Superannuation suffers from some truly large disadvantages when it comes to social media: it’s factual, it’s not entertaining, and Charlie Sheen is not tweeting about his transition to retirement problems. The challenges facing super funds are to engage, entertain, and trust their members. PHILIPPA YELLAND reports.

Before you read any further, type www.davecarrollmusic. com into your web browser and watch Carroll, the Sons of Maxwell singer-songwriter, and his band sing ‘United Breaks Guitars’. Yes, do it. Right now. United Airlines’ shares plummeted 10 per cent after Carroll posted his song ‘United Breaks Guitars’, which chronicled his nine-month-long unsuccessful battle for compensation after the airlines’ baggage handlers broke his Taylor guitar. And then, when you’ve finished that, go to www.wellsfargo.com and click through to the retirement section. It’s one of the best, if not the best, site in financial services which engages and entertains their members. In Australia, a few funds such as HESTA, Cbus and HostPlus have natural leverage points to engage their members because of the demographics of their memberships. HostPlus’ Cook for Your Career is a good example of linking the hospitality industry into super by canvassing member’s superannuation questions. However, many funds, particularly multi-sector ones, are struggling to start the social media conversation with members, let alone keep that conversation going. For some super funds, social media is challenging. While people may be concerned – to a greater or lesser extent – about their super, financial issues are individual and confidential, and so people may hesitate to talk about them. It’s difficult to be social about such private matters. Social media in general is also about entertaining – whereas super and retirement are serious and factual. In addition, funds have to make their content relevant, democratic and entertaining.

Here, the challenge is determining what is seeded (called ‘baking’) into online communities, and then how you direct (‘shepherd’) content. Third, social media is by its very nature, public and democratic. A common reservation expressed by super funds – and other financial services – is that if they host an online forum is allowed, then members will complain and the fund will not be able to control that process. In the computer services arena, Dell Computers has had to concede that some of its products did have the faults that were being discussed online. While this democratisation was painful for Dell, the company did learn how to spot problems earlier, deal with them, and improve its customer service while at the same time listen to customers’ needs and tap into some good ideas for product improvement. One of the leaders in the financial services’ social media experiments is Deloitte’s Jamie Pride, online practice leader and partner in Sydney. He says: “The conversation will happen without you – you can choose to participate in the conversation to your benefit and shape it, or not to participate. The conversation will take place, whether or not you are there.” The best analogy is warfare, and the rules have changed. “It used to be the biggest tanks,” he says, “but now it’s asymmetric – with terrorism in warfare, it’s about who’s the most adaptable.

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