By Monica C. MeinertIt’s almost impossible to imagine a world without social media. With two billion active users around the world liking, sharing and tweeting every day, social media transcends all demographic lines—its users represent people of all ages, genders and ethnicities. Social media is used as a news vehicle, a political sounding board, a consumer forum and, of course, a communication tool for businesses.
Bankers clearly see the value of social media; in a survey published recently by the American Bankers Association on the state of social media in banking, an overwhelming majority—76 percent—said social media was important to their institution. Despite that, many banks are still only in the early stages of their social media journeys: only 24 percent of bankers have been using social media for more than five years. The rest are either just starting out (63 percent), planning to do so in the next 1 to 2 years (5 percent), or have no plans to use social media at all (9 percent).
When Jeff McCarthy joined First Bank Financial Centre in Oconomowoc, Wis., three years ago as VP of marketing, the bank was using social media, but lacked a cohesive strategy. “We had all these great stories to tell, but a relatively small marketing budget to tell them,” he says. “I was looking for ways to tell those stories to show people our personality, show our commitment to the community without spending a ton of dollars. Social media seemed like a great place to do that.”
McCarthy (who was one of several bankers interviewed for the ABA survey) took the opportunity to retool the bank’s social media program, creating a strategy that leveraged Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn to engage customers and build the bank’s brand. He also hired a social media coordinator to take over day-to-day management the program. “To do social media the way we wanted to do it, we needed someone whose full attention was focused on it,” he says. “We want to be active, we want to be engaged and we want to be able to respond to people who are communicating with us on a timely basis. If you’re outsourcing that, or it’s an afterthought, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities.”
For banks that do use social media, community engagement is a top priority, according to the survey. Banks are taking to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other channels to spread the word about the many ways they support their communities—spotlighting local businesses, spreading the word about charity events… even becoming a hotspot for catching Pokemon.
Take Citizens Bank of Edmond in Edmond, Okla. The bank achieved viral success in its promotion of “Heard on Hurd,” a monthly street festival it sponsors. The bank ramped up its use of Instagram to help spread the word, using the hashtag #jointhehurd to encourage members of the community to share their photos of the event. President and CEO Jill Castilla (another survey participant) notes that the bank intentionally keeps a modest profile at the event, choosing to showcase the community over the bank’s brand. The response has been significant—the first Heard on Hurd event far exceeded attendance expectations, and today, the festivals attract 20,000 to 30,000 people.
At Busey Bank in Champaign, Ill., AVP and communications manager Christa Dubson says that the bank’s top priorities in social media are to engage the community, deepen customer relationships and respond to customer service needs. Busey falls into the “early adopter” category of banks that have been active on social media for five years or more, and Dubson says that the company’s social media strategy is to “have a presence where our customers, associates and community members are.”
The bank stays away from advertising products or services through its social media platforms—which include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram—choosing instead to showcase various community involvement initiatives like Promise a Plate, a program that has provided more than 60,000 meals to people in need since 2012.
The utility of social media is well understood among banks, though many are only scratching the surface of what it can do. While 73 percent of banks using social media categorize themselves as somewhat or very active users, nearly a fourth say they are not. In comparison to their peers, only 35 percent consider themselves to be “above average” in their use of social media channels, and four in ten said they were somewhat or significantly behind.
“If you’re going to have a presence on social media platforms, you have to be active and you have to be engaged, or you run the risk, I think, of doing damage to your reputation,” McCarthy advises. “If someone’s contacting you through social media and you’re only posting periodically, I think people perceive that you’re not listening or that you don’t care.”
He adds that he was surprised by the survey’s finding that a quarter of banks said they have no plans to use social media for customer service. “I really see customer concerns and complaints as an opportunity to build the brand, and I embrace them when they come through social media,” he says. “Not only does it give you a way to respond and resolve a customer’s concern, but it’s also a very public forum by which to do so. When your followers see you quickly resolve an issue, it’s a wonderful demonstration of your customer service—you’re not just solving the issue in a timely manner, you’re showcasing to the world that your customers are important and you take their concerns seriously.”
Dubson says she sees her bank as “ahead of the curve” with social media, thanks to buy-in from the bank’s executive team, employees and the local community. Part of the bank’s success, she adds, has come from Busey’s engagement of its associates to be active on social media (according to the survey, just 36 percent of banks currently encourage their employees to do so). Through Busey’s “B Social Savvy” program, employees receive education about how to join the conversation on social media, and Dubson says that this additional engagement has helped the bank broaden its reach within its market and connect with new potential customers.
“With social media, it’s all a learning curve,” she says, adding that insights from the ABA survey will help Busey as they continue to advance their social media strategy and find new ways to measure social media engagement. “You never know what’s going to work with your associates or with your followers. We’re continually evaluating our strategies internally and externally, and having fun along the way—I think that’s the most important part.”