Social Media Gives Personality

By Sally Ann Moyer

“We are all millennials,” declared one of my co-panelists during the recent ABA Annual Convention. Josh Rowland, vice chairman of Lead Bank, (assets: $126 million), Garden City, Mo., made one of the more provocative claims on our panel, “Relationship Banking in a Virtual World.”

Rowland’s point hit at the urgency for banks to embrace social media. Joining us on the panel were Jerry Canning, U.S. head of industry and finance for Facebook, and Patricia A. Husic, president and CEO of Centric Financial Corporation, parent of Centric Bank (assets: $311 million), Harrisburg, Pa. The moderator was G. William Beale, president and CEO of Union Bankshares Corporation, parent company of Union Bank & Trust (assets: $7.3 billion), Bowling Green, Va.

We began with a show of hands of those active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media. What I didn’t ask to see was a show of hands on who in the audience had even heard of Venmo, an app that allows you to transfer money to your friends. It makes splitting the bill at a restaurant, for example, simple and easy.

We’ve entered a world where banks, and companies across all industries, need to view social media as an integrated part of their business and no longer just a digital trend. That also means that branches are more important than ever.

This relates to what we call alignment: making sure interactions across both the informal and formal networks of communication are speaking the same language. Banks need to maintain the same authenticity in the digital space as when the consumer finally makes the leap and actually walks into the bank.

Why would a millennial or modern consumer go into a bank? For decisions that really matter. Why will they choose you? Because you’ve established yourself as a friend.

Community banks are uniquely positioned to excel in both the social media sphere and the current customer climate. They have a vested interest in the overall well-being of the communities they serve, which means they are already in a great place for establishing social relationships with their communities and customers.

My company advises our clients to think about social media in everything they do: capture charity events, activities in the community and, yes, crisis response. Crisis situations demonstrate why having an established social presence is so important. When negativity hits, you already have your “Twitter B-Roll” of who you are as a brand.

During Hurricane Sandy, Husic’s bank communicated with consumers on the status of branch closures, ATM outages and payroll deposits. It also added in a critical element: a name and phone number for a real person to address immediate emergency concerns. Centric Bank was so successful on social media during the crisis because it had a robust and current practice of engaging with the community. The bank uses social media to share community news, promote events and recognize community leaders—like congratulating one member on earning a woman-owned small-business award.

Rowland’s bank (whose logo is that of knight chess piece) used Facebook as a key channel to introduce a new branch to downtown Kansas City, including a tie-in to a campaign chronicling a horse’s training sessions with the local police department. The bank had donated the horse, named Leader, and encouraged users to post selfies, joining the “Leader in Training” hashtag.  View the site.  The campaign added an element of humanity to the bank.

Of course, some banks may shy away from social because they don’t see an immediate ROI from its use. Rowland, our resident rabble-rouser, announced that his bank had produced a video series “with no ROI.” No one fainted, so he explained how Lead Bank’s “Doing Business Better” series helps associate their bank with success and innovative ideas. View the bank’s videos.

Meaningful online interactions with current and potential customers do lead to loyalty and trust. Canning brought up that social media isn’t really an option; the choice is only in whether or not you want to participate in the conversation that’s already happening—and perhaps help steer it. Husic reminded us that “you are who Google says you are,” and that’s another reason that you should be in the driver’s seat for the social media content of your bank.

Canning pointed out all the ways social can help you track every detail of your interactions, which gives those who like to play the numbers game even more data than before. One real measure of online success (and yes, ROI) is if you’re creating a borderless brand experience. We closed the panel with a question on how to engage millennials.

I’m a fan of the Google extension that changes the term “millennials” to “snake people,” because I think it captures both the general fatigue on the subject and the generation’s aversion to being lumped into a category that describes us a different type of humans. Millennials crave authenticity and respect.

This is where Rowland’s comment on “we are all millennials” came into play. The digital-first generation has become all of us as we walk around glued to our smart phones. While Husic later lamented that her teenager will definitely argue she’s not a millennial, the claim has some merit. It’s true millennials don’t have the same digital security and privacy concerns as previous generations—which is part of the reason Venmo is so ubiquitous in our generation—but we do expect a bank to provide us with something more than a money-exchange app.

Community banks have personality, and social media gives them a chance to let that personality shine. If your bank isn’t thinking about social media, then you aren’t prioritizing the success and longevity of your company.

Sally Ann Moyer is an associate with Spaeth Communications Inc., which is a strategic consulting, training and crisis communication firm, with its headquarters in Dallas. Email: [email protected].

Online training in digital, mobile and social media from ABA.