Paul Beadle is head of social media and digital communications at Nationwide Building Society, and demonstrates the practicality needed to make social work in a regulated, crucial and tough to market-in category.
The stereotype of social media pros is that they’ve seen more of a keyboard than the world. Not so for Paul who began working life as an engineering apprentice, aged 16. That didn’t last, however, and fittingly for someone growing up in the shadow of the airport, he soon got a job as a copy boy at Heathrow Airport’s news agency. “I was always interested in writing. I used to take dictation from the reporters and send the stories via telex to national papers. I progressed to being a reporter and once tried to interview Prince as he was being hustled onto a flight under a purple blanket the day after his first appearance at the Brits. Being a hack taught me how to think on my feet and get your story down in the first 20 words, which still works well for social.”
Journalism was followed by time as a financial services PR, and then embracing digital in South Africa, helping set up FS aggregator www.justmoney.co.za . This immersion in online brand building paved the way for his return to the UK in 2011, where he joined Nationwide to set up the first social media team at the business. Or as his son describes it – spending all his time on Twitter.
Initially the challenge was simply to get going. The exploratory project needed not just channels opening, but, crucially for a financial services business, stakeholders to be convinced, cajoled and comforted. This was achieved with little money, and although he describes the first two years as “convincing people things wouldn’t blow up if we had a Twitter channel”, he also sees long-lasting benefit for the time spent working with compliance and legal teams to address their early stage concerns, and make them part of the journey, and ultimately supporters.
Victim of his own success, he has more recently been “explaining to people that we can’t just use Twitter to tell everyone Nationwide is brilliant and then sit back and expect the sales to roll in!” This internal celebration is not surprising considering the struggles (public and privately voiced), which many financial services businesses have found getting the entire business behind social. He’s clear on why they’ve made it work: “With customer service, social follows the same compliance as any other service channel, so the governance process is the same and we have not reinvented the wheel. When it comes to content, if it is part of a wider campaign that is considered a financial promotion, then all the activity goes through compliance at the same time. There isn’t a different approach for social media. Where social activity is not financial promotion, then our Compliance department doesn’t get involved, but we have regular meetings to catch up and review content. So the key is getting your compliance and legal teams on board from the get go.”
With a new CEO and CMO on-board, he’s excited “to tell the Nationwide story to even more people, and see how we can use digital to make their lives better, without them feeling like they’re just a number.” This positivity about new senior leadership demonstrates an element of his personality he readily acknowledges: getting bored easily. He’s always seen that as one of the perks of his career, as “communications always offers something new around each corner. This is amplified when it comes to social media, where the speed with which stories emerge is so much quicker than traditional media and the audience, not the comms person, is in control.”
That understanding of the audience being in control also comes through in a key focus for him: optimising the use of the existing social channels before opening new ones, simply for the sake of being there. A hallmark of someone who has seen different facets of business life, this focus on results over hype is common to those who build social programmes with depth of customer experience, over easy marketing press headlines. The relative success of Twitter, over Facebook, from a customer engagement perspective, surprised him: “People want to be able to contact their building society when they want, so it’s become a very powerful customer service channel.”
This mirrors what he sees as one of the big shifts in social over the last five years, which is “how social media has shifted from being a place to brag about your life – which it still is – to being an important part of your life, whether it’s doing your finances or finding out different views on emerging news stories.” One of his next initiatives is rolling out enterprise social to Nationwide’s staff.
Clearly social media isn’t a constant story of progression. Paul raises “the risk of saturation with too many channels and too much content, much of which is pretty poor. People have limited loyalty to channels and they will jump around, so we could see a lot of fast fail of new and interesting channels, with the established players like Facebook using their commercial muscle to dominate, which in turn risks being the complete opposite of the DIY-Democratic ethic of social media.”
The personal routines of people in social media roles are always interesting. “I usually check out all Nationwide’s feeds before I have my cup of tea in the morning. Then it’ll be my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I go through phases of posting regularly on LinkedIn and then falling out of love with it. Twitter is really my window on the social media world and I love the variety of content and range of opinions that it leads me to.” This sits alongside rediscovering old vinyl – The Smiths especially – something he’s recently embarked upon with a new turntable.
To debunk a couple of myths, in case you wondered, you don’t get faster or different service via Twitter – the same team and processes handle it, and it’s just as unacceptable to swear at someone over Twitter as it would be in a branch. So, now you know!
Heaven knows he shouldn’t be miserable now, (to borrow from Morrissey), as results and collective support for social media in financial services are no small accomplishment.
If you want to get ahead, read/do:
- Top Twitter follow? Danny Dyer – “I’m double naughty, pal.” The lip-synching stuff he does is hilarious
- Top Instagram follow? I’m not a big user of Instagram, but I like planetmovies
- Productive habit? Get out a piece of paper and start writing by hand, drawing diagrams. It helps me get my ideas out quickly
- Unproductive habit? Meetings. Too many meetings
- Favourite brand? Aldi. I used to love Tesco but I’ve fallen out of love with it. I’m still a bit of an electronic geek, so I like Samsung and Denon HiFi, otherwise cost, quality and value for money wins out for me over brand every time
This is our #ArchitectsOfNext series, where we aim to inspire others with firsthand insight into how people shaping innovative digital engagement models think and deliver their work.