Who Owns Your Social Media?

By Kate Young

Conventional wisdom tells us that young people are social media experts. Duh. Born into the digital age and raised with Internet access, these latest entrants to the workforce commonly treat social media as the mother tongue. So it should come as no surprise that many businesses—banks included—have been tempted to remove social media from marketing’s purview and hand it over to the youngest employees, regardless of marketing training or experience.

The implicit hope is that this could be an inexpensive solution to the quandary of how to provide a fresh voice and relevance to the newest generation of potential customers.

What could possibly go wrong?

This approach prompts bankers and marketing pros to rattle off a host of concerns, from risk management, to communications, to plain old logistics.

Untrained employees of any age, for example, may be unprepared to handle negative comments posted by the public. And the freedom that comes with 24/7 communications access poses a huge reputational risk. With the massive audience provided by social media, a momentary lapse in judgment by a single employee can cause lasting damage to an organization.

Marketers also point to the value of having a unified, consistent message and an integrated approach to marketing and communications. Entrusting a vital communication tool like social media to non-marketers may diminish that effort.

Other concerns include the higher rate of turnover among the youngest employees and the resulting churn of voices and access.

The benefit may not even be worth the risk. David Kreiman, EVP of Marketing and Retail Banking at Glenview State Bank in Glenview, Illinois, notes that, “After managing our Facebook page for a number of years, and having a 21-year old daughter, I have to tell you that the younger crowd is not swarming to a bank’s Facebook page.”

In the end, banks’ internal auditing and risk management teams are unlikely to sanction any plan that involves surrendering social media to staff that lacks sufficient banking or marketing experience.

Making It Work

All that said, you’re not alone if you see the merits of tapping the expertise of whichever staffers know social media best.

But before you even try it, make sure senior management and marketing are on the same page. Craig Rodenberger, Marketing Director at Ephrata National Bank in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, suggests asking the following questions:

  • Does the bank recognize marketing as the communication arm of the company?
  • What does the bank hope to accomplish by launching social media?
  • Is there a plan to achieve those goals, or will social media writers be free to post whatever they fancy?
  • How are non-marketers going to know when and how to use social media for product promotion?

One approach that balances the need to stay relevant with the need to limit a bank’s risk exposure is to form a social media advisory committee. Under this model, marketing would supervise social media strategy, monitoring, regulatory documentation, and compliance review, while young employees from across the bank would provide ideas and insight.

What might that look like?  

Jeff MacDonald, Director of Marketing and Communications at Marquette Bank in Orland Park, Illinois, recommends hosting a long lunch every Friday, inviting young employees, and taking the opportunity to pick their brains on specific social media questions before allowing them brainstorm freely. “Your ultimate goal,” he says, “is to build a strategy (channels and content) that works for your bank.” But, he points out, this is also great way for the bank to identify and nurture new talent.

Scott Miller, CFMP and SVP of Marketing at Riverview Community Bank in Vancouver, Washington, adds that younger employees could help the bank in focusing on new trends or different social media channels that are emerging, such as Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Vine, Peach, or Periscope.

Kristin Sundin Brandt, CFMP and President of Sundin Associates in Natick, Massachusetts, suggests launching an Instagram account, and rotating “ownership” of the account through different departments of the bank, allowing an employee within that department show a day in the life of lending, retail, branches, etc.

Social media can provide a great opportunity for banks to reach broad audiences with real-time news and promotions. And on a more basic level, it may be that social media presence has become a sort of litmus test for a bank’s ability to connect with younger customers. In other words, banks today can scarcely afford to ignore it. As many banks are discovering, though, it’s not as easy as it looks. Collaboration and planning are worth the extra effort because they’re crucial to getting it right.


Kate Young is the content editor of ABABankMarketing.com. Email: [email protected]


A benefit to individual membership in the ABA Bank Marketing Network is the ability to converse through the ABA Bank Marketing Network Groupsite–a members-only discussion group. The thoughts expressed in this article reflect the collective wisdom of Groupsite responses to the question, “Help! My boss wants to turn our social media launch project over to a group of younger employees (non-marketers), giving senior management oversight.  How do I convince her that this project needs to stay within the Marketing Department?” Join in the discussion today.

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