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Today’s social media requires a deft touch

Playing it safe may be over, but banks and credit unions still need to be thoughtful and strategic in their approach.

Feb 9, 2023 / Marketing & Sales

Minnesota-based Hiway Federal Credit Union has long turned to social media to showcase products, services and community events. But in the summer of 2020, things changed. As civil unrest gripped Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd, demonstrations and protests got close to some of Hiway Federal’s branches.

The credit union, a financial cooperative with some 85,000 members and assets topping $1.6 billion, turned to social media to alert members that some branches were closing early or even temporarily halting business. In early June, Hiway went further by honoring Floyd’s memory on Twitter “There is more and deeper work to be done than simply rebuilding our infrastructure,” the company wrote, using the #georgefloyd hashtag. “The time to start is now.”

“I think there is always some concern when posting on social issues, especially recently, as there are extremes on both sides of most issues,” says Hiway senior marketing specialist Kent Wipf. “For the most part, we aren’t taking a side or trying to support one side over another. We mainly want to demonstrate our awareness of the issues.”

Hiway is hardly alone: Social media is an integral part of the daily conversation for banks and credit unions. “Banks that choose to ignore social media or eliminate it from their marketing portfolio are losing far more than they are gaining,” says Preetha Pulusani, chief executive officer of DeepTarget, Inc.

But the days of playing it safe may be behind us, with more and more institutions are facing decisions about how to weigh in on social issues or other current events. More than ever, bank marketers need to be agile. “When news hits hard and fast, banks need to be conscientious about their social media activity,” says Doug Wilber, CEO of Denim Social. “Every headline and social situation is different, and responses should be individually considered in the context of an institution’s values and community.”

Here are five tips for dealing with social media in tumultuous times:

Check scheduled content: Remember to review your preplanned social posts. “You may have scheduled them weeks in advance, but you should re-review and scrutinize them in today’s context,” Wilber says.

If there is a natural disaster in a bank’s location or a large public crisis in progress, be extra sensitive, says Martha Bartlett Piland, president of Banktastic, which offers branding services. “In times like those, posts about the bank’s dog mascot may come across as tone-deaf,” she says.

Consider customers/members: Think about the customers and the communities that you serve and what is important to them. “We have a very diverse membership and our staff members come from diverse backgrounds, so we try to take that all into account when we post on any social issue,” Wipf says.

Think hard before you post: Look at every word, picture and hashtag multiple times before posting. Ask people of different races, genders and backgrounds to do a sensitivity check. “Posts could live on longer than you like. It’s unlikely that anyone will realize if you don’t post or comment, but they’ll certainly remember if you post poorly,” Wilber points out.

See the bigger picture: Remember that whatever you post speaks for the entire bank or credit union, from the CEO to the tellers. Everyone needs to speak in a single voice. “We also remind everyone that there is no distinction between our ‘private voice’ and our ‘public voice.’ It’s all public,” Bartlett Piland says.

Exercise caution with religion and politics: Certain topics require an extremely light tread. “In most cases, we aren’t going to post on religious or political issues,” Wipf says. “We work with legislators on both sides of the aisle who support credit unions and the credit union mission.”

Bottom line, when it comes to social media, “success comes from strategy and thoughtfulness,” says Rick Hall, managing director for banking and financial services at BKM Marketing. “Banks can’t be random in their approach.”

Dawn Wotapka is a BAI contributing writer.

Explore key topics you should be considering as you build your marketing plans for 2023 and beyond in the BAI Executive Report, “Marketing in 2023: Opportunities and challenges”