In my opinion, one of the most exciting things about web 2.0 is the way that it creates all sorts of links that wouldn’t survive in a non-internet enabled world.

I’ve written a post on our sister blog over at getsponge.com that’s all about ‘weak ties’ – you know, those Facebook friends you never, ever speak to, or that LinkedIn contact you once sat next to for a week three years ago.

Although too many weak ties risks you disappearing beneath a deluge of boring status updates, connecting to people beyond your direct circle is what helps you uncover new things or learn about something fresh.

This cross fertilisation of thinking is what excites me.  Years ago, a financial institution consisted of people who knew about financial matters.  Yes, a lot of them might well have had side interests in stamp collecting or zoology but even those with the most interesting of hobbies would rarely have been encouraged to share their knowledge with the world at large.

Now, a financial institution can – and does – have an opinion on all sorts of social and economic issues that range far beyond the usual scope of banking.  If you don’t believe me, check out BBVA’s OpenMind forum which genuinely embodies its aim of ‘sharing knowledge for a better future.’

Being able to quickly and easily communicate with customers on a whole range of issues massively increases the potential for meaningful relationships that add value to everyone, but it does raise some obstacles too.

Using that same method of cross-fertilisation, the inspiration behind today’s post came from this article by Michael Austin published in Psychology Today.  It is actually about reading books, but there are some really useful points to consider when it comes to customer communication.

“It may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communications media has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live.”

That’s not a quote about digital information but rather a quote from Adler’s 1940 classic, How to read a BookMichael Austin considers Adler’s remark and makes the point that one downside of internet communication is that it has encouraged short form communication – tweets, status updates, blog posts etc.

Whilst these are great for getting a message across – and we wholeheartedly endorse all digital channels for financial services – they can train customers to skim information and take in knowledge at a very superficial level.  They can also encourage us to write about things at a similarly superficial level and whilst sometimes that’s fine, it’s not always appropriate.

Austin suggests that we should all read more books – proper, long ones! – so that our knowledge gets deeper as well as wider.  Taking the time to read (or write) a more detailed argument or explanation takes more work but it can ultimately be more rewarding too.

So, what are the deeper questions that we want clients to think about when it comes to financial planning?  What are the more complex issues you should be writing to customers about?

For years, the financial sector has looked for ways to escape from margin crushing price wars.  Price sensitive ‘rate tarts’ are no way near as attractive as loyal, long term customers, yet – as an industry – we’ve struggled to know how to ‘add value’, how to take the communication to a deeper level.

The digital revolution is a chance to change that.  It’s a chance to cheaply distribute in-depth knowledge that really deepens understanding, and a chance to publicise it using all of the shorter form digital tools that have become a part of everyday life, such as Facebook, Twitter and the like.

So, next time you’re planning a social strategy, think about what customers really want to see.  What interactive tools would be useful, what beautiful data could impress them, what are the questions they’ve never really found answer to or understood?

Digital financial services have a chance to really improve financial education so let’s just make sure we don’t reduce everything down to 140 characters or less.

Sometimes, more really is… more.

And if you’re curious about how to read more books and benefit from them, here’s the article that got me thinking:  Want a better life? Read a book

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Hazel McHugh

Before becoming a freelance writer and digital marketer, Hazel was Group Marketing Manager at Santander.
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