By Michael Jordaan
Thanks to Twitter, the short-message social network that has infiltrated my personal and business life, I now know what FNB stands for. It stands for Friday Night Boys, a pop-punk band from Virginia in the United States, or Food Not Bombs, an activist organisation that serves free vegetarian and vegan meals. It could also be Fox News Boycott or Food n Beverages.
But, I am happy to say, it also stands for a bank with customers who care enough to make their feelings known in short bursts of distributed text that carry the immediacy of a telegram. With millions of other people around the world I read tweets, I tweet and I retweet tweets with an eagerness that comes perilously close to addiction.
I am happy to set aside the time — typically, 20 minutes a day, snatched in between meetings and other obligations — to trawl my tweetstream for mentions of FNB, in its more familiar guise as First National Bank.
What I have found is that a lot of people have a little to say about FNB and they are saying it in a way that makes me want to have my say, too. That is one of the great joys of Twitter. It encourages and facilitates quick, impulsive conversations with your customers and the public and shatters the traditional hierarchies and channels of executive communication.
If someone tweets that they love FNB for its how-can-we-help-you service, its easy-access Krugerrand savings plan or even its discounted iPad offering, I can thumb a quick tweet of thanks in response. If someone, seething, tweets from a slow-moving queue in a crowded branch, I can offer a swift apology and a promise of prompt reaction. If a journalist has a query about an FNB story in the news, I can … well, I admit I sometimes get into trouble with my PR team for tweeting when I should not, breaking an embargo and bucking our planned strategy.
But social media are changing the way businesses connect with the press and I love being part of a network that tunes me in to the multiple and overlapping conversations that make our society so vital, interesting and dynamic. I follow about 50 people on Twitter, most of them either connected to the media or the world of finance and entrepreneurship.
I would love to follow many more, but even in my limited experience Twitter can be a time vampire and I do not want to irritate my family and friends by staring into my phone when I should be spending quality time in the real world. So I choose to follow journalists and editors who can provide instant news, economists and commentators who provide insight, comedians who offer light relief and some friends.
I like the smart, sharp brevity of Twitter and the completely intuitive way I am able to access and use it on my iPhone. I find the network useful for analysing business trends, managing customer relationships and staying in touch with our passionate brand advocates and occasional impassioned brand antagonists.
I do not mind strong views about FNB on Twitter because there is much you can learn from disgruntled customers. I choose to ignore senseless rants or wasted profanities and I leave much of the nitty-gritty of problem-solving to my tireless tweet-mate, the enigmatic and ever-ready RB Jacobs [FNB’s online persona].
But there are two other important reasons for my love of Twitter and its integral role in the flow of my life every day. I love it because I love technology and I like to think that the aura of cool on Twitter can rub off even on an organisation as fundamentally conservative in its world view as a bank.
A fellow tweeter described FNB recently as the banking version of Apple. My heart soared when I read that tweet, because I did not think he was simply referring to our special iPad offer. But here is the other important reason why I love Twitter and why, even though I can stop at any time, I do not really want to. It is because Twitter is fun. It is a forum for chatting about the rugby, sharing my passion for good wine, revelling in a good one-liner or an aphorism about my line of work.
“Never call a banker a credit to his profession,” I tweeted the other day. “A good banker is a debit to his profession.” And that is why, in this age when we cannot ignore the rapidly changing world around us, I am happier than ever to sign myself, yours sincerely, @MichaelJordaan.
- Michael Jordaan is CEO of First National Bank
- First published in the Mail & Guardian. Visit the Mail & Guardian Online, the smart news source
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