In the last year or so, the banking industry has been under fire from many places.  VHPR works with a range of community banks and also conducts online media monitoring for several financial services clients. To those in other businesses and industries who think they have nothing to learn from the challenges being faced by banks that made bad construction loans or invested in risky financial derivatives, I offer two words – Think Again!

The challenges these institutions have faced (whether large or small) have been heavily impacted by the massive changes going on in the world of communication, specifically the explosion of social (online) media.

My experience in working closely with a number of banks tells me there are three lessons that your company or organization needs to incorporate into its operating approach as soon as possible.

First, if you want to make sure your story is told accurately, and then you need to tell it yourself and tell it multiple times. In addition to elements of traditional media relations, that means using your website and even Facebook and Twitter to provide complete information about everything that is going on in your organization. By telling the story yourself you can provide the details that other news sources won’t use and address any concerns and questions of your critical audiences of customer and employees.  And don’t sugar coat it.

Second, you need to closely monitor what’s being said about you and your industry and be ready to respond to inaccuracies and prepare for the questions your customers will have. That means taking every site seriously.  A year or so ago I heard a speaker explain that his company had a complicated ranking system that allowed them to focus on “influential” bloggers and aggregators and ignore the rest.  To me the definition of an influential blogger is the one whose post might suddenly pop up on CNBC, and frankly, in today’s world of social media, that can be anyone.

Finally, you need to understand that nothing ever goes away.  Through our daily media monitoring, we see news sites and publications passing on, picking up or commenting on issues that seemed to have gone away weeks before. A great example is the “Move Your Money” campaign started last year by the widely read political blog the Huffington Post.  They advocated that consumers move from the big banks, which were “bailed out” by federal funds, to community banks.  A flurry of coverage by national publications such as the New York Times and CNBC followed. As part of the effort, they established a very strict rating system and listed banks in most markets that passed their financial health test.

Just this week, after several days with little comment, this link appeared in a local publication and included the list of banks that they consider safe. A number of websites have also appeared that allow consumers to put in their address and get a list of safe banks in their area.

I’m not saying that the banks on the list should be running banner ads bragging about their rankings. But I do think all banks need to be having a dialogue on this topic with their clients and community. The conversation is going on. The only question is whether you will be a part of it?