A social approach to the media

Helen Dunne discovers the thinking behind HSBC's social media newsroom offering

The changing media landscape and the increasing demands on the PR team has led banking giant HSBC to launch a social media newsroom for journalists, bloggers and online commentators.

The site, which went live on 1 September, is designed to make content more shareable and follows months of discussions with its target audience. 'We needed to understand our key audience,' explains Betony Taylor, PR manager at HSBC, who is responsible for brand, consumer and digital innovation. 'For example, how did they want to receive press releases? Did some journalists still prefer to receive faxes?' It was possible to understand some needs 'just by watching their interaction online', she adds. 'But it meant that we had to completely rethink our digital strategy.'

This is partly a reflection of the changing audience. It was not that long ago that financial institutions, such as HSBC, would have been able to identify all the key journalists and commentators and interact directly with individuals or media organisations.

The pool of journalists today is wide and diverse, ranging from bloggers on established news sites to influential online commentators working from their homes. 'They have a much wider view of the industry,' says Taylor. 'We understand that user generated comments, discussion forums and networks and the blogging community can influence and shape the perception of our brand, and we have to accommodate their needs in our newsroom. We need to get closer to them.'

The social media newsroom, which is a pop up microsite connected to the bank's main website, is divided into two sections, personal finance and business banking, to reflect the areas of HSBC Bank.

It is designed to be a 'go to' site for all comment and information, and all content is licensed under the creative commons licence agreement. The content hub comprises regulatory information, announcements, research and press releases and also three social media elements, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter. The press office team will tweet from @hsbc_uk_press (for personal finance) and @hsbcukbusiness (for business banking) Twitter accounts.

'These social media aspects help us tell the stories that we are depicting either on press releases or announcements,' says Taylor. 'Even though there is not much you can say in 140 characters, it is important to get the tone of voice right when we use Twitter.' The bank promises to tweet between two and ten times a day from Monday to Friday on latest bank news, alerts about new content on other digital channels or live coverage of HSBC events or staff activities.

The great advantage for HSBC, claims Taylor, is that no longer is the bank just broadcasting information but is instead opening up a two-way dialogue. 'The bank is filled with stories that have never been told, and we need to share them. It is hard for a financial services group to differentiate itself from its competitors, but this should help.'

Before launching the social media newsroom, Taylor worked closely with Amanda Brown, PR manager for First Direct, a division of HSBC, which has operated a social media newsroom for two years. 'We were able to draw on their findings and best practice,' she explains. 'But we also need to be aware that our customers [of which there are 15 million] are very different, and we also have a different brand proposition. We need to be authentic.'

Over the coming months staff will be invited to blog on the site to provide a view of the inner workings of the bank. 'We are giving our followers the keys to the organisation,' says Taylor.