In late 2011, a group of three researchers from Australia’s Deakin University (VindayaSenadheera, Matthew Warren and Shona Leitch) started an ambitious undertaking, meant to reveal the way in which Australian banks make use of some of the newest tools at their disposal. They took a look at the strategies for social media usage employed by twelve of the most important banks in the country. What they found is that, in comparison to their peers in other corners of the world, Aussie banks were not all too quick in implementing these brand new channels of communication. Once they realized their potential and the benefits they could bring, it seems their attitude switched to the ‘sky’s the limit’ mode. While a more open and proactive attitude is highly welcome and also refreshing to make note of, the view across the board is that most banks don’t seem to have too much of a coherent strategy in place, when it comes to the way in which they relate to their client base across social media channels.

Social media can successfully supplement the activity of numerous departments within any institution, and particularly those in a bank. Client support, advertising, and marketing can all benefit from having real time access to feedback from existing customers. Since the Internet is more or less free, a contemporary forum in which freedom of speech reigns supreme, this feedback will sometimes take on a negative slant. However, there are strengths to be put to good use even in handling backlash: by having direct, unmediated access even to negative attention, the banks can handle it with increased efficiency and professionalism.

The study, titled ‘How Australian Banks Use Social Media’ reveals several interesting aspects about the uptake of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube among Aussie lenders. For one thing, the country’s biggest banks are also the most active (and proactive) users of such platforms, probably because they are the ones most penalized for having lagged behind the rest of the world. This, in a country in which a vast majority of the population is IT literate enough to own a smartphone and have mobile online access. A recent study has even revealed that Australians are more likely than the Brits and the Americans to take their online banking to go, via mobile.

Surprisingly, the late 2011 study revealed that most Australian banks preferred Twitter to Facebook, where most of the active banks had only recently started to engage in communication with their clients. However, by far their favorite channel of communication with users is Youtube, where several players in the banking industry regularly produce personalized content. On the Bankwest Facebook pageanyone can see that such a tool is best used for informational purposes. At the same time, that page also proves that the most efficient and genuine kind of communication is born on pages which speak to their users for reasons other than constant self-promotion.