Back in November 2013, JP Morgan came up with the Idea to have a Q&A on Twitter. To facilitate the interaction, they created a hash tag #AskJPM and it turned out to be a total fiasco. By now it has already become one of the juiciest case studies on how not to use social media as a financial corporation.

Pandora left the box and it didn’t seem to have any intentions of getting back into it as thousands of twitter users lashed out at JP Morgan, using #AskJPM as a pole of shame. It even became a conduit through which the world could vent it's anger and frustration toward an industry that has fallen out of grace.

But we need to cut JP Morgan some slack here. This was certainly a well intended initiative and it is encouraging to see that a major financial institution was actually willing to engage with the world via social media. It is unfortunate that it backfired, but there is a valuable lesson we can take away from this debacle.  More about that further below.

At the time this all happened, I caught up with my friend Andrew Walker in Dubai and we recorded a conversation in which we discuss how to make the digital environment work in finance. The insights we share here have become pretty obvious to many other industries but somehow finance just doesn’t seem to get it…

Now, let's take a closer look at the mess with JP Morgan.

Just like many of its peers, it seems that JP Morgan really doesn’t seem to understand social media very well. What happened also shows how far removed they seem to be from the real world.  In essence, the grand opportunity of social media is to have an ongoing direct interaction with large numbers of individuals.

The point is that if they really had a connection with the man in the street, they probably would have avoided handing over the keys of a public dialogue to an audience of complete strangers. The risks would simply be too obvious.

I don’t think J.P. Morgan, was oblivious of the fact that investment banks are in the doghouse when it came to public opinion, but the fact that they took the risk of setting themselves up as such an easy target is evidence that social media hasn’t been taken seriously in this organisation.

It’s not that an investment bank should go in hiding by staying away from social media just because everybody out there is frustrated with financial institutions - quite the contrary, because a well-crafted strategy may actually help them earn back some of the respect they lost.  But in order to do this successfully, banks are going to have to learn how to re-connect with the everyday world. More importantly, they are going to have to learn how to listen to what people actually have to say and figure out what problems they can actually help solve. Its about showing up with the mindset of being useful and adding value.

Us marketers like to call this content marketing

What went wrong here is that JP Morgan forgot to create the content, instead they let the audience take control of the story.  The result is that they wound up owning something they never wanted to have. The creature they created turned into a monster that went on to rip apart what was already a weakened reputation.

Content Marketing has come of age

All this goes to show that content marketing has become a serious business and that while it is very powerful it can also work against you if it isn’t done right.

Making great content really isn’t that complicated. All you have to do is tell people what you’re doing, who's doing it and most importantly, why you do it.  If you have a good business, it probably also means that you are solving real problems are satisfying essential needs. You don't need Justin Bieber's fans and everyone else in the world to like you, but you really want the attention of the people who can benefit from what you do.

Companies are made up of individuals with first and last names

Let’s say it one more time: social media is all about people. It is not about companies.

People hardly ever wake up in the morning thinking “ Gosh, today I really want to have a conversation with a global Corporation”.  It is really very simple, people like to have interactions with other people and this is what makes social media so interesting for businesses because they can now show the world that they are organisations that are made up of real people that customers can relate to.

The big opportunity for companies is that they can let their humans interact with all the other humans in the world - this is a global game because technology has made it enormously scalable.

Here's something to think about: this is simplified math but imagine a company with 10,000 employees that each have an average of 100 online friends.  That could add up to 1,000,000 close human connections. Now you have a very good reason to create the kind of stuff that your 10,000 people will be proud to share.  Can you grasp the potential?

Less than a decade ago, this simply wasn’t feasible. You would have to skilfully work the media to get that kind of exposure. And even if you weren’t good at PR, you could always sink lots of money into advertising, but you wouldn't get those special personal connections that come with your own extended networks...

Now, all of a sudden, any organisation, regardless of its size can become a media player in its own right. They can write the script and run their own show. This is amazing for small companies but often terrifying for large organisations (more like: "Hey, who took my big fat marketing/advertising budget!?").

Oh and by the way, we are about to see a string of big deals where major corporations will buy media companies. I'm not really expecting this to happen in finance but it is in the cards for other industries. Something to keep an eye on this year!

Great content is a strategic asset

Content creation requires dedication and a well scripted and ongoing production process. If the output results in clearly articulating what you stand for you will make it possible for the right kind of customers to discover you. This is powerful because people are keen to adopt and take ownership of the things they discover, especially if it adds value to them and makes them look good.

Furthermore, the best reputation management tool out there today is producing the kind of content that lets you build a supporter base that can stand up for you in difficult times. What is that really worth?  I say ‘everything’.

Here are some more thoughts about creating great content in case you are interested.

Let us know what you think in the comments section...