There's an old saying that there are "horses for courses" - in other words, some horses run better on short tracks, others on long tracks. Some are mudders, best in slow or wet weather. Some are better on hard, dry surfaces. So you pick the horse that suits the situation.
Recently I read a blog post by a guy who writes regularly and knowledgeably on financial services. His assertion was that social media had little place in financial services. In fact the title of his article was Why Social Media is a waste of time for most Banks and Credit unions. Now, I believe he was writing this partially tongue in cheek - to poke fun at the difficulty most banks and financial services firms have in opening themselves up to conversations and interactions with their consumers, but I suspect deep down many financial institutions believe this is true - there are great expectations but little benefits and a lot of hard work before we'll see any return to social media in the banking sector.
I disagree, of course, just being a disagreeable cuss comes naturally. Social media is difficult to adopt only if your prevailing attitudes and strategies make it so. Conversely, if your CEO and executives decide that social media is very important and serves important internal and external causes or constituencies, it will be both easy to implement and valuable. The problem with most financial services firms is that they believe they have to serve "everybody" and that makes their offerings generic. Rather than piss any possible consumer off, they water down their messaging to become everybody's friend. That means no real distinctions and no sharp edges. It's hard to have an edgy, online personality when you are trying to please everyone.
Further, banks believe that products, low rates and fees are what drive customers. They don't believe superior service or customer engagement is all that distinctive, missing the Wal-Mart/Target/Nordstroms models of retail, both in the "real world" and online. Social media is about engaging with customers, learning from them and learning with them, and evolving as new opportunities and possibilities emerge. If you are having a hard time evolving anyway, social media may seem like a loaded gun pointed right back at you. But you have a choice - you can choose to participate or choose not to play. But your customers and partners are out there, exchanging information. Banks are noticable only by their absence.
But mom always said if you can't say something nice (or valuable) don't say anything at all. Ok, well at least start a listening tour. Go be Rahm Emanuel and pretend to want to know what Chicagoans think - as if that's going to change his operating style. But at some point you have to be in the social media mix. I can't buy into the fact that some industries can use social media effectively, and some can't. That's like arguing that some firms can use direct mail and some can't, or some can use Software as a Service or some can't. Whether we like it or not, the social media phenomenon is no longer a fad, but becoming an expectation. I want two way communication with my bank and with others who bank with me. I want the bank engaged just like I want P&G engaged in my choice of shampoo. The banks can't afford to sit this one out, and social media does pertain to them.
Hopefully they'll realize that before it's too late, and smaller disrupters who don't care about "how" the industry should act will enter the mix and take their customers. Oh, sorry too late, Mint beat me to that.