Should your firm be social media savvy?

The use of social media within the short term finance industry is an issue which is still yet to be completely decided.

Though it is increasingly common for brokers to have a growing presence on TwitterLinkedIn and, to a lesser extent, Facebook, and an increasing number of leads and introductions are generated over the web, many firms appear to be in two minds when it comes to having an online presence.

The advantages and drawbacks for lenders, in particular, seem harder to fathom. While it is undoubtedly advantageous to have a further, and quicker, form of communication at your disposal, many have questioned the quality of any business generated through social media and the time needed to find it.

Some funders, indeed, are conspicuous only by their absence from Twitter in an effort to more closely control their online presence.

We spoke to Bob Sturges, Head of Communications at Omni Capital, to find out why his firm made the decision not to be active on Twitter and Facebook but to engage more proactively and regularly with LinkedIn.

He explained: “There are a number of reasons for this: foremost among them, and speaking frankly, most of us at Omni Capital are just too old to be a part of the Twitter generation! We know how it works but there are few of us at a senior level who choose to use it in our social lives.

“Secondly, it would require additional resources and time. Like most bridgers, we run a tight and well-managed business and as such have little time to engage in non-core activities. While Twitter is not necessarily a 24-hour a day operation, it still requires time devoted to it.”

He added: “Beyond that, we remain to be convinced of its value as a business-to-business communication tool. Though we’re flexible in this view, and certainly haven’t closed our mind to the advantages of social media – we’re agnostic rather than atheistic – we have yet to see any compelling evidence to the contrary.”

Social media’s reach is most apt for reducing the time and distance between conversing partners, be they friendly or professional. In this industry, however, this does not necessarily ring true.

Bob said: “It’s a fact that bridging is a very small community. In many respects, it could be described as a bit incestuous (in the nicest sense)! If there’s anything we need to know or be aware of, we will hear about it before too long.

“You may hear of it sooner on Twitter, but because of the scale and nature of the sector and the way that relationships work, news will eventually get to us regardless.”

At the other end of the scale, Shawbrook Bank maintain an extremely active presence on the microblogging site, keeping readers abreast of any updates to its products or events and engaging in friendly conversation.

Karen Bennett, Head of Sales & Marketing, Commercial Mortgages at Shawbrook, oversees the bank’s online interactions.

She told us: “For Shawbrook, Twitter is an informal way of staying in touch with our brokers, clients and the wider industry; it’s about conversation and relationship-building, not self-promotion and product sales.

“We feel that having an arena in which to chat and share news with the industry is a vital part of our communications. Of course, face-to-face and telephone communication will never be replaced by social media. We put huge emphasis on personal relationships and human contact at Shawbrook.”

At the same time, however, the bank’s interactions with its customers and brokers are not without use. For many, it’s an opportunity to pass on vital feedback on products and processes.

Karen added: “Social media is one of many ways that we can connect with and listen to our brokers, clients and the industry. As well as joining in discussions about some of the more serious issues affecting the industry, it’s also a great way of showing a bit of our personality – and we love hearing some of the more light-hearted updates from our brokers.

“For us, using social media makes sound business sense.”

Though the firm shies away from Twitter, Omni Capital currently maintains a strong presence via a LinkedIn page, which gives brokers an opportunity to keep up to date with its products, latest news and noteworthy achievements but, crucially, allows the firm to redirect viewers to its own website.

Bob added: “We favour LinkedIn as we feel it’s a proper business tool delivering results that can be measured and evaluated with considerable accuracy and relative ease. We’re pleased with our presence there as it’s verifiably driving more traffic to our website, which in turn gives us a better chance of building new relationships and converting leads to deals.”

Perhaps, therefore, it is down to a firm’s own corporate identity as to whether they appear in more informal online spheres. Whether they serve to gain the latest news from the brokers and keep abreast of their own updates, or to provide a more cohesive impression of the lender as a whole, it’s clear that such online forums will have an increasingly important role in the short term finance world.

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