Interview: Jaime Punishill, Director, Digital Channel Strategy & Social Media, Citibank

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Do you think it’s hard to roll out social media policy and strategy to fifty employees? How about 270,000?

Jaime Punishill, Director, Digital Channel Strategy & Social Media, Citibank is part of a team doing just that. “I have a small team of five, and we’re augmenting that with folks who have the most experience,” Punishill told PRNewser today.

In this interview, Punishill reveals who Citibank has been partnering with when it comes to social and digital strategy, and what he thinks the biggest misconception about social media is.

Namely, that it’s not free. “There is nothing free about this,” he said.

PRNewser: Tell us a little bit about your background.

I’ve been in digital since 1997. I built the first online brokerage for Bank of America. The last 13 years, I’ve been living at the epicenter of the digital revolution. When Citi re-organized last summer, which is when the team I was on was established, we began developing a centralized mobile and internet strategy across North America. It’s a very natural fit for what I’ve been doing.

I was working on peer comparison before people called it social media. I also worked with Charlene Li, Josh Bernoff and others during my time at Forrester Research.

Social media presents some of the same challenges as “Web 1.0.” Will it kill productivity? Is there a business model? Why are venture capitalists funding crazy ideas? Will anyone use it for business? All of the stuff you here now, it is all the same stuff everyone was talking about in 1999. In many cases, a lot of the same promises social media has are promises we thought the internet had in 1998.

PRNewser: What does your day to day at Citibank look like?

When I started we had no formal approach to social media. My responsibility has been to really lay the foundation for social media activities.

When you work in large, global and highly regulated organization, you have to put a lot of controls and processes in place for the company to maneuver. It’s no different than if you’re the military. They didn’t start social media haphazardly.

We’re writing employee guidelines, a 70 page procedure manual. [it covers] who can use social media, how they can use it. When they can escalate things. When to loop in PR versus deal with things directly.

An analogy is when you’re building a building. There is all that activity, when you obtain permits, dig the hole, etc. The one day a building just shows up. For the first couple months it was laying that groundwork.

We went live on Twitter in October. It’s my face on that page for a reason – I was the only one who had access. Now, we have 40 customer service people trained and staffing our Twitter account. At first we were quiet. We learned, and soon when you log onto you’ll have an 800 number, you’ll have email and you’ll have our Twitter ID. We were the first financial institution to have a verified Twitter account.

Our first retail blog will launch next week. We have a Facebook presence. We have discussion forums that are already live. Our first ideation campaign will go live in a few months.

PRNewser: Which agency/vendor partners do you work with?

We use Co-Tweet for our Twitter administration platform. We also use Infosys. They’ve taken Jive Software and Moveable Type and other social media companies and integrated them so we consume them as a cloud as opposed to install them. We use I-engage, they run Intel’s communities.

We also use Scout Labs for listening. We are partnering with Blast Radius and Powered, Inc. for our social media agency. We’ve done some work with Dachis Group on the operationalization of social business.

PRNewser: How do you work the internal marketing and PR teams at Citibank?

The challenge is in every organization, those responsible for social media are divided up differently. In our case, corporate communications and PR are part of corporate marketing and my team and the marketing function are part of the North American marketing team. I have an equivalent that is working on social media in global. Our two committees link together.

Here’s an example. If we get something in on our Twitter account that is a question about TARP, or when the government is going to sell it’s stake in Citi. That is not something my team will handle. We will escalate that to corporate communications. They are the team that owns that communications set. Then we decide how and where the right place to respond is.

PRNewser: What metrics do you look at, in terms of measuring Citibank’s digital strategy?

We’ve got about 15 different key performance indicators we’re putting in place. Everything from measuring net promoter scores, to do we see a change in the channel interaction mix of a customer who is engaged with us on Twitter. So, if we get someone involved on Twitter, do they call less, or call more?

We’ll also look at acquisition rates and close rates. As we put out more content, we’ll look at search engine optimization and paid search activities. And we have both external and internal metrics. Internally, it could be what percentage of projects prioritized by the internet team have a social component? How many people have Twitter accounts?

PRNewser: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about social media?

One is that’s it’s free. There is nothing free about this. It requires a lot of people and a lot of effort. Two, that people don’t use it or it’s not important, or it’s not serious. Three is that it is a channel and nothing more.

It is a channel, but it is an entirely different way of engaging with the customer, that either your company normally does so it’s a natural extension, or if you have not been a customer centric organization, this is a cultural change.

PRNewser: Where do you go for information about social and digital strategy? What do you read?

I’m very active on Twitter. I follow about 380 people, and probably a third of those are people who I respect in the space. They’re such good sources that I rely a lot on that network. I’m speaking at a lot of conferences right now.

Part of reason to do that is networking. Just the act of being there is huge. There is no playbook or right answer. Everyone is learning because customers are adapting how they use it, even right now.

PRNewser: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Do not underestimate the amount of time it take to evangelize and keep momentum around this in an organization. It probably takes 25% of my time to give the same presentation over and over to different parts of the organization. It’s so difficult, and because we don’t have tight metrics it’s not like I can slot it into their every day business.

Also, I borrowed this from the military: you have to be in command but not in control. The whole organization has to mobilize. If you try to run it from the center, you’re done. I’m never going to have 1,000 people in the center that can do this.