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What millions of consumer conversations tell us about banks

Jason Falls

Typical market research surveys a focus group of people — likely customers or potential customers — who know they’re being interviewed. But what happens when you look at the millions of customer conversations already had on the social Web? These conversations are unfiltered and without the bias of someone asking direct questions.

Interestingly, you can learn a lot about your customers from diving into this way of researching the market. For Social Media Explorer’s newest research report on the banking industry, we analyzed millions of online conversations, isolated those that were focused on banks and bank products and discovered insights into customers that can benefit banks and other businesses.

Here’s what we learned.

Our anecdotal bias is often wrong

With the mortgage scandal and Occupy Wall Street movement happening in 2011 (the time frame of our analysis), you would think most people don’t like their banks. But the contrary is true. Most customers, when speaking about specific bank brands, do so in a 2-to-1 positive-to-negative ratio.

In fact, of the top 25 banks according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. asset rankings, only Bank of America and Sovereign Bank were below 60% of positive sentiment around their brands and neither was below 50%. Most banks, including behemoths Citigroup and PNC Financial Services Group, were 70% positive and beyond.

Customers are fickle, however

Because we dove deeper into the positive and negative topics around each bank, we were able to see why people thought good or bad about them. What we discovered was interesting. In seven of the top 10 asset banks, customer service was listed as one of the top three areas customers liked about the bank. But customer service was also listed as one of the top three areas customers didn’t like.

Granted, there were smaller numbers of conversations around the negative reactions to banks, but even when institutions such as Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank got their highest marks for customer service, that topic was also the chief complaint about them. Businesses everywhere can take a lead from this insight in knowing that you’ll always have detractors, no matter how good your performance is.

Banks are perhaps missing revenue opportunities

In total, we analyzed roughly 7 million online conversations that mentioned banks or bank products. Despite that wide-cast, we found very few online mentions of low-risk investment opportunities typically found in bank products such as Certificates of Deposit or Mutual Funds.

While we wouldn’t anticipate a high volume of conversation here, the U.S. recession combined with uncertainty in real estate and other investment markets may indicate consumers are in need of more of a sure thing. The fact that almost no online conversations exist around CDs indicates the first bank that begins a conversation about them has an opportunity to own that conversation, and maybe more profits as a result.

What banks (and other businesses) can do

Diving deep into online conversations gave us an interesting perspective on the banking market, but also on what’s on the minds of consumers. Knowing that brand affinity exists, even in times when banks are lambasted for perceived greed and blamed for much, if not all, of the U.S.’ current financial woes can give all marketers confidence moving forward.

But there also exists tremendous ground to cover and upside potential for banks and other brands. Knowing who is saying what about you and your industry online is an almost imperative for any viable social media success. So, dive in. You may be surprised what you find.

This post is by Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer and author of “The Conversation Report: What Consumers Are Saying About Banking,” a market-research report from his company.