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ImageA few months ago, shortly after being appointed Enterprise Director of Social Media Strategy for the insurance and financial services company Transamerica, Allan Gungormez was sitting in a traffic jam during his morning commute in Los Angeles. While only an 11-mile drive, the trip frequently takes more than an hour, providing Gungormez with plenty of time to consider his challenges: as a marketer in the financial services industry, he, along with his cohorts, are in one of the most regulated industries.

Other challenges include that fact that each person out there in the world has a unique situation and often isn’t comfortable sharing it on social media. Also, there’s a tremendous amount of bad information out there.

ImageGungormez had a brainstorm: to create a platform that identified influential and reliable sources of financial information in social media. With such a resource people would be able to discover and follow the Twitter accounts of reliable sources of financial services information.

The new project, given the portmanteau Finfluence (financial influence), was developed over a few months and launched last week. #Finfluential would be used to designate people who are influential in financial services. “The main goal,” said Gungormez, “is to potentially offer a little bit of clarity around the financial services profession: who you should actually be following and listening to in comparison to just seeing all the different conversations that are taking place on the social web.”

Gungormez and his team developed a website, http://finfluencer.com/, on which visitors can check their own finfluence score, and then share it with their networks. Gungormez described a bit of the inner workings, “we’ve created this algorithm that looks – every tweet that someone’s tweeted, takes a look at who’s following them, who they’re following – and actually puts the tweet in context.”

Much like other influence measurement systems, the system looks at the environmental context of any given phrase, to identify it as a tweet that is relevant to financial services. Gungormez explained, “When we were monitoring all the conversations going out in financial services we found a lot of clutter. We found a lot of people who weren’t necessarily giving the most sound advice, or their sources weren’t necessarily the most credible - so we wanted to put something together that would allow people a kind of filter through that noise and identify the right people to be listening to.”

The finfluence tool has been successful at highlighting at least one financial services blogger, who while an effective blogger, wasn’t doing as well on Twitter. Gungormez told me, “they were great at writing these awesome blogs and covering some great topics, but they were just awful on Twitter. So it was actually kind of a bit of a wakeup call for them too, and they realized, ‘hey, maybe I should kind of change the way I’m tweeting.’”

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Lightly branded

One of the first things I noticed about the finfluencer.com website was that the Transamerica branding was understated. Gungormez described the thinking on this fact, “We really didn’t want to make this feel like 100% a Transamerica tool- it’s more of a tool for the public.”

While this strikes me as the right kind of content marketing thinking that we see in the very best examples, it can often be difficult for marketers to sell the approach to executive. Gungormez explained that the leadership at Transamerica is very open to seeing marketing as a bigger picture, “there’s no sales goals or lead generation or anything attached to this.”

Creating an influence measurement system is a bold move. There is a growing philosophy of marketing that is about creating more value for the end user without the need to directly affect a sale.  It requires great trust in a system wherein potential customers will come to associate your brand with value.

Even while acknowledging that Finfluence may lead users to professionals in other organizations, Gungormez concluded, “our first goal is to help people find good people to follow.”