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Benchmark analysis: Social media in the UK banking sector

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

How are UK banks using social media?

Dave Wallace and the team at NMD+, a London-based creative, data and technology consultancy, have launched a quarterly social media benchmark on a sample of UK banks with the aim to identify those companies that are using social most engagingly and productively, and reveal the overall state of social media in the industry.

Banking on social

The increased reliance on digital channels has required a technology transformation, but now it needs a cultural change. Banks have to find more productive ways of digitally engaging with customers. From using data, through to developing content and personalising experiences, banks must think and act like media businesses.

The social media platforms excel at customer engagement and provide a window into possibilities. As a way of determining how ready the banking industry for embracing change, we decided to understand their use of social media today. We aim to run this benchmarking exercise quarterly.

To do this, we have looked at a selection of UK banks and developed a benchmarking tool that we use to score each bank that we analysed. The benchmarking tool looked across a range of parameters including followers, engagement, design content and focus and to try to minimise subjectivity we weighted the benchmark based on some audience research that we undertook.

What we have seen is that social media has become an intrinsic part of every bank’s operation that we looked at. Every bank has a presence on the key channels.

The figures for followers are not trivial; HSBC has, for example, reached over 2,000,000 followers on both their Facebook and LinkedIn page.

Banking Followers Graph
Image source: NMD+

Which banks currently stand out

Challenger banks, including Starling, Revolut and Monzo are the trailblazers for utilising social media to create engagement with customers.

Of the traditional banks, HSBC is the best performer. They have a high number of followers and high levels of engagement.

RBS, First Direct and Nationwide score poorly; their social media platforms are the least utilised with low engagement. 


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Which platforms are a key focus

Facebook and LinkedIn dominate in terms of followers as might be expected from the audience and profile of the banks themselves.

Banks on social platforms table
Image source: NMD+

Twitter is also important, with Instagram as the least active platform. This is unsurprising, as due to its proposition and purpose, its use is less obvious. However, we believe that it does offer great opportunities as it has a ready-made audience. Starling has developed some exciting content for Instagram and demonstrated that if the content is right, an audience will engage.

What is social generally used for? 

Overall the Banks are tending to use social media as a marketing and communications outlet. This feels passive as a strategy and is potentially unproductive. Whilst it is a given that social media should be used as a communications platform, simply recycling advertising material feels like a wasted opportunity.

There are so many other engagement possibilities that should be considered. An example is polling, like this from Barclays on Twitter.

Braclays Tweet

Social channels are increasingly emerging as customer support channels. Having systems in place to be able to respond quickly and systematically to customers is imperative. Leaving customers hanging can have very negative consequences.

The elephant in the room is that overall, banks do have to accept that a percentage of interactions will be negative. Social is a great mechanism to vent and be heard. But it is essential to think about ways of turning a share of these negative conversations into positives and other forms of funnelling customer complaints away from the social feeds. Otherwise, the danger is that they become “walls of pain”. 

So, for example, Nationwide has set up the twitter handle @AskNationwide.

Nationwide Twitter

What are banks doing well?

Generally, all banks use LinkedIn effectively, posting corporate content or content that benefits business banking customers. This audience-oriented focus suits the purpose of the platform and creates an appeal to prospective employees, employees and specific customers.

Most banks have adopted consistent branding and design across all the platforms, which ensures a professionally branded experience.

Some of the banks have started creating targeted posts (e.g. helpful banking guides for kids; HSBC) that are useful for a specific target audience.



Some observations and thoughts

Posting frequency can be sporadic and low. A fundamental principle of social media is that the more a brand engages with the platforms, the greater the engagement they will see. Optimum engagement requires at least daily posting. HSBC actively encourage staff to post on social media, obviously through a managed editorial process, and they have seen the benefits of that in terms of followers and engagement.

Very few of the banks are teaming up with influencers on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. Starling is an example of one that has an active influencer outreach program, which it showcases on Instagram.

Starling Bank Instagram Post

Aligning with active influencers could help with engagement and ensure and more positive customer experience.

Most banks are not utilising the features available to them on Instagram. Instagram has a suite of tools available to help with engagement, for example, IGTV/stories/highlights and most recently reels, and these are not being used at all. Instagram has a very defined audience, and connecting with that audience could be hugely beneficial. Of all the banks, Starling utilises Instagram the most effectively, with stories, videos and influencer showcases as discussed above.

Most banks are not targeting a particular audience in a formal and structured way. Social media is effective when the audience is considered, understood and targeted with customised and appropriate content. We see glimmers of possibilities through targeted content on LinkedIn and HSBC's focus on parents with kids education advice and Barclays with its focus on female entrepreneurship.

Many of the banks have developed a habit of frequently posting at the beginning of the month and trailing off toward the end of the month. This is far from ideal, as it feels like they are running out of steam and ideas as the days go by. 

Long term this will impact engagement, credibility and ultimately where you will appear in your followers’ feeds with recency of posts a critical determining factor. Train your followers to stop looking out for your social media posts towards the end of the month, and they may end up not bother returning at all. 

What types of content are positively engaged with?

In our research, the following types of content had the most positive engagement:

  • Technical difficulty updates

  • New product features (e.g. Revolut rainbow card in support of LGBTQ+)

  • Traditional banking features that customers may have forgotten about or never know about (e.g. left-handed cheque books)

  • Banking advice/tips, e.g. blog-style posts ( we found these had the most likes)

  • Questions directed at customers, e.g. “Can money buy you happiness?” ( we found these had the most comments)

  • Business achievements - most engaged with on LinkedIn

  • Competitions (e.g. Starling’s holiday competition; we found these had the most shares)

  • Scam/fraud prevention advice

  • Charitable partnerships

  • Statistics/facts

What types of content are negatively engaged with the most by customers?

In our research, the following types of content had the most negative reactions:

  • Comedic posts 

  • Posts about employees except on LinkedIn

  • Images with no context, link or text explanation

Some essential tips for success on social media

In summary, the following are some tips for how to use social media to best effect.

  • Target a different audience with appropriate content OR have different social media platforms for different demographics of customers.  

  • Take time to understand the user profiles for each of the social media platforms and how best to engage the users using that particular platform.

  • Use each platform for a different purpose and make this clear in the bio of the account page.

  • Follow more relevant accounts on social media platforms, e.g. on Instagram follow influencers that promote banking tips for specific demographics of people.

  • Have a separate Facebook and Twitter account for complaints and banking problems faced by customers. Do not use Instagram for this service but direct customers to these accounts from the bio of the account page.

  • Include a symbol or small text box on posts encouraging engagement, e.g. “Please share.”

  • Deploy a content tool, such as Passle to support the authoring and workflow and deployment of content across the business.

  • Think beyond communications when considering social media and consider social media as a mature channel. Think about how the various platforms could be used to enhance customer channel experience. What could be delivered that could really help and support customers? How could you create positive dialogue? There are some incredible opportunities that the platforms offer through their embedded tools and functionality.


About the author: Dave Wallace is a CEO and Founder of NMD+, a creative, data and technology consultancy based in London, UK.


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