Last October, with Superstorm Sandy bearing down on New Jersey
and widespread power outages imminent, PSE&G, the state's biggest
utility, went into crisis mode -- and, consequently, Twitter mode.
Radically shifting its social media strategy, the company put together a team of 22 staff members and went from monitoring Twitter from 9-to-5 on weekdays to tweeting 15 hours a day, seven days a week. After 17 days of non-stop tweeting, PSE&G had gained about 47,000 Twitter followers, and management was reconsidering how it uses social media.
"We saw with Sandy how mobile-dependent and connected our society is," said PSE&G spokeswoman Jenn Kramer, who heads the company's social media strategy. "It is changing the way we think about engaging with our audience."
The Newark-based utility is one of many New Jersey businesses rethinking, emphasizing and experimenting with social media as a form of customer service and marketing. While most companies view online platforms as necessities for doing business, many are still unsure how to determine the return on investment of establishing a well-maintained Facebook page or Twitter account.
Banks are one area where social media strategies diverge.
When searching the most popular social networks for "Valley National Bank" and "Clifton Savings Bank," neither institution has created an active page for customers to "like" on Facebook or "follow" on Twitter. Wayne-based Valley National would not comment for this story about its lack of online presence. Bart D'Ambra, executive vice president at Clifton Savings, said it's all about demographics.
"Our customers tend to be older [and] not so tech-savvy, nor are they interested in communicating with us on a one-to-one basis via any kind of social media," D'Ambra said. "There is a place for it, absolutely, but not with us."
Valley National and Clifton Savings are becoming increasingly outnumbered by local banks such as Jersey City-based Provident and Lakeland of Oak Ridge, which are using the Internet as a tool for luring a younger generation of customers.
"For a bank to succeed in the future, you're going to have to be able to get new customers ... replacing the older customers," said David Scelba, chairman and chief executive officer of Montville- based SGW Integrated Marketing Communications, which helped develop the online strategy for Lakeland Bank.
Lakeland has taken an unconventional route by focusing on YouTube rather than Twitter. While some of the bank's videos feature senior management sharing banking advice in a straightforward manner, others show the bank's vice president of retail discussing identity theft while dressed up as a "Dragnet"-style detective.
The bank's analytics allows the institution to see how many more people opened the video from Lakeland's emails, which are sent out twice a month -- about 25 percent of the 23,000 customers emailed typically watch.
As for Facebook, both Lakeland and Provident use the social network primarily for marketing, sharing news, and posting banking tips rather than providing customer service. Both banks are cautious when responding to comments.
Prudential Financial Inc. has followed a similar path. "From a customer service perspective," said spokeswoman Deborah Meany, "given the business we're in, often our first response is through
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