How Scary is Social Media?

When I meet customers both large and small the conversation often turns to social media and its value to business. As a generalisation, the larger the company, the less likely they are to have anything other than a defensive strategy. Senior executives tend to be of a certain age and social media is something their children do. Often when there are varying levels of understanding then it becomes scary, especially as it’s not something that can be “controlled”. Large companies seem to have a natural need to control. Innovation means that we have to have the ability to experiment and get things wrong and so it’s unsurprising that bigger companies often struggle with being at the cutting edge.

How Scary is Social Media?

Understanding what’s out there

At Ulster Bank we have been piloting a service provided by 11890 which live monitors social media. This allows us to respond to issues quickly and understand what people think of us. The key thing is that we now understand in granular detail what people like about what we are doing, and where we need to improve. In short the fear factor has diminished significantly, and we can use social media to understand and to get better.

What did we learn?

There is an assumption that social media is often used when things are not going well, so we were apprehensive about how negative the sentiment might be. In fact we were surprised to find that the majority of mentions were positive. We also learnt that our drive to support female entrepreneurs has been very powerful with 68% of all mentions of Ulster Bank being from female sources. We also saw the positive impact of Small Business Can, the Business Achievers Awards and our grassroots support for GAA and Irish Rugby. It was also evident that the quiet work that the bank and its staff do every day of the year isn’t so quiet after all!

So what will we do differently?

Hopefully better understanding will allow us concentrate on things that make a difference in the communities we serve. Banks need to rebuild trust and to demonstrate strong values. Social media allows us to give the right support in the right areas in supporting business in the community.  Its not scary, it’s how people feel, and listening to customers and potential customers is critical to all organisations large and small.


About David Thomas

David is Managing Director, Corporate Banking Division, Ulster Bank Group and joined Ulster Bank in October 2011. Prior to this David was Chief Risk Officer, UK Corporate Banking at RBS . Before joining RBS, he spent 10 years with Société Générale where he was deputy head of their Corporate Banking business in London. He spent the previous 10 years with Barclays in their SME business. David has over 30 years experience in banking, across both front line and support functions.