Financial institutions are not getting the proper attention they deserve for their social media efforts. While banks are frequently criticized for their lukewarm social media interactions with customers, credit card companies aggressively engage and solicit the college-age crowd.

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A recent research report from the Change Sciences Group confirms, yet again, that banks must not shy away from using social media to interact with their customers. The group gave top marks to USAA and Ally Bank in social media efforts due largely to their authenticity.

In a previous article, we pointed out that banks have joined the social media world without jumping in completely. Most big banks operate a Facebook page and at least one Twitter account — which often do little and lack widespread popularity or consumer engagement. As the study shows, these placeholder accounts do not improve consumers’ image of the brand, and, if anything, could have the opposite effect.

Part of the power of social media is its wide range of personalization.

When banks create a social-media presence but do little to foster interpersonal relationships, consumers and competitors can use it against them. Imagine if you started bashing Chase on Twitter and got a tweet from Ally Bank asking you why you’re dissatisfied, and would you like to speak to an agent?

Credit card companies take the opposite approach

When the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act – the CARD Act – was ratified in 2009, the companies had to change much of their practices to get in line with the new rules. In particular, the CARD Act prohibited on-campus solicitation.

Credit-card companies found that social media offered a way to reach students without breaking the CARD rules.

Card issuers then turned to social media, according to an analysis by Eboni Nelson, a law professor at University of South Carolina.

These marketers left campus and headed to Facebook, where they offer promotional items, discounts, and rewards. They also utilize mailing lists and alumni associations, as colleges agree to enter into financial partnerships.

The efforts proved successful in reaching students. A 2010 survey showed 76 percent of University of Houston students reported having received a credit card offer since 2009.

So while banks effectively reach out to offer and market their products, they still do not seem to provide a suitable social media avenue for customer service.

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