Exercising influence when trust is lost

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In circumstances where financial institutions’ reputation and trust are at an all-time low, how do they reach people to change opinions and form new ones?  This is a question that many in financial services have no doubt been thinking about in recent months.

There are various techniques to influence others that encompass just about all the tools public relations advisers can use.  Deciding on which methods are the most appropriate in a program can be difficult – especially with the variety of social media platforms now available.

Like any other communications program, the basic steps in developing such a strategy include:

  • who do I want to reach?
  • what do I want to say?
  • how do I reach them (what platforms do I use)?
  • how do I measure the impact of what I am doing?

These days social media is recognised as playing a big role in influencing people and reinforcing messages, while the importance of traditional media seems to be played down.  However, unless you have followers or contacts that number in the hundreds of thousands on the platforms you use, which few in financial services can claim, social media needs to be used in conjunction with other methods.

An often-overlooked element of social media is that while it can be an influencer, it is also influenced by other media.

An op-ed in a metropolitan or national newspaper has the potential to reach thousands of readers.

A media release with a strong hook that gets picked up in a variety of media outlets, reaches multiples of this.

So, unless they are equivalent to a Trump or a Kardashian, financial services organisations and their spokespeople are unlikely to get anywhere near these numbers with their online postings. Numbers can be increased through email contact, but this is really using the internet as a traditional direct mail platform.  And reaching existing clients may not spread the word to new audiences.

For financial services organisations a key element in adding credibility and influence to messages is third party endorsement.  If someone else says your opinion is worth listening to or sharing or that what you’re doing makes sense, it increases impact and credibility dramatically.

With traditional media this is almost an automatic by-product.  A journalist thinks what you’re doing or saying worth reporting on air or in print. An editor thinks your article is worth publishing.

Recognition from such third-party endorsement leads to other communication opportunities, like being quoted on other issues and presenting papers at seminars.

For most people social media blogs on their own pages don’t have this endorsement – unless someone reposts it so it is seen by additional followers. Mainly it’s people who you know already that look at your blog.

So, getting others to make reference to your video or blog on their pages, or to forward it to their own friends or followers, is necessary to exercise influence.

Another consideration is that no matter how terrific and effective social media can be, care is needed with platform choices.

There are now trust issues with some platforms that might not be helpful in adding credibility to opinions expressed by people using them. Another factor is the ways lines are becoming blurred between sponsored content and independent reporting in social media.

We are increasingly being reminded of the old truism – the media is the message.

In addition, some “personal” social media sites such as Facebook (as opposed to “business” sites such as LinkedIn) can act as lightning rods, broadening the impact of a problem and encouraging uninformed criticism.

The reality for financial services organisations is that for some time there is going to be distrust. And this is likely to be an issue in coming months and years for those rebuilding their reputation.

While internal cultural change and a new client service approach is needed, stakeholders such as opinion formers, the industry at large, clients, regulators, government and others that can influence the progress of financial services organisations, need to be made aware of specific changes and understand them so that the wider community is influenced.