutes (note 1).

After completing the registration, I expected to be ushered into some type of special club, but all I received was a 15-word paragraph telling me to confirm my email address (screenshot #3). That’s a bit of a letdown after giving the bank nearly 10 minutes of my day. I surmised the big payoff would come after confirming and logging back in. 

I was wrong. After logging in, I was greeted with a short thank-you statement and an invitation to take the “welcome survey,” which turned out to be three questions about the 2010 economic outlook (screenshot #4). And that was it. Nothing more to see or do. No blog. No “online community” (promised in email). No special offers (note 2). They didn’t even have the courtesy to share the results from the survey I just took (note 3). I began to wonder if I’d been scammed.

Analysis: On the surface I love this idea: inviting customers to participate in an online advisory board. Customers like to be noticed and heard, and a chance to win $100 is icing on the cake. But if you intend to ask business customers to take 15 minutes out of their day, it better be for something real. So far, I just feel stupid for signing up and thinking that I was actually going to make a difference at the bank.

Hopefully, they’ll make up for the bad start with interesting opportunities down the road. But the bank will have to work doubly hard to get my attention after this wasted effort. 

Email from Chase Business Banking (received 19 Jan. 2010, 1:55 PM Pacific)
Note: Highlighting mine

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1. Landing page from email (link, 19 Jan. 2010)

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2. Registration page (click to enlarge; link)
Note: Registrants are entered into a sweepstakes to win one of ten $100 prizes.

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3. Registration thank-you screen

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4. Three-question welcome survey is available after confirming your email address

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Notes:
1. Although the site says it’s for business-banking customers of Chase and WaMu, it appears that anyone that finds the website can join.
2. Under the “Rewards” tab, information tantalizes regarding earning “cash, prizes, sweepstakes entries” for survey-respondents. But there are no examples or surveys available, so it’s one more small letdown.
3. Business owners that read through the online FAQs will find out that they may be contacted one or two times per month with “research opportunities,” but Chase shouldn’t bury this key info in the FAQs where only a small percentage of users will find it.
4. See our recent Online Banking Report for more ideas on how to serve small- and micro-businesses through the online and mobile channels.

Out of the Inbox: ING Direct’s ShareBuilder Encourages Customers to Follow on Twitter and Facebook

image An email from ShareBuilder arrived in my inbox this morning. Basically, it provides links to the company’s Facebook page (4,000 fans) and Twitter feed (1200 followers), so customers can easily sign up to follow the company on these key social networks.

Call to action: Get our latest offers and more anytime via Facebook and Twitter.

While the email effort will get action from serious fans, it has a nice branding component for everyone. With very little effort, it demonstrates ShareBuilder’s commitment to interacting with customers wherever they happen to be online. The ING Direct unit has also added Facebook and Twitter signup widgets to its homepage (see screenshot below).

Bottom line: To really drive numbers to its social network sites, ShareBuilder needs to add an incentive, such as a sweepstakes. But a general awareness message is a good first step.

ShareBuilder email to existing customers (link, 7:01 AM Pacific, 15 Sep 2009)

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ShareBuilder Twitter page (link)

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ShareBuilder Facebook page (link)

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ShareBuilder homepage

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Note:
1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report: Connecting to Customers with Twitter.