“We have to learn how to have meaningful, rich relationships through our social networks and all the technology that we have. - Jay Palter

In an age of digital transformation across sectors and industries, one thing we are missing? Human connection.

Of course, digital transformation has been an incredible asset during a period of quarantining and social distancing. But for those who spend their work and business lives on Zoom and on the web, that personal touch is missing. 

One study shared by Psychology Today in 2019 revealed that 46% of Americans feel alone, and 43% feel like they are isolated from others. And one in five Americans rarely or never feel like they have people they can talk to. 

And these stats were pre-pandemic. 

Connection and Community  

Much like rooting for our favorite sports teams with fans across the country, the digital experience can be a way to connect people rather than leaving them feeling isolated. 

There’s no question that this has been an unusual experience, and through it all, social media platforms have experienced quite a boost. People haven't been going to conferences, flying to other destinations, or meeting in person, which has really challenged organizations to figure out how to use these digital networks to deliver their product or service. 

But what’s been missing in all of these?

Jay Palter, Chief Engagement Officer at Jay Palter Social Advisoryexplains that  “business leaders have not yet figured out how to conduct themselves day-to-day and have relationships of value online.” 

This involves having productive relationships with high-value individuals. After all, business is driven by relationships. 

“We have to learn how to have meaningful, rich relationships through our social networks and all the technology that we have.”

Social network platforms have a wide range of applications, and people tend to have a narrow view of them — especially in the financial world. However, a digital social network is just another way of building relationships with people. 

Business leaders can meet people face to face over coffee or have a conversation on the phone, but there’s also a big opportunity to log onto a social media platform like LinkedIn, see what someone is sharing daily, and comment on that. This small — but intentional — activity can build a relationship with someone. 

Many business leaders see social media as a way to promote their own branding, but they should also be using it to establish relationships with people. As Jay explained, “It's as simple as paying attention to people and engaging.”

When financial institutions use social media this way, they put the focus on others instead of themselves, which can accomplish two things at once:

1. They learn from absorbing other people’s ideas, insights, and content.

2. They contribute to a larger conversation that can educate and empower others. 

In this way, banks and credit unions can become part of an entire online community.

There's an opportunity online to build relationships with anyone — and listening is a crucial part of these relationships. Businesses tend to think of social media as a one-way pipe, where their marketing message needs to get pushed out to their audience. But the reality is, especially when working with other businesses, that social networks are a channel for two-way communication. 

This is a great opportunity to learn from organizations and people with new and different viewpoints. It’s easy to get locked into echo chambers with plenty of confirmation bias. Social media provides an opportunity to learn from others and other verticals and then bring that knowledge — bring that thinking — back into the bank’s activities.

Building Humanity Through Digital Channels

As a result of the pandemic, the financial institution saw a very rapid change from a traditional, in-person way of doing business to a digitally-focused approach. It's no wonder that this would lead to a loss on the human side of banking because there wasn’t enough time to figure out how to do it right. 

Jay likened the past few months of living through a global pandemic to be the equivalent of five whole years of acceleration of the digital agenda.

And now is the time to figure out how to bring humanity back — even digitally.

He continued, “Moving from branch-based banking to digital banking is going to leave some people with an empty feeling because they're used to going in and saying hi to someone.”

While there isn’t a quick fix for addressing these feelings, it’s important to note that people still want personal connections with the services they use.

Purpose-driven brands will have an advantage with this because it fills some of the gaps in humanity that consumers are seeking. 

App design, the user interface, and even the whole user experience, for that matter? These things now require some attention to catch up with the past year of digital acceleration and bring personalization back to banking. 

COVID-19 has been a forcing function, and it's pushed us further, faster than ever anticipated, which can be very exciting but can also be very scary.

It’s about moving away from a commoditized product economy into an experience economy which has to start with leadership.

Being Social in a Digital Space: It Starts with Leadership

There’s a general idea that for businesses and organizations to succeed online, they have to have the best ideas and the smartest people working at all hours of the day to top everyone else. But as Jay explained, “When you're on the internet, there's a lot of smart people. It's very hard to be the smartest person in the room because there's a lot of people out there with very interesting ideas and lots of experience.”

What did he suggest instead? Listening.

“One of the most important skills to learn is how to listen strategically and effectively on social networks, both to take in the knowledge that helps inform and make and contextualize your own thought leadership.”

He continued, “But also, just importantly, to build relationships with people who you respect, whose ideas you respect. Because when you build those relationships on a personal level, those people become amplifiers for your own thoughts. They both contribute because they have thoughts, they have feedback, but they also help amplify your own vision, your own ideas.”

Leadership in a digitally social age will be about social activity. It requires building a community of people who care about what is being said. And community then leads to collaboration opportunities, sometimes even between competitors.

Digital Influencing and Community Connection

In the financial world, this concept of influencer marketing is untapped in the digital community and often overlooked.

When it comes to business-to-business (B2B) influencers, the idea of influencer marketing becomes less transactional. Instead, these influencers have credibility with a loyal audience, and they will help banks and credit unions by delivering valuable information to their audiences: small businesses and other commercial services.

So how do you make this happen?

Jay explained it as a simple chain of events:

"Any relationship comes down to the same things if you do things for people in your network, whose attention you want. So if you give them attention, you'll get attention from them. If you help promote them and their ideas and their thoughts and ideas, you will get a similar reciprocal attention back. So that's a huge thing, is that you don't start with pushing your own stuff all the time. You start with actually listening and sharing other people's content.”

At the end of the day, it all comes back to banks and credit unions connecting with their community and listening to their needs. 

How Can Banks Connect with Their Communities

In the world of finance, banks and credit unions creating a human digital experience is all about serving the needs of the people.

  • What are they interested in? 
  • How can their bank help them do what they're doing? 
  • How can a credit union provide advice and resources for them?

Financial institutions need to think about the content they put out in terms of the audience they are trying to attract, not the content that they want consumers to read about the institution.

The consumer becomes the “hero.”

So banks and credit unions neto focus on content that's empathetic. It's about putting other people first and giving more than taking. 

Banks and credit unions might have fears about how much time and effort this might take. And the truth is, it will take some time. As Jay explained:

“The marketing mindset thinks in campaigns, and digital social network relationship building is not about campaigns. It's about what you do every single day, and it's incremental, and it's cumulative. So when you do it for six months… people may not pay that much attention to you, but by the time you've been doing it for 12 months on a regular basis or 18 months, people start noticing you around. They start noticing you're consistently adding value, and they start paying attention. And so it's a long-term gain. It's incremental. It's not campaign-oriented.”

This kind of marketing can’t happen once or over a short period. It must be part of the day-to-day work. Digital connections are key, and nurturing social relationships in a digital format is the most efficient way to make it happen. And it must become part of the company culture.  

Establishing Social Capital

According to Jay, three types of capital can drive a business:

  1. Financial capital, including investments, physical assets, and the like.
  2. Human capital, which includes teams and the knowledge and experience they bring to the table.
  3. Social capital, which includes the relationships businesses invest in, the value they build, the reciprocal goodwill they can create, and the opportunities to meet new people, gather referrals, close deals, and more. 

Digital and social networking are all about building a financial brand’s social capital. This is not something that is done once and then never is done again. It requires careful and constant cultivation. As Jay detailed, “I think we need to stop thinking about this as a campaign and start thinking of it as a core activity that we need to do as business professionals, if we're functioning.”

And as Jay continued, “You either get into this stuff, or you say, ‘Okay, I'm retiring in five years.’ Because the world is getting more digital, more global, more social. And we need to use these tools on a day-to-day basis just to function in our jobs. And if you're not doing that, you're not going to be in your job long.”

He explained, “It's going to become a job requirement.”

While there is something to be said about striking a balance between building social capital in a digital way and establishing strong financial and human capital, digital social capital is more important than ever before.