Who are you and what does your company do?

I am Paul Beadle, Head of Social Media and Digital Communications at Nationwide Building Society, the world’s biggest building society and the sixth largest financial services provider in the UK. If you look at savings and mortgages, then we are in the top three for providing accounts and home-loans, with a relationship with one in four of all UK households.

How and why did you get started in social media?

I set up Justmoney.co.za, South Africa’s first financial service comparison site. Until then I had been a PR and journalist specialising in finance, but this was the first time I had worked outside of traditional print media. Working with online was new to me and I loved the way you could be more dynamic and creative and engage directly with people rather than through the media. So although it was a traditional website, we were very much involved in getting real people to engage directly with us, to share opinions and generate content – which is, for me, what social media is all about.

What do you believe the benefits of using social media for business?

You get to hear directly from your customers – whether it is good or bad – so it really challenges your brand and your business model. If you have a business that really wants to do right by its customers, then social media is a great way of giving them a say and bringing them closer to the brand. But you have to listen to them and take notice, otherwise what’s the point. Social media isn’t just a broadcast channel or another form of marketing.

What do you think are common mistakes business owners make when building brand awareness on social media?

They try and push their messages too much – “This is our brand! Great aren’t we?!” That’s just begging out for unhappy customers to jump in and subvert your campaign. I’ve often heard marketing people say something like “we’re going to create a viral video”, which shows a real lack of understanding. Brands can’t control social media like they do with other channels. They need to spark conversations; tap into what people are interested in, whether it’s about the brand or the sector they are in; and they need to keep it relevant and authentic.

What qualities do you think social media managers should have?

I think it really helps for social media managers to have a true curiosity and love for the art of communication itself! If you aren’t naturally interested about how communication can bring people together and push people apart and understand the nuances that goes into different types whether it be something like spoken word, print, visual, etc then it’s going to be very hard to succeed in this field. I tell people that I am good at my job because I love to talk to people, sometimes too much! I have a degree in Journalism and one of my first jobs out of college was writing for a national rock n roll magazine. I kinda had one of those dream jobs where you we get to meet some of your favorite bands and ask them all the questions you ever wanted to. It was one of the best experiences of my life and it just taught me so much about how to engage a person in conversation and make them feel comfortable in revealing more of their true self in a short about of time. Of course doing your research also helped.

How do Business owners know if their social media campaign is working?

Measurement is still a tough call on social media, so we build it from the channel use upwards. Our main Twitter feed @AskNationwide, for example, is primarily about customer service, so response times, resolutions and customer satisfaction is more important than total number of followers, for example. Facebook is more about building a community around our mutual brand values, such as Citizenship and helping people keep their money safe, so we measure engagement; the number of times people have engaged in a conversation because they want to know more, or shared our stuff with their friends because they think it will be of interest.

How do you see social media evolving over the next 5 years …what do you hope to see?

In terms of business ideally I’d like to see the term “social media” disappear, because it should be part and parcel of how we communicate and engage with our members and potential customers. The things that social media channels enable us to do, such as answer questions, get feedback or share important information, will become integral in the way people do business with us; making transactions, researching for information, applying for products. The challenge for any business is how we use digital to make things better for our customers whilst not losing the qualities that make us different from our competitors, which for Nationwide means our people. Already social media is a great way of showing customers the real people that make the business different.

If you could share one best practice about using social media to grow a business, what would it be?

There is nothing wrong with test and learn in social media, but before you start understand why you want to use social media, get everyone’s buy in and ensure your business model and systems can support it. There’s nothing worse than launching a social media channel or campaign and not knowing what you’re trying to achieve, because how will you know whether you’ve achieved it?