HSBC: poised on the brink of expensive social media failure

I have just seen a report in PR Week that HSBC is looking for digital agencies to help it build what appears to be a massive community within which its customers are going to manage their lives.  As the brief puts it ‘We will build a distinct digital offering centred on customers’ future needs, financial and non-financial.’

The amount of money that HSBC is going to waste in pursuit of this flawed objective makes me want to weep – not least because I bank with HSBC (or First Direct which is basically the same thing).

Now HSBC is absolutely right to identify the importance of community and communities within social media.  It is absolutely wrong to assume that this means you can build communities within which your customers will then live.  The most important thing to realise about communities in social media is that consumers, customers or citizens will create (and are in fact creating) communities in order to manage their relationships with institutions.  They will not want to be managed within communities created by institutions.

I will say that again loudly: In social media,  consumers, customers or citizens will create (and are in fact creating) communities in order to manage their relationships with institutions.  They will not want to be managed within communities created by institutions. 

The only possible community that HSBC (or any other organisation for that matter) can credibly create in relation to its external audiences is a customer service community – a place where people can go to complain or ask questions or make suggestions as to how HSBC can serve them better.  If this is what HSBC are building, great.  From the sounds of it though, this is not what they are looking to build.  The brief apparently states that ‘We will simply ask our customers to share their needs, and we will then feed back where possible to help people fulfil them.’  To me this sounds like the motivation behind this project is to get HSBC customers to reveal information about themselves so that HSBC can develop a more targeted selling strategy.  One wonders, has HSBC asked themselves the question ‘why will people want to share their needs (financial and non-financial) – and why would they want to do so in a closed community managed by a bank?’  HSBC’s motivation seems pretty clear, but I think they are going to struggle to motivate sufficient numbers of their customers to play this game.

9 comments

  1. Obi Tabansi Onyeaso (@obionyeaso)

    Thanks for articulating the plain futility of HSBC’s project,

    A lot of energy and money will be dissipated on this, and at the end of the day, managers will ask ‘whose idea was it anyway?’

    While HSBC’s sincerity is commendable, it needs to recognize, as you so rightly nail it, that “in social media, consumers, customers or citizens will create (and are in fact creating) communities in order to manage their relationships with institutions. They will not want to be managed within communities created by institutions.”

    Well done.

    Obi Tabansi Onyeaso

  2. Ozge Mürşide Ozdoğan

    The most important thing to realise about communities in social media is that consumers, customers or citizens will create (and are in fact creating) communities in order to manage their relationships with institutions. They will not want to be managed within communities created by institutions.

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