[By Gisèle Wertheim Aymés] It’s early on Saturday morning and I’m trying to coax my eyes open. My BlackBerry has beeped at me and I can just make out through my hazy vision that it’s a message from RB Jacobs.
As much as I would like to turn over and go back to sleep, I know something important must be happening on Twitter. So, I get myself together, open TweetDeck, my Twitter application, and, sure enough, there’s a conversation on Twitter that First National Bank (FNB) needs to pay attention to.
Our team at FNB has learnt that people on Twitter never sleep and for us the service has become a natural extension of our daily lives in and outside of the bank.
It surprises many people when they hear that FNB is on Twitter. Indeed, FNB was the first SA bank to engage customers actively via the service. Today, FNB’s RB Jacobs ranks in the top 100 most popular Twitter users in SA in terms of followers. He’s the only representative of a bank in SA to make it onto this list.
Rankings aside, for us Twitter has become a critical customer relationship management tool, an informative, rich window into virtual conversations and an important gauge of the temperature out there.
We took the decision to become active on Twitter early on. We are fortunate at FNB that the culture embraces innovation and fast decision making. I had no problem persuading my brand director to allow us to focus resources in this area. From the start we have kept the team tight by using existing resources in our digital team and have up-skilled where necessary.
However, and most importantly, this small team is supported by a large but effective labyrinth of public and customer relations staff across the bank.
From the start, we knew that if we were going to engage on Twitter, we had to show a human face to the rest of the world. So we created RB Jacobs. RB Jacobs is a pseudonym used in advertising over the years by FNB. We’ve had good feedback to this persona and we are pleased we resisted the urge to tweet under the name FNB.
RB Jacobs singular role is to monitor Twitter interactions with customers who are experiencing problems and to respond to direct messages by getting the right help or advice to them — and fast.
Every tweet has been well thought through and is a measured response. FNB is governed by strict rules around customer engagement and advice so it has to be careful what it says. It’s easy to be a fast-food company on social media platforms; for banks it’s much more restrictive and challenging.
Even though he represents a bank, we try to keep RB Jacobs human and real. He has light-hearted moments, especially when some errant followers are try to pick him up. He also indulges in the odd retweet — of pro-FNB messages, of course.
However, we are of the firm belief that Twitter should not be used to hard-sell our products. It is a channel to engage with customers and create a dialogue and, most importantly, help people. RB Jacobs is there to support FNB’s brand position of “How can we help you?”.
I believe Twitter is playing a positive role in helping FNB be a more efficient customer-focused organisation. Our turnaround times on complaints on Twitter are incredibly fast, probably one of the fastest customer relationship management channels in the bank. It is also giving us real-time insights into what customers think and say about us. It’s invaluable research.
We’ve also had some interesting moments. There was one time when we picked up a tweet from a lady in an FNB branch who was witnessing an armed robbery in a major shopping centre. Her first instinct was to tweet about it, as she crouched down on the floor under a desk. This lady didn’t alert a family member to her potential danger, she told the world on Twitter.
The robbery was in fact taking place next door to FNB, so the branch manager did the right thing and locked down the branch to keep customers safe from the rogues outside with AK47s. We were able to contact the branch head office and alert them to the drama unfolding.
She broke this story on Twitter and it took news website News24 seven hours before it ran with the story. We felt good that we would have had the correct support in place had something turned bad during this event.
We solve queries as mundane as wanting to know where to get help if a card has been swallowed by an ATM, to dealing with a major PR crisis, like the time when our online banking system failed for three days. RB Jacobs was on call 24/7 and handled all queries generated on Twitter during this trying period.
Users of Twitter in SA are an influential community. Many leading journalists and editors use it. The Twitter profile is around 30+, educated and working. These are people with influence and opinions who can inflict real damage on your brand.
As you have no doubt realised by now, I’m somewhat of a Twitter evangelist, so much so that I’ve been called a “twit” myself for my dogged attachment to TweetDeck. Far from being insulted, though, I’m amused. As far as I am concerned, Twitter is fast becoming the most powerful communication channel in the world.
I was privileged to listen to Twitter co-founder Biz Stone speak at a conference in July. He shared his own experiences with companies who are using Twitter to build their brands and create enduring relationships. It’s clearly working for them!
Twitter has grown to more than 50m users globally in just two years. This growth is attributed in part to celebrity endorsements, but also to the service’s ability to deliver breaking news, sometimes ahead of traditional media.
I know there are many sceptics who question its use in business, but the sheer number of people adopting this channel to communicate cannot be ignored.
- Gisèle Wertheim Aymés is head of media at First National Bank