The Bank Marketing Social Media Imperative: Building an Engaged Audience

By John Oxford

An important topic mentioned in a recent column as well as in our latest podcast picked up some decent traction so this week we’ve decided to dig a little deeper into what I call the social media imperative. You’ve got to give the people what they want, right?

To begin, the social media imperative is threefold. First, it’s the challenge of what comes first, content or audience. Much like the old chicken versus the egg, should your energies as a marketer be focused on building a following or building content? One could argue that without an audience, the greatest content in the world is useless, sort of like a tree falling the woods with no one to hear it. (We’re now two-for-two on historical “metaphorics” today.)

But if we stick to another old saying of “nothing kills a bad product like good marketing,” showing an audience a bare cupboard of content is just as useless. The answer—duh—is both. You should be building your content at the same time you are building your audience, as they go hand-in-hand. I would, however, suggest you don’t build the airplane while it’s flying and at least have some decent content prepared as you draw an audience to your social media channels. There is no official strategy for jumping into social media but at this point, it is imperative that you are not just on social channels but are deeply engaging in them as a top marketing delivery avenue.

The second part of the social media imperative is the challenge of building a social community. The strength of a strong and large following on social media can be a powerful communication tool beyond just brand promotion or product conversion opportunities, although those are great too. Being able to communicate with a large swath of your clients, followers and other interested audience members can, if done correctly, replace your reliance on news media outlets to place your messages and announcements. It can also replace certain traditional advertisements and that equals cost savings.

For example, many news outlets will no longer pick up a bank officer promotion press release, community service recognition and other “do good” stories by your bank. In some cases we bank marketers use to take out an ad showing a new hire with their arms crossed in front of the bank looking ready to save the world. And by some cases, we mean most of the time.

With a decent social following, you can bypass the traditional media and promote that new big hire without wasting your time on pitching the media in phone calls and emails that you often have to do due to protocol even though deep down you know they are not going to cover your story. In many instances you can find the exact audience for your message while controlling the medium and engagement as well. In addition, unlike a print ad, you can get data on how well your press release or promotion did on social media, thus creating an ROI of sorts for proving the value of social media as a preferable marketing and public relations channel.

Which brings us to the third part of the social media imperative: depth of followers. If having an audience was the key to social media success, you could just buy an audience of bots or some other service that provides an artificial lift in numbers. Building a truly deep, engaged audience is hard work. It involves campaigns around following your brand, consistent efforts to post relevant content, nurturing interactions as well as tracking your post impressions, views, engagements, likes and any other vanity metrics you believe are relevant to defining success for your brand’s social media strategy.

Although it looks mighty nice to have 100,000 or more followers on your social media channels, if these followers do not engage by becoming a client, a prospect, an influencer or a media outlet, it would be much better to have 10,000 followers who were engaged and amplifying your message. That being said, it’s still a great idea to grow and build your community to as large as you can as long as it is a real audience and not bots or paid-for followers.

With the rise of mass intimacy in the consumption of content over social media, building your content and audience strategy to work together, building a large social media community of followers and nurturing those followers into an engaged audience will help you meet the challenges we bank marketers face—which I call the social media imperative.

To hear more about our discussion on the social media imperative, how targeting may now be overrated and our preview discussion of the commercials for the Super Bowl, check out this week’s Marketing Money Podcast with Josh Mabus of the Mabus Agency and me.

John Oxford, director of marketing at Renasant Bank, and Josh Mabus, president of the Mabus Agency, are co-hosts of the Marketing Money Podcast.