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15 June 2015

What financial services firms can learn from Facebook

Written by: Grant Clelland, Senior Director at Edelman

Corporate Reputation

 The revelation that Facebook has signed a deal with nine leading news organisations – including the BBC, the New York Times and BuzzFeed – to publish articles more quickly on the social network has led to much angst about the future of news and the way stories will be consumed in the coming years. However there has so far been little  discussion about what it means for communicators in the financial services industry. In fact, the development, and what it tells us about the future of news, has profound lessons.

Under the Facebook arrangement – called Instant Articles – stories from the media organisations involved will run within the social network 10 times faster than at present. The organisations retain control of the editorial content, but the idea is that the news will now be easier and quicker to share – the holy grail of social media – hence driving up advertising spend. It’s the media trend that the news aggregators are jumping on: the more shareable a story, the more cash it will generate and the better the media company producing the content will perform.

At first site, this story might seem of little relevance to how institutional financial services firms communicate. Investment banks, asset managers, hedge funds, private equity and so on have tended to use their communications – the speeches by their CEOs, their press releases, opeds, analyst presentations and others – to reach the people who will win them new business. And those people – such as non-executive directors, pension fund consultants, institutional investors, other CEOs, buyside and sellside analysts and others – aren’t typically people who regularly update their status on their Walls.

Yet financial service communicators should take careful note of what is going on. The organisations who have signed up so far are accepting that in order to achieve success – whether judged by getting readers or advertising revenues – their content has to be aimed far more explicitly at meeting the need of the consumer – the reader. It’s only if it’s relevant, well-written and interesting to them that the story has a hope of taking off. Merely being important won’t be enough.

In the past, many in the institutional finance world have been bad at this. Bruised by the financial crisis, then under relentless fire from hostile regulators and journalists, they’ve preferred to play it safe, talking about themselves, their past achievements and current successes without pausing to think what it is their audiences actually want to hear: about the value they bring to the wider economy or society; the changes they’ve made; or the way they help capital flow efficiently from those who have it to those who need it.

Rather than simply speaking about themselves, they need to be far more disciplined at thinking about explaining how they are different, what they’ve learned and what are the key messages that they’d like their audiences – in the financial world and beyond – to read. For years, when I was a journalist, I edited countless opeds, listened to dozens of speeches, read endless presentations all of which told me how good a firm was without explaining why it mattered. That needs to change.

So here are five questions financial services firms need to answer before delivering a speech, authoring an oped, writing a press release or embarking on any other form of communication.

– What is the audience I am trying to reach, and how does my chosen channel of delivery reach them?

– What do they want to hear from me?

– What are the key messages about my firm that I want to deliver to them that will meet their expectations?

– How can I make what I say interesting and relevant to them?

– What can I say about my firm that explains how we are best placed to meet their needs, and that prove that we can do it better than our rivals?

For too long the financial industry has spent too much time thinking about itself and not about what its consumers want to hear. It’s time to bring the discipline of Facebook Instant Articles to financial communications.

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