TD Bank has committed to "weaving social into everything we do and how we do it," said Arnott, whose job as vice president of social media and digital communications was created specifically around that vision. IBM Connections, the social software IBM is positioning as its next-generation collaboration environment beyond Lotus Notes, will be the technical foundation. Yet TD Bank's initiative started much more simply.
An online conversation started by a junior teller demonstrated the potential of using social media within the company. This led to an idea that is now "expected to represent our biggest single productivity improvement in the coming year," Arnott said.
Headquartered in Canada, where it is also known as Toronto-Dominion Bank, TD Bank is the sixth largest bank in North America, with 85,000 employees. TD Bank has embraced transparency as a core value, which is one of the reasons it believes an internal social network that is open to all employees can help it become a better bank, Arnott said.
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"We started with some very basic social tools," Arnott said, such as the ability for employees to comment on corporate communications rather than passively consuming them. "As a result, management learned not to be afraid of that, but rather to embrace it."
In particular, that early experiment showed that employees would take the time to share their ideas about how TD Bank could improve the way it does business. For example, an article asking about bank workers' biggest frustrations prompted one teller to suggest that a paper-based enrollment process could be handled much more efficiently online. Hundreds of other employees quickly voiced their agreement and added their ideas about how it should be done.
"The idea had come up before, but until social [networking] amplified it, it was not a priority," Arnott said. Once management saw how unanimous employee sentiment was in favor of the change, it became a priority. Actually getting the signup form online has taken a couple of years, and it's only happening now. Still, the fact that social interaction led to this product idea is a powerful example, Arnott said. "It got us thinking, there must be hundreds of other things that we could be doing better and that we can fix. We started asking, how can we go big with this?"
At around the same time, public social networking sites were growing in prominence and the bank was trying to figure out its social media marketing and customer service strategies. In banking and financial services, engagement with customers through social media is complicated by regulations that require tracking of anything that might be considered financial advice. So far, the bank has empowered a team about 20 customer service representatives to respond to customer questions and complaints on public social media sites, with all communications carefully monitored and archived for compliance review.
One other rationale that emerged for supporting an internal social network was to give employees practice handling business communications through social media, Arnott said. That way, if regulations eventually allow the broader population of employees to engage more freely in social media on behalf of the bank, they will be better prepared.