Social Media that Matters

By Heather Ren

Breaking through the clutter of online platforms to attract and maintain a social media audience is no easy task—and banks must be prepared to adapt their strategies to be successful. While nearly all banks have created a social media presence for their institution, there’s still significant room for improvement when it comes to tactics, according to the 2019 State of Social Media in Banking report recently released by the American Bankers Association. In fact, less than half (40 percent) of respondents said they have implemented a plan for how frequently they post to social media, and just 19 percent say they have clear goals for their social media efforts.

Download the free 2019 ABA State of Social Media in Banking report.
The fact is, merely posting aesthetic and informative content no longer ensures a lasting impression. Rather, it’s often the more unique and unconventional social media practices that are more likely to be recognized and remembered.

In Washington, Peoples Bank boosted engagement by integrating Instagram into a community outreach effort. After hiding 250 piggy banks in parks around its Bellingham service area, the bank invited individuals to participate in a three-week long scavenger hunt. Using Instagram, Peoples Bank posted clues while promoting useful information on the importance of saving. As an incentive, it offered a pair of sunglasses and entry into a grand prize drawing for each victorious piggy bank hunter. The results? People were encouraged to enjoy community parks, visitors were incentivized to visit the bank’s Instagram account and a greater number of individuals were brought into branches.

Using social media, banks can not only create fun contests, but interact with local students by congratulating achievements and awards, spread word about local events and businesses, honor citizens during special times and promote bank-sponsored causes, such as charity races and canned food drives.

By taking full advantage of online platforms—including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter– banks are deepening relationships with their communities while building their credibility as financial institutions.

“Social media is marketing today,” says Michelle Barone-Lepore, senior vice president of marketing at Rhinebeck Bank in upstate New York. “I don’t think you can run an effective marketing program without social media. It’s a must. You have to be where customers are talking about you. They are going to be talking about you whether you are on there or not, so it’s important for you to be there.”

Prioritize people

Having a successful social media strategy doesn’t solely depend on the frequency of posts, but the quality of content as well.

Emily Mays, VP and senior marketing director at Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, Ala., emphasizes the value in showcasing employees. “We’ve been doing a series of employee spotlights—I’m always impressed with the organic reach of those posts,” said Mays. “People like knowing the personal things about our employees, that they like Dr. Pepper or going to the beach. Within a couple of hours, we’re getting 1,000 responses and all these comments—all this goodwill and good wishes sent their way.”

Sharing photos of employees is an effective way to attract likes and generate conversation on social media, notes Natalie Bartholomew, VP and chief administrative officer of Grand Savings Bank, headquartered in Grove, Okla. Bartholomew was able to significantly increase the total number of Facebook followers in two years by retooling the bank’s overall strategy and zeroing in on the types of content that followers engaged with the most.

“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,” she explains. On its Instagram feed, Grand Savings posts headshots of nearly every promoted employee or new hire. Followers like and comment with congratulations and are excited to be involved in the bank’s growth, Bartholomew adds. “As we have moved into northwest Arkansas, our expanded social media presence has increased our visibility in the community. People know who we are now.”

Opening the door to social media engagement will inevitably cause some customer dissatisfaction to surface. In those cases, banks should be prepared to respond quickly. “We’ve had bad reviews, just like anybody’s going to get,” Bartholomew adds. “We give our people training on how to handle them. We know how to go and at least address it and assure the customer that we’re here, and we’re listening. You don’t want to draw any additional attention to negative comments or reviews, but you can often defuse the negativity just by going on social media and showing you’re listening.”

Maintain a collective approach

Another way banks are differentiating themselves on social media is by making it an organization-wide commitment, not just an effort concentrated in the marketing department. Many banks—including Grand Savings—have begun developing brand ambassador programs in which employees are able to publicly represent their institution online.

“Our motto is that people bank with people,” Bartholomew says. “At the end of the day, with a community bank, people are banking with us because of the people we have with us. By giving them the Grand Ambassadors and officers—we’ve done personal brand training with them as well—we just tell them keep it simple, and if you go and represent the bank at an event, post a picture of yourself at the event, do our hashtag #LifeIsGrand, and that’s great.”

Training and trusting employees to promote content on their personal platforms helps create a more organic, approachable feel to the institution, and allows content to be distributed to an even broader audience. “Many banks are on social, they’re just really struggling with how to get organized in a way that will deliver the results they’re looking for,” says Doug Wilber, CEO of Gremlin Social, which ABA endorses for social media marketing and compliance. “The best way to really deliver on social is to harness the collective power of your employees.” By encouraging employees to become brand advocates, banks can make their messages even more compelling and visible to their target audiences. Ultimately, despite changing digital trends, social media is here to stay. And what draws individuals to specific accounts isn’t simply the aesthetic—it’s the overarching vision and voice that inspires each post.

“Social media has given us visibility, it’s given us a voice,” said Bartholomew. “It has increased our personal brands as bankers, and it has given us the ability to tell our stories.”

Heather Ren reported this story as an ABA summer intern.