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Social skills: Making bank social media click with customers


Many banks think they’re hip with social media. Too many. But the truth is, too many aren’t too hip: They slap some product information and pictures of their branches on Facebook, get a few customers to “like” their page—and slap themselves on the back as cutting edge.

Maybe a slap in the face is needed instead.

Experts say the problem common to banking social media stems from a lack of dynamism.  Information just sits there, failing to engage customers and engender loyalty.

“A lot of banks focus their social media postings on promoting their products,” says Sheri Fitts, CEO of Portland-Ore.-based ShoeFitts Marketing, which develops social media strategies for financial services companies. “They look at what is in it for them, not what is in it for the customer.”

And banks that don’t put a lot of thought into their content shouldn’t find it surprising that customers ignore it. Daniel Latimore, senior vice president of banking for Celent LLC consulting firm, points to one large national bank with millions of customers that gets social media comments from only about 1,500 users.

Rather than promote products, banks need to be more personal on social media and use a wry sense of humor at times to get customers to respond to postings, Fitts argues.

Fun and money: Laugh them all the way to the bank


Several banks have succeeded, particularly on the humor side. One such bank is Avidia, a Massachusetts-based community bank. On average, Avidia Bank sees a 4 percent engagement rate by followers on its posts—compared to less than 1 percent for financial services organizations in general.

Katelin Cwieka, Avidia assistant vice president of social media and brand communication also goes by the handle BankSmart Kate. She attributes the bank’s success to social media posts that are actually social rather than sales driven.

“We try to engage with our customers to talk about local events, charities and volunteerism,” Cwieka says. “Customers already know what products we offer. They are not going to Twitter to check out our interest rates.”

Avidia tries to make postings fun. Its social media crew, the Avidia Smarties, stand in front of a craft beer sign on the group’s Facebook page. Even when helping with causes such as raising money for a local homeless shelter, levity enters the picture.

In its promotion, the bank donated a pair of socks to the shelter for every employee who wore fun socks to work. The bank posted pictures of employees with their crazy hosiery and a big bin of soon-to-be donated footwear.

As Cwieka puts it, “We try to show our culture. We want pictures of our employees out in the community, not sitting behind a mahogany desk.”

Advice about advice: Get personal


Besides fun postings fit for the water cooler, targeted messages about financial and savings issues often prove successful for banks on social media sites. “Many Facebook users are female, so you might want to have a posting targeted to young mothers about how to teach sound financial advice to children,” Fitts says.

Here as well, the content can take on a light-hearted tone. Fitts offers this example: During National Tooth Fairy Day (a Feb. 28 event), a bank might show how inflation affects the Tooth Fairy and the going rate for money left under the pillow.

But if banks plan to give financial advice, consumers find it more personal if it comes directly from bank executives rather than in prewritten form via outside sources. “Banks have so much to offer in terms giving their smarts away to build connections with customers,” says Fitts.

Cherry Hill, N.J.-based TD Bank focuses its posts on community themes and financial advice on multiple social media sites.  Currently, the bank offers the same postings to all customers regardless of where they live. But in the future, it wants to target posts to a specific customer’s region.

In addition, TD Bank employs 25 specialists who scan social media sites looking for mentions of the bank. If a customer mentions the bank in a positive light, the bank responds with a message thanking them for their support.

And should a consumer use social media to air a gripe—something every business would like to head off—TD invites them to call the bank to discuss their problem in private with the hope of settling the dispute and setting the right tone.  In this way, the disgruntled can easily join the ranks of into the delighted, and even become ambassadors instead of antagonists.

“We try to do this in a way that does not look scripted, but rather uses language that looks genuine,” explains Robert Ghazal, head of TD Bank’s contact centers. “We’ve had people who’d initially complained about us and then later posted that their problem was resolved and what a good job we did.”

Why (and where) stories stick


Such attention to detail contributes to what Ghazal calls “massive growth” in customer contact volume via social media. He notes that social content represents the fastest growing source of customer contact with “mid-double digit” growth in the number of interactions each year.

Beyond written posts or photos, Latimore suggests banks upload YouTube videos of customers who’ve benefitted from their services. As an example, one bank showed a long-time customer visiting a branch to withdraw money for tickets to visit a sick relative.

“You’re not trying to sell product in these videos: You’re trying to engender a good feeling,” Latimore says. “YouTube is a good place to tell a story that puts the bank in a good light.”

Remember that not all social media channels reach the same audience and thus content may—or must—vary.

“Facebook tends to skew older now while Snapchat and Instagram are going to younger people,” Latimore says. “Facebook allows extended conversations while Twitter consists of short items that elicit immediate responses. And LinkedIn is good to reach professionals and small business owners.”

While banks keep social media conversational for now, transactional capabilities—such as sending payments via Facebook Messenger—point to the future. In time, customers will check balances or transfer funds without moving to the online bank channel. That said, Cwieka and Ghazal agree that the U.S. regulatory climate is not ready to allow it.

“Conducting transactions is always a challenge,” says Ghazal. “Down the road, I think we will be able to use things like Facebook Messenger to conduct transactions, but we are not there yet. We need to be able to authenticate and identify the person.”

Until then, banks on social media will want to make sure customers can identify them and their messages as authentic—at least from the human touch standpoint.   

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Lauri Giesen has spent more than 25 years writing about banking technology and payments for numerous business and financial publications. In the 1990s, she founded and edited Financial Service Online, a magazine covering Internet-based forays into banking and investment services.