Wells Fargo and its trademark stagecoach can be deceiving. It may represent the Old West and history, but the 156-year-old company's approach to new technology and social media is all about innovative customer interaction.
Tim Collins, senior vice president of experiential marketing at Wells Fargo, says the company has never been afraid of new technology "adventures," and has seen tangible success from its forays online.
Collins oversees the company's four blogs, a virtual world called Stagecoach Island, and its YouTube video channel. He's also planning to expand the company's presence into sites like Facebook and MySpace. He says Wells Fargo, which was one of the first banks to offer online banking, is always looking to "be where our customers are" and says he's surprised more financial services companies haven't made the leap into social media. He recently sat down for a 1to1 on the Run podcast to share what he's learned from his company's social media experiences. Here is an excerpt.
Why did you decide to go with a social media strategy, starting with Stagecoach Island in 2005 and blogs in 2006?
We think social media is a great way to have a conversation with our customers and our communities. We can help to educate, we can get feedback, so we think it's a great opportunity. Financial services institutions don't have a reputation for being incredibly warm and fuzzy. Social media, and the opportunity for a conversation that it provides, really helps to make financial services more approachable.
Social media is not a mass-market approach. It really focuses around interested communities. Many financial services products and services are focused around those interested communities, so it seems to be a really nice match. It's not the shotgun approach you would see with traditional advertisers.
For most companies there's a little bit of a fear of social media because it's a completely open forum and there are very few rules that companies can cling to. In some cases they're just paralyzed by the thought of entering the space. We realized there was a lot more reward than risk. And we started in a really safe place. We started with Stagecoach Island, which is really all about financial education, and is something core to our brand. And we started our blog with "Guided by History," [which discusses the history surrounding Wells Fargo and the West]. We weren't talking about hard products and services, and that was comforting to a lot of folks within our organization. It allowed us to gain some experience on a relatively safe topic before moving on to topics that were directly germane to our business.
Have you been able to measure or trace back any tangible outcomes from your social media initiatives?
We have seen really positive outcomes from all of our initiatives. For example, on our student loan blog (the Student LoanDown), we had a comment from a mother who was having problems because her daughter had reached her student loan limit. She asked us if we could help. We contacted that particular school and provided them with guidance based on our experience with other schools. The school ended up raising that student's loan limit.
Because the school got so much value from us, we were put on its preferred lender list. That was a very positive business outcome for us. We also received feedback from the mother, who posted a very positive comment on our blog, saying she transferred all of her daughter's student loans to Wells Fargo because of the experience. It was a win-win all around.
What advice do you have for marketers when it comes to embarking on a social media strategy?
First of all, you have to think about your company, and what your objectives are. You should do what makes sense to your company or business line. But you also have to match up your objectives with what the community wants. Social media communities have their own culture. You have to learn that culture and respect it, because if you don't, you will fail.
Second, be transparent. Social media users expect a certain level of transparency. That doesn't mean you can't have ground rules on what you can and cannot talk about. But if you do choose to talk about a topic you have to realize that you have to be transparent, which means you have to post the occasional negative comment.
Also, be willing to learn from your mistakes. Making mistakes is not a bad thing, and frankly the community respects you when you make a mistake and own up to it. You gain so much more credibility as a brand if you do that.
And lastly, if you're thinking about getting into the space, start in a very small way. Once you test and learn your way, and set up all your processes and guidelines in a safe place, then you can always move on to something else.
Listen to more of Tim Collins' social media experience in the 1to1 on the Run podcast, "Social Media in Action at Wells Fargo."