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It’s not often you see a bank being innovative, that’s why this initiative from First Direct (http://www.live.firstdirect.com) caught my eye.

First Direct is part of the banking giant HSBC and offers online and telephone services in the UK with no actual branches. Their strapline is ‘banking’s better in black and white’ with the idea that First Direct is “honest, open and transparent” which ties in nicely with this campaign.

First Direct Live measures feedback from customers across the web, as well as inviting them to comment directly on the site. The page features Flash widgets that show sentiments such as positive and negative words being used about First Direct on websites such as Review Centre, Dooyoo and Ciao. However it looks to me as these three sites could be the extent of it’s external web sourced comments as First Direct doesn’t list where the information comes from, which is utterly lame considering this is all about being ‘transparent’.

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first_direct_social_shareThere’s even sharing options in case you want to show all your Facebook chums how well First Direct is doing with customer feedback!…

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The only way this could benefit anyone is if you wanted all your friends to flock to the ‘hide’ button next to your newsfeed updates so that they never see any more from you again.

According to this blog, “It works by taking everything that’s said about us online, from over 8 million forums, blogs and social media sites, and then feeding it, live onto our website for all to see”. However out of those 8 million sites (are there really that many?), I can only see Review Centre, Dooyoo and Ciao mentioned.

These sites aren’t really a good source for First Direct’s ‘sentiment tracking’ as they hardly have any updates. For example Ciao has 131 reviews for First Direct, and how many of those were made in 2009? Just two. How the hell can that be a good representation of ‘live’ brand sentiment? The same applies with the reviews on Dooyoo (5 this year) and Review Centre (13 this year). The majority of the reviews were made before First Direct launched this campaign.

First Direct are missing a trick by not using Twitter, you know… that real time micro-blogging website used by millions of people. They simply have to announce that the the hashtag ‘#firstdirect’ will be tracked. They already have 538 followers on their Twitter page, tell them, they will tell others and in the space of a few weeks you will have real up to date, uncensored feedback to track.

Facebook Fan pages also need to be utilised, tracking things such as positive and negative wall posts, likes on status updates etc . I would imagine a fair amount of customers for a online bank would be using both these services.

It was so bizarre that First Direct didn’t utilise Twitter or Facebook, especially with everyone was praising this as a social media campaign, so I decided to do some digging and found this interview with Lisa Wood, the head of marketing for the bank. Here’s the relevant bit:

Did you consider pulling comments straight from Twitter and showing them on the site, as Skittles does?

We did talk about Skittles when we discussed the campaign, and thought about the idea of a Twitter stream on the site, but we couldn’t do this for legal reasons. Having looked at the ins and outs of doing this, and the Twitter terms and conditions regarding intellectual property rights, we decided it wouldn’t be possible.

So First Direct want to own the IP for all reviews and comments? Well that means making a social media tracker is pretty pointless seeing as practically every one of these sites gives the user ownership of the content. And rightly so. Facebook T&Cs here and Twitter T&Cs here. It basically means you won’t see what’s being said about First Direct on more other sites where you can comment more spontaneously.

My hunch is that First Direct didn’t want to use a Twitter stream because they have less control about what’s being said about the brand. Maybe they didn’t want to have the same fate as HSBC when an unofficial site used Twitter to stream ‘raw’ reviews.

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It’s not that I don’t love the idea of sentiment tracking, quite the opposite, I think it’s brilliant and I’d like to see other brands explore this sort of thing. The problem is that using the words ‘social media’ to describe this campaign makes you automatically assume it’s actually using the services that are defining the market like Twitter and Facebook, therefore making you want to drink it’s ‘Kool Aid’. Marketing Week clearly made that mistake thinking it uses Twitter, even though the statement from Lisa Wood says otherwise.

This campaign comes after the First Direct ‘Social Media Newsroom‘ launch, where you can share the bank’s press releases with your friends (why would anyone do this?), look at their Flickr feed with photos from staff parties (??) or watch their YouTube channel with adverts and more staff content (incredibly boring). I really don’t count adding a share button and a couple of feeds as ‘doing social media’. The newsroom was created in collaboration with the social media specialist (debatable) public relations consultancy Wolfstar.

Overall it’s a move in the right direction by First Direct, it’s good to see a bank experimenting. They already have a iPhone application which appears to be doing well. Now lets see some other banks have a go.

The agency behind this was Made By Pi