To begin with a simple truth: most of what you’ve heard about social media is probably inaccurate, particularly if you’re aged over 30. People often think of social media as just Facebook and Twitter and feel that they are only for personal purposes and significant time-wasters.
Those are the myths. Now let’s discuss the reality. Social media constitutes many forms of interaction, some occurring in multiple forms on a single platform, such as Facebook, while some have a sole focus such as Pinterest’s specialisation in the visual space.
As with many things in life, with social media you get out of it what you put in. When used productively it is highly useful and can be targeted to your industry and interests. I know that the people I am connected to on my social networks would agree. Social media is only a waste of time if you choose to use it wastefully.
Within your organisation, you probably hear most of the chatter about social media coming from your marketing team. While it is becoming a larger and more important part of what they do, social media is not just used by marketers to push a message or attract ‘likes’. On the surface, it may seem that way and it may even be true in your organisation, but that only means they’re doing it wrong. From a marketing perspective, it should be about putting a human voice to the company and interacting with people in positive ways. Building a relationship is the ultimate goal, but that is something that occurs over time after many beneficial interactions with your customers.
The beauty of social media is that you can enjoy its various flavours and platforms and use them within your organisation, network or industry, not just for marketing or fun or with friends and existing contacts. If you are an active Linkedin user, you are already aware of the ability to network and make connections with other people in your field and industry. You may not realise that Linkedin is a social network. Even if you do, you may feel that other networks are not for business but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When it comes to networking, social media opens up a world of people to you who are knowledgeable about the topics you are interested in. Likewise, it opens up your knowledge and insight to others who would like to listen to what you have to say.
On Twitter alone, for example, I follow people on topics that range from photography to treasury management to RFID chips and, of course, experts on the use of social media. Because you choose who to connect with on social media, it is an excellent tool for creating a stream that is full of information you have an interest in.
On most platforms, it is also easy to follow brands or companies that you respect or are interested in. Many of them share research information or whitepapers as part of their efforts to engage with their followers, and that can be another rich source of information for you.
Networking is most commonly thought of as meeting people in person, chatting with them, trading business cards, etc. While that still holds true, it is also easy, in large cities at least, to find ‘meetup’ groups that get together ‘in real life’ (IRL). In these groups, you get to connect in person with people who you are following online. You also get to meet new people in person who you can then follow online. Because these groups are often, by nature, diverse they offer an opportunity to meet people in treasury, banking, finance, accounting and many more unrelated or peripherally related fields.
There are also industry-specific groups that may exist in your area; however, the traction in treasury and finance has been relatively small, which is unfortunate. From an online perspective, there are many professional groups on Linkedin but they don’t tend to have IRL meetups because they are not localised geographically.
Social media truly shines when it comes to customer service. You’re not in customer service you say? Think again. Among our customers, I count our banks (yes, our banks) and everyone we service within our company, not the least of whom is our treasurer. If you operate in any sort of shared services culture, this particularly applies to you when it comes to business units, divisions, departments, etc.
While your vendors and banks are traditionally responsible for providing service to you, I believe that it is our responsibility to cultivate that relationship into a two-way street that is mutually beneficial. In this way, it becomes important to manage how we interact with our vendors and banks, in essence, treating them as our customers.
This is the point at which the social media streams diverge. So far, I have discussed use of commonly available platforms to communicate publicly with people outside your organisation, but what happens when you want to have proprietary or private discussions?
The Need for Privacy
While you would need to be a fairly large company to use an internal social network, there are vendors who have created what are now fairly mature, functional social platforms for internal use by companies. Company size is less related to deployment and more related to the number of employees. There is a certain critical mass that has to be reached in order for conversations to continue.
The obvious primary advantage of an internal network is that communication can be sequestered behind the company firewall and is not public. It also becomes a network of people who you already have something in common with and information that is directly related to your company and industry. You may be able to separate yourselves into communities such as a treasury community and a finance community. This is great to have a place to collect related discussions but it’s important not to use that to wall yourselves off from the rest of the organisation. Doing so defeats the purpose and the advantage of a social network to the members of the community.
The disadvantage of the internal approach is that you lose any connection to the outside world and the valuable contacts and information that exist on public social sites. For that reason, I believe it’s important to encourage cross-pollination of links, posts and information by employees, from public social networks to the private social network. This, of course, requires that you allow access to social networking sites for your employees. If you do not, you are already at an informational disadvantage and a recruiting disadvantage that will only get worse as you hire more college graduates, who will expect access as part of their employment.
A Social Media Policy
This, then, leads to an important piece of the puzzle: a social media policy. There is the ever-present issue of avoiding productivity loss due to excessive use, but it is also important to protect the company from liability or damage to its reputation resulting from an ill-advised post. It provides guidelines to employees on what is acceptable to post and can also include guidance on the tone the firm wants to cultivate in its messages. It avoids misunderstandings by employees but it also provides a framework to hold them accountable if they make a mistake.
On a related note, if employees are writing posts that are or could be connected to the firm, there should also be a plan to deal with a Tweet or Facebook post that has gone wrong. Dealing with a problem in the social space is very important because it’s so visible and spreads so easily and quickly. A plan should specify how a problem will be addressed, where it should be addressed (ideally, the same platform on which it occurred) and what tone will be taken.
Remember that admitting the problem and dealing with it quickly and constructively is far better perceived than avoiding or taking draconian measures. Look up Federal Express and their response to a YouTube video of one of their employees for a quick lesson in how it can be when it’s done well. While you’re looking that up, a quick search will also reveal many sources for sample social media policies that you can start with. Undoubtedly, the lawyers will want to be involved (and possibly your IT group) but it’s a good starting point.
Now that you have an idea of what can be achieved by using internal and external social networks for treasury and finance as well as other areas of interest, I will conclude with some next steps:
- Start small and get your feet wet slowly. Try it personally before engaging professionally.
- Talk to your teenagers about how it works if you are unsure or uncomfortable. It’s second-nature for most of them.
- Twitter is a good place to get started. Less personal than Facebook, it offers the ability to search out people in your field who are discussing the finance and treasury topics you are interested in. It can also be fairly low on the time commitment scale, since you consume as much or as little as you like.
- Encourage your co-workers or your employees to take part as well. At the same time, determine whether you want to connect directly with employees. It’s not always a good idea to see everyone’s Facebook posts on what they did last weekend. It’s also important to remember yourself not to post anything you wouldn’t share with another professional because the posts you make are out there for everyone to see and can affect your current or future employment.
Finally, regardless of the need to keep it appropriate, remember to have fun and enjoy yourself at the same time. That’s what will keep you coming back and participating more, which allows you to take away more.
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