It’s no secret that banks are changing. For a long time, they were the long-established institutions that we had to work around.

They set the agenda and customers had to like it or lump it. We visited, we queued, we made formal meetings with managers, we queued some more – somehow we kept our cool.

Thankfully, those days are long gone, as banks have got to grips with the 21st century.

Initially, there were the straightforward things like opening branches at weekends and making more trained staff available. And now, as the digital age matures, banks’ technological offerings are really gathering pace.

The next step is for banks to work out the next stage of their evolution (we’ve looked at this in the past). Most agree that it’s about understanding how they fit seamlessly into our digital lives.

For Santander, the focus is on its customers’ behaviour on social platforms, which is where – according to the latest Global Web Index report – 30% of all our time online is spent.

Facebook isn’t just for friends

Unsurprisingly, Facebook is still the biggest draw, and is where Santander is focusing its activity. Because if that’s where its customers are when they need to do anything bank-related, that’s where the bank needs to be – as chief marketing officer Keith Moor explains:

“They’re living their lives through those platforms so we need to be in those places too. Why would someone bother coming out of an app when they can do most of their stuff within the app experience. We need to be part of that ecosystem.”

Social has become such a key part of Santander’s operations that it’s now one of the three main media spends, alongside TV and digital – replacing print.

That said, Moor is not using social as a means for customer growth. It’s not about producing awareness or product-driven Facebook campaigns.

It’s more about building relationships with customers to really understand where the bank can contribute to life online.

If that’s where its customers are when they need to do anything bank-related, that’s where the bank needs to be - Highlight to share  -

As a result, Santander’s social media expertise has grown considerably, as has its social team. Something that Moor expects his marketing agencies to mirror:

“I want the agencies I’m working with – my main strategic partners – to have social baked into the heart of what they’re doing… and not some little bit on the side.”

Aside from social providing the ability to reach customers in a meaningful way, it’s also a media that produces very measurable results, something that above-the-line marketing still, and probably always will struggle with in comparison.

So how do you measure the quality of these engagements?

Moor is still pushing his teams beyond simple reach metrics. He still believes that a way to measure the quality of engagement needs to be found, and he wants to get there first:

“What I need to know is do my customers like me more? Do they feel happier with us? And do they want to stay longer as a result of the interactions they’re having?”

Though Santander is keeping tight-lipped about its plans, one thought is that banks might start social activity publishing, similar to Spotify notifications when a song is played.

The user journey might look a bit like this:

  1. Sarah sees gig tickets advertised on her Facebook feed.
  2. An in-app banking feature allows her to securely buy them.
  3. She opts to share the purchase information with her friends (and maybe even split the cost).
  4. ‘Sarah has just bought tickets to X Festival using Y bank’ appears on her friends’ feeds.

If banks could do this, they’d start to join part of the social dialect in a far more natural, helpful and relevant way.

And if they could scale that up to their bigger products like savings accounts, credit cards and even personal loans and mortgages then they really will have become part of our social behaviour.

It’s only the beginning for banks on social

The potential to go further, using chatbots powered by cutting-edge AI, means suggestions and recommendations could even start to influence banking decisions, all without leaving the social app.

The big thing in all this is security. And it’s clearly one that banks have yet to crack. Laying secure, trusted functionality across Facebook is a big challenge. As Moor says:

“The problem for us is the security angle; for banks that’s a big red herring. Many of the apps have a two-stage identification process and we need a bit more security.”

It will be interesting to watch which banks manage to solve this first. The large established ones, like Santander, perhaps have the greater resources compared to the new challenger banks.

But then the challenger banks are far more flexible and able to test and try things without the bureaucracy that operates in large organisations.

Time will tell who makes the big leap first, but from the large high street chains, it’s clear  Santander is trying to make banking fit our contemporary, social media-influenced lives.

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Unpacking Santander's novel approach to social media