Banking Fintech Mobile & Online UX

Web 2.0, the 2000s and lovely jubbly social networking

Web 2.0, the 2000s and lovely jubbly social networking. Main image: ramcreations, Shutterstock.com
Written by Chris Skinner

Chris Skinner looks at the impact social networking has made on our lives, and how many banks and other businesses have missed out on ‘the conversation’.

From the origins of the internet in 1990, the end of the 1990s saw the emergence of ecommerce and a plethora of payments services and commercial websites. Then not a great deal happened until the internet became social. Blog platforms such as WordPress and Typepad emerged in 2003, Facebook launched in 2004, and YouTube a year later. The era of the social web began.

In the middle of the 2000s, I had three key moments that were awakenings around social networks. The first was at a beautiful conference retreat on Lake Como in Italy. I was the keynote alongside various banking alumni, and talking as usual about the future of finance. One of the senior management team of the host organisation then got up to tell the story of how his chief executive was blind-sided by the appearance of YouTube back in 2006. The morning papers appeared on his desk with the headline, ‘Google acquires YouTube for $1.65 billion‘. He had never heard of this company, so called in his team and asked the question, “What is YouTube?”.

None of them knew, so he typed in ‘www.youtube.com’ to his PC and the message came back: “You are firewalled out of this website. Please contact the administrator if this is a problem.”

It sure was a problem, as this particular CEO ran a firm called McKinsey, and suddenly a revolution was bubbling under their feet and they were firewalled out. The company has changed quite a bit since, but hey, that was then and this is now.

The second awakening was running a training programme with a University Corporate Education team for a large global bank. I ran a day with a top futurist, where the futurist talked about the future of the world in the morning, and I talked about the future of banks in the afternoon. This was back in 2006 again, and Facebook was just rising.

Back then, I hungrily was joining everything that was social, just out of pure interest. Facebook was a nice website, but MySpace was rocking. People were launching music careers on their MySpace profiles. Meantime, Friends Reunited was doing pretty well too.

I therefore included a social network discussion in my presentations, and would recount how bad people were at using these new capabilities. By way of example, I made up a story about how a senior manager at one bank had started using Facebook, and was happily posting details of her life. There was no privacy on her profile, as people were not aware of privacy as a problem back then, so anybody could see her email and telephone number. They could also see her husband, children, family and friends and where she hung out at the weekend. This led to her being blackmailed to give criminals access to the bank after they kidnapped her children on a Friday afternoon, just before she would normally pick them up from school.

Too close to home

I stopped telling this story in 2009, when my fiction became reality, and the head of a call centre in one big bank lost her life. It was too close to home, but again it frustrated me that so many people who attended these courses would come up to me at the end and say: Tell me more about Facebook and Twitter. I would love to use these capabilities, but spend the days at work firewalled out, and the weekends are too busy with other things.

These people didn’t know what was going on in the internet world because they were firewalled out, again.

The third realisation came from blogging. Now I’ve been blogging every single day since 1 February 2007 – over 10 years – and that’s how come I have a pretty good memory of my life, work-wise. I’m always blogging these stories and how things are developing and changing. But there was a specific moment that I remember with regards to banking and blogs. It was 2007 with Wells Fargo, who kindly came to London in 2008 to recount their story. Their story was basically that the No 1 Google returned search record when you entered Wells Fargo was a website called WellsFargoSucks.com. Oh dear. This wasn’t the only spark for blogging, but it was one of them.

My UK bank friends listening to this speech were horrified. They couldn’t imagine engaging their customers socially online. “Weren’t you attacked with a lot of hate?”, they asked, prompted by the fact that they had tried an internal social experiment that ended bloodily, with employees sharing their gripes more than anything else. “Sure,” said my friend Tim from Wells Fargo, “but we overcame it by engaging in a conversation.”

And that’s the bottom line here: a conversation. It’s just a conversation that has moved from the desk to the desktop to the mobile app. Banks that ignore (or are firewalled out) of such conversations know they’re missing a trick, and it sill amazes me how few banks leverage social media well. For example, I just entered ‘bank blog’ on Google and found that startups such as Starling and Atom appear in the first 10 results, but if I enter ‘Lloyds bank blog’ or ‘Barclays bank blog’, there’s nothing much. There’s a blog about ‘Lloyds digital transformation‘, and ‘Barclays wealth management‘ has one, but both sites are very corporate and not particularly social. Meanwhile, banks have relegated Twitter to a customer service and PR programme, and the rest don’t matter.

The compelling power of the social network

It’s interesting as the best practices of financial social networking are shown by banks in Turkey, where they provide conversations through Facebook platforms, and in India, where ICICI bank goes an extra mile to use Facebook as its bank platform, rather than as a channel. Equally, I still love the story of Fidor Bank using Facebook Likes to determine interest rates.

Some banks truly understand the compelling power of the social network, and that power is that it is customer-created. People create their networks. People create their content. People are living their lives and recording their lives digitally. My decade of blogging and being social is there forever. In fact, if Facebook or Twitter ever deleted my digital social history, I would sue them, as that’s my life, right there. And my friends. Many of my best friends, I’ve never even met. They may be psychos for all I know (and I think a few of them probably are), but hey, just don’t troll me – and that’s the beauty of the Web 2.0 age. We have allowed everyone to connect easily and create content without friction.

Now I, like the billions of other people on this planet with a mobile phone, continually update my profile with shares, likes, updates, video, photos and more. In fact, the combination of smartphone with a camera and a socially networked platform is the truly transformational moment we are seeing. After all, there are probably more photographs being taken in this one day than were ever taken in 150 years before the smartphone arrived.

This is the internet age, and the big change in Web 2.0 was the movement from business to consumer. The consumer was put in control. It’s people who now create content, and the strong control structures that businesses had locked into Web 1.0 were eradicated in Web 2.0.

The strong control structures that businesses had locked into Web 1.0 were eradicated in Web 2.0 Click To Tweet

Consumers are now media channels with millions of followers, and bloggers, vloggers and podcast radio shows are the new name of the game. People such as PewDiePie rise from the minions to become megastars with 50 million subscribers to his premium YouTube channel, only to fall just as fast. But it wasn’t just the social network that drove this change. It was the combination of mobile social.

As the nascent industry emerged, so did the smartphone with the launch of Apple’s first generation in 2007. Since then, there are more phones than people on this planet, and I’m not going to go into a deep dive of the mobile phenomena, except to underscore that, without it, there would be no social networking as we know it today. 24/7 in your pocket and purse is the transformation, and before the iPhone we mostly used our Nokias and Blackberrys for email and telephone calls. Now we live our lives through our phones. This has been the parallel innovation of Web 2.0, which, interestingly, was almost missed by many, including Mark Zuckerberg (in 2012, Facebook was so mobile-challenged that it had to warn investors publicly via an SEC filing about its weakness in the mobile market).

This is because, until around 2012, it was easy to separate mobile and social, because mobile uses the telephone carriers’ network, while social is on the internet. But the two have converged thanks to 3G and its successors, 4G and soon 5G. Many firms separated apps from their services and didn’t see the rise of the messenger, the chatroom, the photo stream and suchlike.

On that last point, the camera on the phone is a specific innovation that made a huge difference in adoption, and today’s mobile smartphones are a hundred times better digital cameras than the high-end dedicated digital cameras that were available a decade ago. That’s why more photos are taken in a day today than the total number printed in the last century. With digital, it’s easy to take a hundred photos a day; in old money, that was three Kodak films that would need to be taken to the lab, printed and picked up a week later.

So the Web 2.0 phenomena was a combination of factors, from mobile smartphones to phones with cameras to the mobile internet, combined with social mobile apps.

That’s the biggest change, and naturally led to Web 3.0, where customers create their own value network structures. Who needs institutions and governments to do this when we all live lives connected globally with people we’ve never met?

Anyway, I said I wouldn’t linger on the mobile network piece, but it’s worth finishing this blog entry with an astounding analysis of how Facebook turned itself around – from Fortune a year ago.

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– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Main image: ramcreations, Shutterstock.com

About the author

Chris Skinner

Chris Skinner is an independent commentator on the financial markets through the Finanser, and chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club, which he founded in 2004. He is an author of numerous books covering everything from European regulations in banking through to the credit crisis, to the future of banking.

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