Meet the Brand Ambassadors!

By Walt Albro

At some banks, it’s called an employee advocacy program. At others, it is labelled a social media street team.

At Avidia Bank (assets: $1.2 billion) Hudson, Mass., it is referred to as the brand ambassador program.

The idea is to get bank employees involved in promoting community awareness of the bank brand.

Avidia started out by using social media to help spread brand awareness, according to Katelin Cwieka, marketing specialist. This year, some tech-savvy employees came up with the idea of a brand ambassador program that would amplify the social media efforts. The goal was to more closely unify all the bank’s departments and branches as well as to integrate them better with the community.

“Many of the bank employees are active on social media and feel a great sense of pride in the Avidia brand,” says Cwieka. “It was a perfect match.”

The employees—now eight in number—formed what is now also known as the “Avidia Smarties.” Their mission is to share #CommunityLove and #FinancialLiteracy in their own #LiveSmartBankSmart way.

“Initially, we started the program to assist with marketing efforts and bring Avidia to the next level of cutting-edge technology and marketing,” says Cwieka. “However, the program has evolved in an unexpected way. Our Avidia Smarties not only help with social

media and marketing but have also become thought leaders and brought a lot of fantastic ideas in regards to innovation and financial technology that we are currently implementing or plan to implement in the future.”

The Smarties meet monthly, at which time, they discuss upcoming community events and review group activities at previous events. They also discuss ideas in regards to innovation, marketing, trending hashtags, campaigns and things that customers are currently asking about. The Smarties have a running schedule of upcoming events and appearances, including festivals, trivia nights, community outreach projects and “Smarties swarms” of local businesses.

Employees have to apply and be interviewed before they can join the Smarties. Among other things, applicants have to show that they know how to construct a proper tweet (140 characters, hashtags, etc.), and are knowledgeable about social media. They have to agree to promote Avidia Bank events and products to their social media followers. “We look for employees who are enthusiastic about the bank’s brand, who love their community and have a great understanding of social media,” says Cwieka.

The Smarties started by attending community events, such as the local Hudson Fest, where they had an Instagram Frame and held Instagram photo contests. They wore bright orange shirts and used bright orange twitter hashtags.

A few months after the first event, the Smarties helped promote a new bank product, Cardless Cash. Prior to the product launch, the Smarties created a social media buzz by use of the hashtag #CardlessCash. After the preliminary hype, the bank unveiled a

digital media center in its main branch and dressed all employees in Cardless Cash shirts and had them demonstrate the product to customers. In addition, the Smarties did live product demonstrations using Periscope and Twitter, where they were able to host a question-and-answer session. News of launch was picked up by a variety of news outlets both in the United States and Europe.

A sample of other community events that the Smarties have participated in include:

  • A volunteer day for #HungerActionMonth, where they partnered with the Community Harvest Project and volunteered to pick fresh apples for the Worcester Community Food Bank.
  • WoofStock, a fundraiser for a local humane society, during which they gave away pet bandanas and gift cards from a local groomer.

The Smarties have started to get involved in promoting financial literacy. They have been sharing tips and relevant articles on #LiveSmartBankSmart. They have also been sharing personal

stories. For example, they have shared their personal experiences about home buying, renovations, new-car buying, etc.

Within a few months, the Smarties collectively have developed a following of over 3,000 people on their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts.

Because the Smarties come from different areas of the bank, they are able to answer questions from a wide variety of areas, including digital banking and payment technology.

The latest addition to the team is a mascot: Max McNickle (@BankSmartMax). Max is a white piggy bank who enjoys public appearances and likes sharing financial tips. Some of his other hobbies include posting witty tweets or photos on Instagram about his latest adventures, dressing up for Halloween and for local football games, and making excursions outside of the bank.

“He’s quite the ham,” says Cwieka.

It makes sense to use employees as brand ambassadors, Cwieka says, since the public trusts employees more than top managers. In fact, according to Edelman’s 2013 Trust Barometer, 41 percent of people think that a company’s employees rank higher in public trust than a firm’s public relations department, CEO or founder alone.

The Avidia Smarties have benefited the bank by helping to spread more widely the word about the institution’s innovative approach and its close partnership with the community, Cwieka adds.

Walt Albro is the content editor of ABA Bank Marketing.