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It’s Time to Change Your Social Media Story (Part One)

April 6, 2012

Here’s something most of you don’t know about me: before I entered the financial services industry, I was an English teacher and fiction writer.  Why you don’t know this about me can be chalked up to one of these reasons:

  • We have a virtual relationship only. (“What are two good-looking Gravatars like us doing on this banking discussion board? Let’s take this party over to MySpace.”)
  • You rarely call anymore just to talk.
  • This background information isn’t relevant to what I do on a daily basis.

If it’s due to the first two items, I’ll forgive you – though it wouldn’t kill you to pick up the phone once in awhile or at least post on my Facebook wall.  If you didn’t know about my storytelling past, then that’s about to change.

It’s about to change because of a game-changing move that Facebook made over the weekend in what appears NOT to be an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke.  Of course I’m referring to its change to timeline. Or simply put, the new way to “tell your story.”

Facebook’s change to timeline may seem like a simple process change at first glance.  You’re no longer allowed to decide where your new prospects will land (welcome page redirection is gone unless you use URL app redirects); you’re limited (or barred depending on how you follow the rules) in your calls to action; and you’re no longer going to have the same fan reach you used to enjoy (unless you pay for it).

I asked Ron Shevlin for his input on the changes: “The restrictions that Facebook is placing on brands — e.g., limits on apps and tabs, throttling, pinning and starring limitations — will only make it harder for brand pages to systematically support user goals for using social media. These goals include finding information about interests, interacting with groups that share my interests, and socializing with friends and family.”

He’s right, and that means this story seems to suck for financial institutions.  But, perhaps it’s an unexpected gift? I argue that these changes to Facebook have given you the perfect reason to examine (maybe for the first time), the story your Social Media efforts are telling about your bank.  Upon examination, most FIs would benefit from ditching their current social media efforts and starting a new story.

This is because most stories that are being told by financial institutions’ social media channels are boring and fail at engaging storytelling.  Facebook’s timeline change has given everyone the opportunity to start from zero.  I’d go so far as to advocate you spin your social media efforts off from normal marketing activity, give them their own P&L Statement, and 18 months to turn a significant profit.  But in this case I’ll meet you half way and say that you MUST take the following steps to evaluate how your old tactics (or brand and social media strategies if you have them clearly defined) fit into the new storytelling future.

Step 1: Examine your cast of characters.  Engaging characters are the heart of any good story.  You know who’s not a good character?  The Bank!  Other characters that may be better choices for the lead: anyone else.  Banks and bankers are not engaging characters, please realize that.  But, your customers, the stories they can tell when given the chance, when given (God forbid) a product or service you have that helps them craft their stories, can be engaging.  People want to engage with unique characters in the hopes that they will learn new things about themselves.  Ask what can your financial institution, its products, and/or its customers teach people about themselves, about savings money, about life?  Be bold with your questioning and subsequent character choices!  See a great example here (thanks for the reminder on this on Jeffry Pilcher!):

Video Note: Jeffry Pilcher, “this got them a lot of good, global exposure (e.g., name awareness). Hopefully ‘going viral’ was their goal.”

Step 2: Establish a unique voice.  If the updates on your Facebook page, blog, or Twitter stream could appear on any bank’s page, then your voice isn’t unique, engaging, or worth your effort.  People listen to stories told in voices that engage them on multiple levels. They want a guide that will pull them into a new world on an emotional level or, at a minimum, will tell them something that they’ve already seen except in a new voice, from a new point of view.  Third person omniscient is a bold choice in fiction…but can be wonderful, haunting, and will stay with you for years (The short story Merry-Go-Sorry by Cary Holladay has been with me since 2004).  Your choice of voice needs to be bold because not everyone is good at storytelling.

Step 3: Insure that your storytelling is visual.  Facebook’s new changes have given priority to visual elements over text.  Long gone are the days when “What’s everyone doing this weekend?” or another “Currency Related Trivia Tuesday Question!” will gain you much notice.  AND GOOD FOR FACEBOOK in that regard!  I follow about 100 FIs on Facebook and am tired of feeling bad about our industry…bad for the employees who are struggling to find trivia bits to toss out randomly every week to their hundreds of bored fans.

Step 4: You have to tell a crappy story sometimes…before you can get to where you need to go.  As a former participant in entry level fiction, I’ve written a story or two that ended in the tragic suicide of the main character.  This story ending is so overused by early fiction writers that many teachers now add, “Stories cannot end in a suicide” to the class syllabus.  But those stories – however tragic to read as the teacher – are necessary in your development as a writer.  You need to hit bottom, and kill someone, in order to learn.  Without naming Facebook page names here, I’ll say that the vast majority of community FIs in America have hit bottom.  The good thing is that there’s nowhere to go but up!

Step 5: Sometimes a crappy story is just a crappy story…and it needs to die.  Be prepared to kill your story.  As a writer, I’ve walked away from many a story.  Whether at page 1 or page 53, sometimes it’s best to just walk away from the entire story and let those characters live in suspended animation indefinitely.  Now, you most likely can’t walk entirely away from your current social media efforts, but you can re-invent them based on the new changing landscape.

Jeffry Pilcher of TheFinancialBrand.com adds, “Most FIs have no clue what ‘their story’ is. And even if they thought they knew, it isn’t likely a story that is differentiated, engaging and/or credible.”

If you’re in that boat – which is admittedly a hard fact to face but would be just the revelation you need to evolve – then Facebook has given you a gift.  This gift is a revolutionary change in the main staple of social media marketing that justifies a deep reassessment of the bones of your story, its characters, and the voice of your tale.

Look for my follow up post about the process you need to go through to reinvent your story.

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