I recently had a chance to sit down with ING Direct Canada CEO Peter Aceto and Mark Nicholson, Head of Online Experience to discuss ING Direct’s social media campaign that has brought the financial services company to the forefront of the social media buzz. I recommend all readers to checkout Peter Aceto’s twitter feed, one of the liveliest CEO feeds on the web.
What draws you to use Social Media to connect with your clients? What advantage does it have for ING?
Peter Aceto: As a direct business model where transparency and openness are two of our core philosophies, it just makes sense that we’d engage in conversation anywhere people gather to discuss important issues, including Facebook and Twitter. Social media allows us to engage in meaningful dialogue with our clients, most notably giving them another direct access point into the company to help answer their questions and discuss innovations they are looking for from us.
Do you find that social media changes the traditional rules of PR?
Peter Aceto: Social media has provided an avenue to have the types of conversations we want to have with Canadians. It’s exciting to be able to have an open dialogue on this platform and another medium in which to reach and connect with people. While I don’t believe that social media replaces traditional media, it certainly allows people to engage more fully in the news they read, and share their reactions and thoughts on the world around them. Although there is more transparency and time required to engage in this forum, it suits a brand like ING DIRECT with values based on openness, fairness and being direct.
Do you have any specific stories of how your experiences with social media have surprised you?
Peter Aceto: Social media has allowed me to have a very honest conversation with people. It has provided me with a means to reflect on our business and the decisions we make each day as a business. It forces us to remain authentic and true to who we are and what we stand for. I’m blown away by Canadians’ passion for our brand and in helping others to empower themselves using basic savings principles.
Today people are questioning the expensive financial or investment advice they have been getting. They are now turning to friends, family and peers for advice on these products. Social media help broaden this discussion to a wider group of people – extending its reach from the family get-together on Sunday to a network of thousands.
How has social media helped ING in the face of overwhelming media criticisms regarding financial institutions’ role in causing the financial meltdown and global recession?
Peter Aceto: Social media allows us to talk directly with Canadians in an open forum – through Facebook via our fan page “Save Your Money” and Twitter via @CEO_INGDIRECT. It has allowed us to share the facts as we know them. I think Canadians appreciate having a forum where they can ask ING DIRECT questions about their money – including questions about the global recession and how it affects our business. Facebook and Twitter allow us to reassure Canadians that their money is safe with us, give them tips to help them with their savings challenges, and ideas for how to save during difficult times – for example options for guaranteed investments such as short-term RSPs or TFSAs. It’s always important to save, even during a recession, and our voice in this space is helping to inform people that they have options and can always find ways to save, even in small ways.
Although ING DIRECT is one of the Good Guys, the lack of trust of financial institutions is a reality. We’ve built a trust relationship with our clients over the last 13 years that is serving us very well now. This trust was greeted through our openness, honesty, and transparency that our clients are not surprised by fees, charges or other bad news. We’re direct and truthful.
Do you get overwhelmed by the number of personal responses required to keep a direct communication line open with all followers/customers?
Peter Aceto: Absolutely. This space is all about immediacy. The level of interaction from our clients has surprised and delighted us and it’s kept us actively engaged in the conversation as its coming fast.
How do you deal with negative publicity potentially generated through social media? Are you just going to tweet positives? ie. Online communities scoff when corporations get into social media because they tend to only push positive stories relating only to their own company.
Peter Aceto: I’ve dealt with both positive and negative publicity in an open and transparent fashion. For example, I had a Tweeter who was unhappy with the wait times in the call centre attributed to the RRSP deadline. This Tweeter called us out on it and I reached out to let [him] know we were listening. The platform allowed me to explain directly why it was happening. In the end, this person understood our position and appreciated the quick and direct way we interacted with him about it. ING DIRECT’s intent in being in this space isn’t about just pushing the positives – it’s about listening and making our business better for our clients.
What are the initial results of your campaign and are they encouraging? How will your social media campaign grow/evolve?
Mark Nicholson: While we don’t look at this as a campaign per se, the results since launching the Facebook fan page have been quite promising. We reached 1,400 fans in just under a month and the conversation is alive! Clients are asking some really good questions and interacting with each other on a broad range of savings-related topics.
How are you measuring the success of your social media campaigns? What metrics are you using?
Mark Nicholson: We are working with one of our partners, The Social Media Group, to develop what is called the Conversation Index for the Financial Services category. We are leveraging this to measure our efforts in the social media space. It’s not all about measurement however. How do we know how often people mention ING DIRECT at the dinner table? We don’t – but the conversation needs to happen and we want to be at the table.
Have you allocated new/additional budget for your social media strategy?
Mark Nicholson: We have focused more of our traditional budget on the social media strategy and based on early results, will continue to shift the budget to support these initiatives.
How are you aggregating conversations and feedback from social media and incorporating it into your business plans?
Mark Nicholson: We are currently measuring the conversation and some of the raw feedback through our partners as well as through tools such as ScoutLabs. This information provides us an invaluable feedback loop whereby we can react, respond and adapt where necessary.
Do you see social media as a brand new form of advertising and marketing, or a complement to traditional methods?
Mark Nicholson: We aren’t approaching social media as a platform to advertise. We are currently using social media as an open communications forum – to listen to and address Canadians’ expectations of us. That being said, we will look at opportunities that use social media to augment our marketing efforts where it makes sense.
Do you consider the Canadian Superstar Saver Search a success? What was your goal with that contest?
Mark Nicholson: Yes. The Canadian Superstar Saver Search was a screaming success. The spirit of the contest wasn’t about selling product. It was about people living the brand. We had over 200 videos submitted in just more than six weeks and they ranged from big to small productions. The top 10 videos had over 1,200 hours of viewing time. The specific objectives were two-fold. The first was to move the metrics surrounding brand awareness and innovation. The secondary objective was about being first to market. We wanted to be the first company to leverage the new YouTube platform for a contest in Canada. We achieved both successfully.