Visible Banking: initial comments on Bank of America small business community site

Visible Banking: initial comments on Bank of America small business community site

Boasmallbusinessonlinecommunitylogo

A couple of hours ago, I found out on finextra the recent announcement from Bank of America:Bank of America launches small business community site.

As you know, I am always very enthusiastic when a bank launches an innovative service leveraging web 2.0 features such as blogging or social networking.

In the last couple of months, I discovered and reviewed many web 2.0 initiatives such as:
Join2Grow – Fortis initiative in the social networking space (I invite you to check my interview of Catherine Ossemerct, Head of Media-Channels)
pickuradvisor – ING innovative blogging platform launched first in India then in Hong-Kong
wtfcollective.com – Today, I met with the Head of Brand at Barclaycard to talk about the blogging/social networking site they recently launched to support their new onepulse card in London. I have scheduled with him a video interview next week.

BoA launches an online community for SMB to Learn, Connect & Share
In that case, BoA’s goal is to create a trusted online community for SMB. It is an excellent way to try a new, and fairly inexpensive, communication channel with their key market. Moreover, it will produce great learnings for their Experiential Marketing team.

So first of all, my congratulations to Mark Hogan, President of small business banking for Bank of America, and to his team for this excellent initiative.
Mark, I am very keen to get in touch with you. I would like to interview you or someone from your team asap and find out more about your initiative in the online community space.

UGC: a potential threat, but what a great opportunity for banks
Usually, User Generated Content is perceived more as a high risk (brand damage) than a great opportunity. Indeed if you do it right, you can not only win back angry customers but occasionally you will even turn them into your best brand ambassadors.

In the web 2.0 era, your client expectations have changed: they won’t hesitate to express themselves online, and they want you to show that you listen to them and prove that you care. You need to respond to them.

Even very negative comments are useful as long as you respond and explain the reasons behind your (unpopular) decisions. You may even have to admit your mistakes. People will understand. Honesty pays.
You will create trusted, stronger, relationships with your clients.
Please check my interview with Fergus Hampton, CEO of Millward Brown Precis.

My initial comments
Today (10th October 2007), I have spent an hour on the small business online community platform. Please find below my initial comments.

This initiative sits in the social networking space. It is a good platform, BoA successfully leveraged Web 2.0 features (like blogging, tagging and rss feeds) Overall, the interface is intuitive and it has a lot to offer. There seems to be a lot of activity on the site which counts several active members. And it feels like you are part of a community.

Can’t you build your own network and contact directly other members?
But in this first release even if as a registered member you can post, comment or review articles and find other members, it looks like you can’t really create a network of contacts nor directly contact the other members via the platform.

For instance, I couldn’t find any security settings which would let me display my details on my profile.
As an anecdote, I found the profile of another banker who found a way round that limitation: instead of his website he put his email address “http://johnDoe@hotmail.com”. Clever. It shows that many members surely want to contact or be contacted by other members.

BoasmallbusinessonlinecommunitylearThe goal is to create trusted business relationships, isn’t it? It is one of the 3 pillars of the community: Connect, learn and share.

Good example of member engagement: reward your most active contributors
Recruiting new members is not too difficult but engaging them, urging them to visit the site and contribute on regular basis is by experience more complicated. It is more complicated, AND it is critical. You need good UGC on your platform to sustain the growth and the quality of your member base.

To be successful, you need to reward your most active members. Members are giving away some of their spare time because they are seeking new opportunities. Give them more visibility!

On the UGC side, BoA do a good job engaging their members. They used good and proven features like questions/answers (Yahoo! Answers or Linkedin Answers, an excellent way to drive regular traffic and motivate/reward your members giving them more visibility)

a few facts and figures
On Wednesday 10th October 07 at 21:30 GMT, it looked like:
* 20 members were online
* they have over 1080 registered members
* they have over 150 threads on their forums, over 20 expert articles, over 15 Success Stories
* the first profile was created on 19th July 07.

LPO / Conversion rate: the BoA logo links to their SMB Homepage. A splash page may help
LogoboaA discret but visible “powered by Bank of America” is displayed at the top of the screen.

By the way, in terms of branding and presence on their social networking site BoA, Fortis/Join2Grow, HSBC/yourpointofview.com and Barclaycard/wtfcollective.com have adopted very different approaches.

I like BoA’s approach. The logo is present to remind you who provides this useful service, and I don’t find it intrusive.

I would just challenge the link to the BoA SMB’s homepage. I would be curious to find out about the journey from a community member who land on the SMB homepage. I suspect that people could easily get lost and that the conversion rate is probably low. Especially with a small number of registered members (and an even smaller number of active members).

I would probably test a splash page with for instance a few words on the online community, and maybe an option to know more about a specific product, chat online or be contacted by an advisor.

In the next couple of days, I will share with you more specific comments on the interface.

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