We have all watched the social media revolution. It is one of the most profound changes in the history of human communication since the advent of email. In 2009, the total message traffic of social media surpassed the volume of email messages globally. Facebook now has more than 900 million members, making it the company with the largest number of customers worldwide. And it’s still growing. The average user is spending an hour a day on Facebook. Needless to say, the average day has not grown any longer and so Facebook has carved its way out of TV viewing, books, music, etc.
Facebook is not alone. LinkedIn has 150 million members and Twitter has 300 million. They are all growing and the numbers are astounding.
Now it could easily be argued that this is a ‘consumer’ revolution. These are people connecting and sharing on these sites, and therefore it seems fair to say that this is not where a commercial bank should be looking to brand itself, market itself or connect with industry.
Yet that assumption is wrong on two counts:
- Users of Twitter and Facebook, etc are not all 13-year olds with nothing better to do. The average user age on Facebook is comfortably into the mid-30s. It is a pretty perfect analogue to the population of the developed world, as you need to have some connected device to connect to Facebook. It is important to remember that the people on these networks also work in corporate treasury departments. They are bankers themselves. These networks are simply where people communicate.
- Organisations are on Linkedin and Twitter and yes, even Facebook, in increasing numbers, and with increasing levels of engagement. Staying out of these forums means staying away from where the actual conversations are happening.
The Right Fit
The concept of ‘horses for courses’ is a critical one. The roles of Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook are fairly well established. Now, this is a dynamic space, so it may no longer be true in two years’ time, but for the moment, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Stocktwits, and hedge fund manager, Howard Lindzon, says that Facebook is “your living room. It is where you meet with family and friends. Twitter is where you meet new people and absorb (and create) breaking news. Linkedin is where you lie about your CV and get people you know to corroborate those lies…” Perhaps, the last comment is a bit unfair, but the critical message here is Twitter. For the time being, the appropriate place for corporate treasurers to be engaging in social media is on Twitter and Quora.
Twitter is still referred to as a ‘micro blogging’ site but that is not a very apt description. It is a communication platform that lets people flex very easily from one to many, to small groups, to one to one. Its 140 character limit forces brevity. The ‘follower’ structure lets people who you don’t know hear your message (something that does not happen on Facebook – nor would most people want it to happen on Facebook. Remember, no strangers in your living room) and lets you quickly absorb content from many sources very quickly with easy controls to filter out ‘noise’ from ‘signal. For the corporate treasurer what does this mean?
Let’s explore this two ways: first, Twitter as a news source with passive engagement. And second, more excitingly, Twitter as platform for broadcast, which is active engagement or content creation.
Passive Consumer of Information
Most of Twitter’s members relate to Twitter as consumers of information. Only 25% of people on Twitter have ever tweeted. That makes sense because writing is hard. Putting ideas out into the public domain is not always easy or comfortable. For the corporate treasurer, the good news is that many, if not all, of the main sources of news that are necessary to do your job are on Twitter. Rather than attempting to go to 15 different websites of news outlets or the blogs of important thinkers on economics, foreign exchange (FX), fixed income, IT, etc, Twitter lets you subscribe, or ‘follow’ in Twitter parlance, to their feeds. You can scan the headlines of 30 sources in under a minute. That is a radically efficient way for a corporate treasurer to save time and expand the sources of information they consult, all at the same time. There are not too many other tools that enable improvement in data richness and time efficiency gains simultaneously.
This is where it gets more interesting, more complex and, ultimately, more powerful. Twitter is not a website in the traditional sense. It is a communication platform. It lets you consume very efficiently, but it also lets you create content, engage with other people, including people who it might be rather difficult to have a connection with in the real world, or in “meat space” as the Digerati crassly refer to the physical world.
So why would a corporate treasurer want to engage, not just personally, but in their role as key member of the finance team of a major organisation? Let’s examine this in three ways: transparency, information equity and authority.
Perhaps I hold a controversial position here, but I think that in the world of continuing financial crisis characterised by fear, uncertainty and nasty surprises, having banks, and the corporate treasurers they serve project what they are thinking about, what they are watching and what they are concerned about has merit. It will also meet with an interested audience.
For treasurers of large companies issues which are confidential or materially impact earnings and business prospects have no place on Twitter – that much is clear. But treasurers can talk about articles they are reading, books that are engaging them, conferences they attend, ideas they are exploring and questions they want answered. That humanises them and their industry and shows the care, consideration and intellect that is applied to the job.
It is amazing in the world of social media how often complete strangers are willing to research, answer and help out when their efforts are reciprocated. Social media platforms, whether relatively focused like Facebook, or broader and more public, like Twitter, are communities. Good deeds generate good deeds. In the world of social media, good deeds are all about information exploration and provision. A corporate treasurer that wants to ‘get’ from Twitter will ‘get better’ if they also ‘give’. Engaging with people, answering questions and offering friendly suggestions engenders goodwill and increases the chance that next time you ask you Twitter followers “does anyone know a fantastic FX expert living in Toronto who is looking for a job?” the network will respond.
All social networks have some measure of ‘game’ dynamic implicit in their structure. For Facebook, it is how many friends you have and how many ‘likes’ or ‘comments’ your posts receive. In Twitter, the game is around number of followers, how often you are ‘mentioned’, or how often your tweets are in turn “retweeted”. Quora, a socially driven question and answer site, is almost exclusively about authority and status.
Social media, Twitter and Quora in particular, are powerful platforms for corporate treasurers to make statements, be heard and watch their comments reverberate across cyber space. Why would you want to? Because the role of the treasurer, like the role of the commercial banker, has changed dramatically since the advent of the crisis. Treasurers are at the front of corporate planning and corporate management like never before. Business people want to know what you think. Social media platforms provide a mechanism for them to succinctly and powerfully deliver messages for which there is an eager audience, and to earn the recognition they deserve.
The message for treasurers is this: the various social media platforms have distinct roles to play in their lives. The platforms have enormous scale, diverse reach, and function both as platforms for listening to and disseminating information. These platforms are not the sole domain of teenagers and people with too much time on their hands, but if used correctly are highly efficient and highly effective forms of information sharing. Social media is a powerful new arrow in the treasury quiver.
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