A ‘Smartie’ Approach to Brand Advocacy

By Charlotte Birch

Having happy, engaged employees is no longer just good for business—it is becoming a modern imperative.

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, social media is now the second biggest source of news and information (search engines rank first), and a majority of the population trusts a company’s employees more than its leaders as spokespeople for the brand. Another recent survey found that 50 percent of employees today post messages, pictures or videos about their employer on social media. Taken together, these findings make two things clear: Banks should have a plan for turning their employees into engaged advocates, and that plan must include a social media strategy.

Avidia Bank did just that last year when it created its “Avidia Smarties” brand ambassadors program. The $1.2 billion mutual based in Hudson, Mass., knew it wanted to expand its social media presence and also involve its employees in building brand awareness. The solution was found in a core group of tech-savvy, “social” employees who feel a great sense of pride in their bank, says Katelin Cwieka, marketing specialist at Avidia.

Avidia’s elite team—now 10 employees and growing—started by attending, and tweeting/posting from local events, holding Instagram contests and drawing attention by wearing bright orange “Avidia Smarties” t-shirts. Today they do that and more—including product promos and “Smartie Swarms,” a version of a flash mob where they descend en masse on a local business to bring it attention.

The group is particularly proud of the assist they gave—just one month after forming—to the launch of “Cardless Cash,” a new feature of the bank’s mobile app that lets customers withdraw cash at an ATM using their smartphone. Smarties built up interest pre-launch using a #CardlessCash hashtag and offered live demos and Q&A sessions on Periscope and Twitter. Their reward: broad coverage, increased customer engagement and a stat showing a 13 percent lift in mobile app downloads, 8 percent of which was attributable to social media.

Cwieka contrasts Avidia’s promotion of Cardless Cash with another bank’s, which seemed to begin and end with a press release. “If you hear a message from a brand, you may not really pay attention to it. But if you hear it from an individual you know, and you see them testing something out and get almost an exclusive first look at it, then you are likely to be more interested in it.”

Avidia ensures compliance and quality control by first requiring that Smarties demonstrate their social media aptitude when they apply for the program. Once on board, all Smarties must attend a series of training sessions by both the bank and Hootsuite University, watch a 10-minute video every month and attend a once-a-year refresher training session hosted by the bank. In addition, the group meets monthly to plan its outreach and strategy and review analytics on their activity.

One year after its inception, the program, which now has 6,000 followers, has yielded both expected and unexpected benefits. As customer questions have arisen on social media, for example, the Smarties—who come from all corners of the bank—have collaborated and learned how to streamline their customer service.

And local businesses are now calling the bank to ask them to send their Smarties to grand openings and other events for a publicity boost, Cweika says. “We always joke that we’re not at Kardashian level yet but maybe we’ll reach that level of fame soon.”

To learn more about the “Avidia Smarties” program, attend Katelin Cwieka’s session at the ABA Bank Marketing Conference, Sept. 25-27 in Nashville, Tenn.