Social Media and the Bank’s Strategic Goals

An ABA Research Study

To find out how banks are now managing social media—what they’re doing right and what obstacles still persist—the American Bankers Association surveyed more than 430 banks of all sizes. The 2019 report, The State of Social Media in Banking, provides a detailed status on where banks stand on social—and what’s changed in recent years. Here we take a look at how banks are using social media to advance their strategic goals.

Since ABA conducted its 2016 social media survey, banks have become more active and more sophisticated on social. Their top three uses for the channel, however, have remained unchanged:

  • Communication (91 percent—up 11 points since 2016)
  • Marketing/sales (84 percent—up 16 points since 2016)
  • Risk management activities (76 percent—up 13 points since 2016)

When asked to rank their reasons for using social media from 1 to 10, banks identified community engagement, deepening existing customer relationships and thought leadership/brand awareness as the top three—just as they did in 2016. And banks continue to avoid overt product promotions due to concerns about regulatory compliance.

How specifically does all this social activity advance a bank’s strategic goals? The answers to that question are as varied as the banks themselves. Here are just a few of the examples they gave us.

Goal: Amplify community engagement

Community Spirit Bank runs a financial literacy program for K-12 students in its Alabama and Mississippi markets. The program is actually included in the curricula of a number of schools. “In the beginning, we posted about these educational sessions just because we were just looking for things to post about the bank, and we always got a big ROI [from]those posts,” says Community Spirit VP Emily Mays. Today, the program has become a cornerstone of the bank’s community engagement efforts. “Schools like the recognition for doing this. Students like seeing themselves on social media. Parents say, ‘That’s awesome. We didn’t even know our kids were doing this in school.’ And we like sharing the investment we’re making, because we put a lot of money into that program and we’re proud of it. One feeds off the other in a beautiful way.” Social media awareness provides momentum and awareness for the program, and in turn the program provides popular content for social media posts.

Goal: Deepen customer relationships

Social media is fertile ground for forming relationships and maintaining a top-of-mind presence in customers’ lives. Just ask New York’s Rhinebeck Bank, which has had great success with its biweekly Wake Up with Rhinebeck Bank show on Facebook, hosted by bank SVP Michelle Barone-Lepore. “Everywhere I go, people talk about the show, want to be on the show,” she says. “It becomes a routine for our viewers. People would literally stop me and sing the theme song.”

The show—which gets 3,000 to 35,000 views per episode—isn’t about promoting the bank. It’s about what’s happening in the Hudson Valley. Instead of just engaging with local businesses via social media, the show makes them the stars and helps them shares their stories. “It has been a huge differentiator,” says Barone-Lepore. “The show has really built our page as a whole. Viewers might not be looking at a loan product when they see our show, but they’ll think of us later when they are. In fact, in 2017 views of the show had a high correlation with the number of residential mortgage applications—they almost mirrored each other.”

Goal: Humanize the brand

Grove, Okla.-based Grand Savings Bank launched a blog to shine an appreciative light on people within and outside the bank. It’s what the bank’s audience wants to see, says VP Natalie Bartholomew. “We look at analytics on social media post performance, so we can look at the type of content we’re pushing out and evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Day in and day out, the posts about people are performing the best. We may talk about a special CD so customers will know about it, but it won’t ever get the same response as posts about our people.

“The ‘Life is Grand’ blog exists only for the purpose of being able to tell the stories of our communities, our customers and our employees. We want to do things that are fun, and not get too ‘bank-ey.’ ‘Life is Grand’ highlights new employee hires, events we’ve got going on, a customer or employee—just fun little snippets that can give a little more insight on a human level into who we are and what we do.”

Giving employees bank-sanctioned content to post on their own pages offers another opportunity to humanize the brand in social media, says Doug Wilber, CEO of Gremlin Social. “Not only do employees typically have larger followings than brand pages, customers are far more likely to trust a human over a brand. Social media is an opportunity for employees to expand their connections in the community and nurture the relationships they have with prospective customers.”

Goal: Recruit top talent

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have proven to be valuable platforms for finding qualified job candidates, especially when social media represents the bank as a great place to work. In fact, this is one area that has seen substantial increase in the use of social media. In 2016, 56 percent of respondents were using social media for recruiting—today, that has risen to 74 percent.

Grand Savings Bank seeks every possible advantage in a very competitive hiring environment, says  Bartholomew. “The more people know you and your social media platform, and they see these fun lively people, the easier it is to attract good talent.”

When the bank had dire need for a training specialist, Bartholomew knew right where to go—to a follower of her ‘the Girl Banker’ blog, which advocates for women in banking. The two women were already connected on LinkedIn, so it was an easy matter to connect over coffee. “We did, and we hired her, and she has been a game changer for us. She and I will say social media is how we connected. She looked through our social media and immediately connected with our people, felt like we were a family. That’s a unique way to look at a social media win as a community bank, but it was definitely a win for us.”

Goal: Attract new customers

For most banks, social media takes its place alongside (rather than supplanting) traditional marketing and advertising channels. Most banks continue to reach new customers through print display ads (88 percent), local in-person events (86 percent), direct mail (75 percent), email (73 percent), radio ads (72 percent) and internet display ads (66 percent).

While attracting new customers is not the banks’ primary goal for using social media, it is a happy side effect. “I think the best outcomes have been our ability to reach people who are not our customers and to tell our story and to create a brand awareness of our bank when they have no knowledge of us,” says Joann Marsili, SVP at Fidelity Bank in northeastern Pennsylvania. “We’ve been able to do that pretty well. For instance, we connect with a lot of people who are not our customers when they sign up via email for our Financially Fit with Fidelity blog. So we’re actually talking to them directly and they have no relationship with us. If people feel like they can get some useful content from us, they tend to follow us. As a result, we have a nice steady trajectory of growing followers every month. To me, that’s a win.”

Goal: Provide excellent customer service

“People are more willing to use social media as a communication tool to the bank than they were before,” says Marsili. In fact, 46 percent of our survey respondents agree that in five years, customers will be using social media as their primary source of business communication. “That’s something we have to be careful with. If someone does post a question or a problem, we try to take that off–line and communicate directly via email or through our customer care center.”

But you have to respond. “We have to meet customers where they are,” says Hollie Brown, associate vice president and marketing manager of Washington-based Peoples Bank. “Some like to use our contact center, but some use Facebook, and they also contact us after hours and weekends, and we respond.”

“We like to have a very quick response time, because we know we have a captive audience, and we want to take everyone’s concerns into consideration,” says Barone-Lepore of Rhinebeck Bank. “It’s also about driving an excellent customer experience, and the only way to do that is to really know what people are thinking. People will post if they’re disgruntled, and it’s so valuable to hear from them, because right or wrong, it’s their reality.”

“You don’t want to draw any additional attention to negative comments or reviews,” says Bartholomew of Grand Savings Bank, “but you can often defuse the negativity just by going on social media and showing you’re listening.”

Download the full report.