The Big Brand Theory: Citi Rethinks Customer Care with Social Media



Image“There’s a lot of bad social media advice out there.”

I’m having a conversation with Frank Eliason, the Director of Global Social Media at Citi. Eliason is something of a legend in the brief history of social media, having put it to good use for customer care at Comcast. Eliason’s example of that bad advice is that there are a lot of consultants and social media experts that are still encouraging businesses to use social to push messages. 

Instead, Eliason is excited and fascinated by what he calls the more holistic shifts that companies are taking. In those shifts, we should better understand the psychology of people and create things they want to talk about. In the realm of financial services this can be challenging.  Eliason explains, “One of my favorite things in financial services is all these financial brands want people to talk to them. We’re taught from the youngest age to not talk about finances. You’re not changing that psychology overnight.”

ImageEliason’s vision isn’t simply for better social media, though. It encompasses creating organizations where the ways of business are better designed for people and their needs throughout the organization. Eliason shares a story about struggling homeowners in the midst of the mortgage crisis, “You’d have to talk to a ‘loss mitigation specialist.’ That’s their title.  Strangely enough, they didn’t trust someone who was there to mitigate loss. You have to have this deeper conversation about how do we change how we do business?”

The national mortgage crisis has proven to be a difficult testing ground for social media customer care. Eliason continues, “Social media agencies would tell us to use Facebok or Twitter – but the thing about people struggling with their mortgages, they don’t talk about it on Facebook or Twitter. They don’t want their friends to know; they then go to more anonymous sources.”

Citi has taken then challenge on two fronts: offline and online.  Eliason describes the offline efforts, “We circled around the country; meeting with people struggling with their mortgages – no matter who their provider was. we didn’t do it on our own; We did it with local nonprofit groups.  Why? Because there would be more trust there.”

One example of Citi’s online efforts is The lightly branded site provides advice for struggling homeowners no matter who they bank with. In the process of helping people, the effort has created a great deal of value for Citi.


When asked about the value created, Eliason answers, “With our efforts with homeowners our goal is to reach homeowners; actually get them in the pipeline and be able to do things to help them. We know we’ve reached a billion dollars in loans through that program; we can measure that.”

At one point, I ask Eliason about the bigger theme for Citi.  The energy level in his voice goes up several notches, “Listen, Listen, LISTEN! The biggest component is that listening; and deeper engagement, and RETHINKING all aspects of the banking experience. “

“Not only do you help people on social media,” Eliason says, “but you have to fix what’s broken. You can’t just keep letting it out there. If I treat people better on social and don’t fix what’ s broken they’re just going to keep blasting the brand’s social media for help. It just doesn’t scale that way.”

A bigger approach to Customer Service

It’s exciting to think about a financial institution taking the challenge on in a bigger way. As Eliason explains, “Customer experience starts with how you think about things: perhaps your products; perhaps your terms and conditions; the way you go about doing business; the entire experience is a big challenge; and it’s going to take companies time to go that level.”

The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today written by Ric Dragon that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next week. Logos by Jesse Wells.

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