Finance And Online Communities – SEB Invites Cash Management Pros to Join...

Finance And Online Communities – SEB Invites Cash Management Pros to Join TheBenche.com Hoping to Quickly Grow its Member Base

I love seeing financial institutions trying to leverage social media to better engage with their clients or their target markets online. But I must point out straight away that launching an online community from scratch is unarguably the hardest thing to do: not only you have to drive awareness of the platform to increase the number of visits and hopefully registration, then you have to give your members a good reason to come back on a regular basis, and an even better reason to spend some of their precisous time to contribute there instead of more established websites or communities.

Building an active online community takes lots of effort, time, budget, and a long-term vision: it would be inappropriate to plug your community off after just 12 months simply because you didn’t manage to reach a critical mass of members or a decent level of activity on the platform. More importantly, you have to RESPECT your members for the time they spent on your platform. What if Linkedin was to shut down next week? How would you feel after investing so much time building your online profile? I guaranty you I know how I would feel, and I won’t put it into words in this post!

In the last 18 months, a few online communities were terminated such as Fortis’ innovative network for entrepreneurs, Join2Grow.biz, Advanta’s Ideablob, or Capital One’s Slingshot. I wish they all had a contingency plan in place, an “exit strategy”.

Virtually every company which failed:
* spent too much money upfront on the interface or driving too much traffic to the platform too soon,
* didn’t focus on community management,
* didn’t fully leverage social media channels like twitter, facebook or linkedin to spread the word,
* didn’t manage to articulate the value of their service or REWARD their members for their time and contribution.

Having said that, a few financial institutions are doing it right: Bank of America’s smallbusiness online community or the OPENForum by American Express.
SEB’s TheBenche.com ¦ Your Financial Community (Formerly “Trade Community”)
TheBenche-Forum-VB
I already covered TheBenche.com on Visible Banking. I invite you to read my post from June 09 Happy Six-Month Anniversary to ‘The Benche’, SEB’s Online Community for Trade Finance Professionals! 1,500 Companies/Members – Visitors from 170 countries. By the way, SEB did a great job responding on their Forum.

I still enjoy the very concept of the Benche which is (was?) to create a global commmunity for Trade Finance professionals: give them a platform to find insightful industry related content, network with their peers, share their views, build their profile, and get access to tools to increase their productivity.

Two days ago Hakan Aldrin, the Benche’s Sheriff (??), reached out to the members to officially welcome the Cash Management professionals to the Benche.

a Marketing Coup to Quickly Increase its Member Base?
I am not questionning SEB’s motivation, the bank truly wants to create something special and provide a valuable service to one of its target market. Like any other communities, The Benche is surely struggling to grow its member base, let alone the level of activity from the members. Moreover they launched 18 months ago, and it costs a decent amount of money to host such as community, so I expect more and more pressure from the Management to see some results. The size of the community is always one of the key indicators.

I believe this announcement is more of a marketing coup than a fundamental change of strategy or redesign exercise. First of all the interface is almost identical for both Trade and Cash but for the colour. Then both business areas are very close. Most of the content so far is flagged for, and presented to, both business areas.

TheBenche-CashTheBenche-Trade
I wish SEB the best of luck in this new milestone for the Benche, and I am curious to see the impact on the member base. I also wonder how the existing community will react to this slight change of focus.

Your Focus is your Strenght
The more focused and the more relevant, the better for a community especially in B2B. I am concerned The Benche is now en route to compete against larger, more established, online communities for finance professionals…

Let me mention two other interesting topics: REWARDING your contributors and asking for member feedback.

More Visibility For the Most Active Members
In case you missed it, on March 19th The Benche introduced a mechanism (stars) to give more visibility to its most active contributors.
I welcome this initiative. Nevertheless, I wonder how much more visibility the best contributors will get on the platform? What is the reward in addition to a couple of stars on your profile? Do they plan to display the most active members on the homepage like BoA does on its award winning community? Also, reaching the 500 comments mark seems out of this world, doesn’t it?

Excellent idea, but it needs to be a bit more attractive to urge more people to contribute.

Member Feedback & Social Media
Hakan is keen to gather member feedback as often as possible, which is a good thing to do as long as you keep your members updated and show them the enhancements to the platform based on their feedback.

I still think that SEB is missing out on social media and could make a better use of their twitter page (only 45 followers – 25/03/2010) andfacebook page (205 fans – 25/03/2010) to increase the visibility of the Benche and its members.

It is also a good opportunity to reward the best ideas / comments, and make the most of your presence on facebook and twitter. For instance, invite your members to leave their suggestions on your facebook page, and have members vote for the best ones. The winners could be featured on the blog or in the search results… Hakan, I invite you to give me a shout! 😉

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