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Five ways to make social media a strong arm of your marketing plan

Apr 5, 2019 / Marketing & Sales

While social media has become an important marketing channel in the financial services industry, many banks maintain a presence simply for the sake of it. And those platforms—whether on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat—are just too crowded to embrace the wishful thinking of “If you build it, they will come.”

Think of it this way: Would banks leave other elements of their corporate and financial strategy to the winds of fate and paint-by-numbers prescripts? Merely posting about product information, publicizing the bank’s offering, and chasing “likes” and followers doesn’t constitute an effective strategy or do much to attract new customers.

Financial institutions can gain significant benefits from social media outlets if they take a more strategic approach. By demonstrating authenticity, using employees as social media ambassadors and featuring personal stories, banks can wield social media to engage consumers in new, meaningful ways and capture new leads.  
Here are five ways to make social media a strong arm of your marketing plan:

1. Capture new leads

Followers are nice—but what really matters is generating leads. The best way to drive social results is to provide useful, relevant content that can help your marketing team nurture new prospects.

While financial literacy content is a great way to attract new prospects, any content relevant to the community or demographic can be very effective, says Liz McIntyre, vice president of marketing and director of social media and PR at Renasant Bank in Oxford, Mississippi. The Southern bank has found recent success by posting about life in the South and by making viral videos about SEC football.

Whatever the approach, it’s essential to track where leads come from. Social media campaigns for Renasant’s new Rewards Extra checking account (which has its own app) link straight to a specific website. “We can see how many people have opened accounts from that website and the marketing we’re doing via social media,” McIntyre says. “We’ve really been targeting new [prospects].”

Banks should also identify which platforms best suit their marketing efforts. While Facebook and Twitter are popular, Snapchat and Instagram stand out as the best to reach younger consumers, says Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer at Ally Financial.

2. Make your employees social media ambassadors

Enabling employees to serve as social media ambassadors can strengthen marketing outreach.

At Massachusetts-based Avidia Bank, the 15-person Avidia Smarties team engages the community at events and through social media. CarrieAnne Cormier, vice president of retail operations and Strategy, said on a BAI Banking Strategies podcast that it helped personalize the bank and show they’re not just “bankers behind a mahogany desk.”

As every bank claims to have excellent service and low fees, “We’re using our brand and employees as a differentiator,” Cormier said. “We need to make our brand relatable and fun and that’s what we really try to do with the Smarties.”

Yet empowering employees also requires providing them with tools and training. Many bank employees don’t participate out of fear that they may say something wrong. To make things easier, McIntyre trains employees on social media practices and archives content at Renasantnation.com so they have pre-approved articles and links to pull from in conversations.

“There’s enough content for them to post two or three items per week until the end of the year’” McIntyre says. “It has really improved participation.”

3. Listen to and feature personal stories

Social marketing efforts shine when banks humanize the brand with client success stories. Audiences often welcome inspirational stories about how small businesses or consumers overcome their challenges and achieve dreams with help from the bank’s products or services.

As consumers move further from traditional media, banks can stay relevant by listening to consumers on social media. Ally’s “Banksgiving” campaign started when a customer told an associate on social media that they wished they could have a million dollars. From that joke came bona fide hope; Ally’s campaign gained widespread press and a positive profile that seven digits of ad dollars couldn’t buy.

Keeping it simple, Ally started to grant wishes. In one case, they helped a customer travel to the Netherlands to see her partner. In another story, the bank donated $50,000 so a customer in Gainesville, Florida could help needy residents in her community. “We took our customer-centric approach a step further than usual to demonstrate to our customers our

interest in them and things they care about,” Brimmer says.

4. Be real

Where most marketing efforts founder as one-way communication channels, social media offers the unique opportunity for banks to demonstrate authenticity. So toss out the pre-scripted, template messages, Brimmer says. “Content needs to be channel specific, built for mobile, personalized and attention grabbing enough to get you to stop scrolling.” In the Banksgiving campaign, for example, Ally ensured authenticity by using real, unscripted employees to engage customers.

While banks must carefully curate posts and comments, the “forever” nature of web content also presents a chance to publicly demonstrate commitment to the customer, McIntyre says. Banks that “fall on the sword” and take responsibility for customer issues—then publicly resolve them in front of the world—can turn disenchantment into praise and a powerful marketing event.

“I can’t tell you how thankful people are when they’re having a real conversation instead of having to wait for a call center,” she says. “It really strengthens the customer relationship.”

5. Craft a content calendar

Mapping out a year’s worth of content and posts ahead of time can help banks optimize their social messaging and marketing strategy. Renasant already has a content calendar created for all of 2019, split up by quarter with strategic goals and content tied to holidays, seasons and special times of the year.

“We have three to four posts scheduled and ready to go every week for the rest of the year,” McIntyre says. “We know what we’ll be talking about and when.”

As timing is essential, tying to social media campaigns to events is very effective, Brimmer says.

In 2018, #AllyBigSave promoted the company’s offerings and encouraged users to compete for cash prizes during Super Bowl LII.

As Ally’s big game game was only playable during commercial breaks for the Philadelphuia Eagles-New England Patriots contest, it went head-to-head with some of the biggest brands. Still, it scored something of an upset, gaining prime time exposure without a 30-second Super Bowl ad—which that year cost at least $5 million.

Ally has also used Snapchat for event marketing such as the International Champions Cup and NASCAR platforms.

“Overall, the way that we go to market is more about experiences,” Brimmer says. “And because of the rapid pace of technological disruption, consumer experiences and expectations are changing like never before. Our job is to keep ahead of it and deliver a message that’s relevant to them at just the right time.”

All of which, you could say, makes their social media special media.

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Craig Guillot is a business writer who specializes in retail and finance. His work has appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, CNBC.comBankrate.com and Better Investing.