Harnessing the power of social leadership and employee advocacy in the financial services sector

Andrea T Edwards

For the last 18 months, I’ve had the great privilege to work with BNP Paribas Securities Services across Asia Pacific, to inspire their talented employees to become active and engaged social leaders.

I’ve worked with and for many companies, and I can say, hand on heart, this is the nicest group of professionals I have ever worked with. I thank my lucky stars everyday getting to do the sort of work I do.

My focus is always on B2B and my clients have been multinationals, tech, logistics, and fintech; however, traditional financial services is definitely a more challenging sector – for reasons of culture, security, and stringent codes of conduct related to regulatory constraints.

With that said, I am hearing more and more from professionals in this sector, with the focus swinging from an industry discouraging its employees on social media, to now asking them to embrace it. It’s been a big and rapid shift, and professionals are mostly struggling with where to start and making it a priority. It’s also still a people-driven business, so while digital is starting to impact this industry, relationships continue to matter most of all.

With that said, please read the latest Trust Barometer from Edelman, where once again, activating employee voices is up there as a massive opportunity for all businesses.

Introducing Michelle Cockrill, an award-winning marketer

Michelle Cockrill BNP ParibasTo help understand the challenges in the banking industry, I thought it would be valuable to interview the driving force behind this initiative, Michelle Cockrill, director of marketing and communications, Asia Pacific, for BNP Paribas Securities Services. A true pioneer for the financial services sector.

In 18 months, Michelle has tripled their LinkedIn followers in the APAC region and has supported usually shy technical experts to share their expertise online and become a voice in their respective areas of expertise.

Why do you think embracing and driving a social leadership culture is so important?

“I believe in delivering tangible business results and continuous improvement. So as a marketer that means having to rethink how we do things to continually succeed. We know we cannot do what we have always done, because the way our clients engage with us has changed. We have to produce relevant and compelling content (dare I mention the words thought leadership) and reach clients where they are.

We have two areas of focus:

1.    Creating excellent, customer-centric content

We typically deliver content using a multi-channel approach (emails, website, face-to-face, media, social media, etc.) but we recognise that brand impact online has significantly dropped.

Our analysis shows one of the biggest opportunities to reach our clients is in the hands of our employees. They potentially have more power to directly reach clients in today’s crowded world of information overload, where social media algorithms are making it harder for brands to reach their target audiences.

2.        Social leadership (or employee advocacy)

I believe the biggest opportunity lies in having people who are active and credible experts in their own domain, and not let them be hidden away within the depths of the large organisation. These individuals are proof to our followers that our organisation is full of highly intelligent people who know our industry inside-out.

Take Gary O’Brien for example, who demonstrates his tremendous knowledge of Bond Connect or Stock Connect and how to access China’s capital markets, or Madhu Gayer, who is well regarded across the world for his ideas on #BigData #ESG and his work around the UN Sustainable Development goals (#SDG).

The golden rule of social leadership

What lies at the heart of what I advise our team is:

Only share what is meaningful to you and what is useful to your network.

We encourage our employees to establish themselves first as someone of value in their communities. They can do this by defining what they want to be known for, and then regularly sharing their own content, industry content and BNP Paribas content, but always with their insights and opinions layered on top to give the reader a reason why they should read the article shared.

This culture (i.e. giving to others what they might find useful) flows into our advocacy programme. We don’t want employees to share company content because they think they have to; we want them to share information because it gives something of value to their network.

What are some of the successes you’ve seen so far?

More followers. The global marketing team laid the foundations several years ago, and we now have 53,000 followers on the BNP Paribas Securities Services LinkedIn page and are seeing higher engagement in what we share, with both our employees actively engaging, and clients too. Bear in mind we tailor content to a very specific group of institutional investors, so we are not after large numbers of followers.

Higher employee engagement. I have also seen the personal shift in the employees who are embracing social leadership. We are at the beginning of our journey in Asia Pacific and some employees have preferred to ‘wait and watch’ others succeed first. The turning point often comes after their first post, when they see that a key prospect has engaged with them. I see their eyes light up when with the realisation that they can effect change. It is very heartening and as they continue to build their presence, they start to see the deeper impact they can achieve.

Sales impact. We have some excellent examples of how an online presence has helped our sales teams extend their network and enhance their reputation. Ours is a longer sales cycle, so we don’t expect instant sales from our social presence.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

1. Secure access to technology

The financial services industry has tight regulations and cyber security concerns, so access at work to platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter is not standard. Most employees have read-only access on their computers in the office. This means they have to be social on their phones.

2. Regulated content

We also have stringent regulations in our industry around product marketing, so our social leadership arguably makes for better reading, as it is about sharing expertise, providing insights and commentary about topical subjects, but not product/solution selling.

3. Culture

And finally, there is the cultural aspect, which should never be underestimated in any employee initiative. Changing mindsets in an industry that has been told in the past they cannot do it, to encouraging people to embrace a new way of communicating is a journey. This is particularly so in a bank with a mix of Asian and European cultures, where we tend to be somewhat humble and reserved. It’s not a quick change, as we are talking about a deep mental shift, so this is to be expected.

What is your hope for the longer term?

I hope our employees come to understand and embrace the opportunity we have to drive conversations and transform our industry on social platforms, particularly around #PositiveBanking and #SustainableGrowth. I believe we have an opportunity to effect change through our active participation on social media.

Social leadership is about engaging in conversations, talking to each other, respectfully challenging ideas, driving innovation through collaboration, or lifting up someone else. This article is a great example of lifting someone else up.

For your peers in your industry, what advice would you offer them?

  • Lead by example
  • Motivate and engage
  • Work with the experts

Working with an external trainer will bring greater credibility to your objectives and explain how a modern approach to selling can yield tangible business results. A word of caution: be selective in who you choose. Getting the right trainer – one who understands that this is a deep culture change – and someone who is a respected voice in their own right, is important. A person with a powerful presence will instantly gain credibility with your team.

Whilst we still have a long way to go to really deliver the benefits of social leadership, we have started the journey and hope that our insights can help others on their own journeys.”

Conclusion

Thank you so much Michelle for your insights and thanks for being an awesome partner too. Culture change is definitely not easy, in any type of business, but when you make social leadership a core focus, you can transform your business from the inside out, through the voice of your people. It is phenomenal when I have the opportunity to see this transformation and to be part of it.

Are you in the financial services industry? What is your experience with social media? Are you being encouraged to embrace it? Does your business get why it’s important today?

Cheers

Andrea

Check out our co-authored Best Selling Book – Unleash Your Voice – Powerful Public Speaking for Every Woman – that I’m proud to be part of!

Andrea T Edwards

Want proof social leadership transforms business and attracts customers?

Check out this case study with IBM Asia Pacific. Incredible results.

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I believe it’s time for all of us to embrace our voice and embrace the future. We do this by working and living out loud with meaning, intention and by being true to ourselves.

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