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Why compliance is no excuse for being dull on social media


When it comes to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, compliance isn’t exactly up there with celebrity news. But it hardly matters, given this: The very nature of financial industry regulation creates a chilling effect on any attempt made to market it.

An alphabet soup of regulatory bodies such as the FFIEC, FINRA and the SEC—along with government-enforced legislation and guidelines—restrict companies by imposing hefty fines and other penalties for violating rules. But these conditions existed before social media, a time when marketing happened through channels and publishing took days or weeks.

Thus, the internet’s instantaneous nature has thrown a wrench into the works. In 2017, FINRA handed out $8.3 million in fines for electronic communications violations. But can banks rethink the challenge instead of shrink from it?

Though the liability for banks isn’t imaginary, it’s no excuse for opting out of social media. While fewer people visit physical banks, about 80 percent of the American public uses social media. The best way to engage customers without face-to-face interaction is through social platforms—and most bankers have acknowledged that truth, according to “The State of Social Media in Banking” report by the American Bankers Association.  About 90 percent of respondents view social media as very important, and 95 percent plan to use it in the next few years.

Furthermore, today’s consumers also expect companies to engage on social media—so don’t assume the conversation doesn’t exist just because you didn’t start it. Chances are that customers already talk about you online. The bottom line is this: Without a social presence, you cannot control or even influence where the conversations go. Banks that hide their head in the sand over social media allow negative and sometimes false information to go unchallenged.

By failing to leverage this tool, you miss out on connecting with current and prospective customers. Use these three tips to plan, build and execute a social media marketing strategy that stays within the boundaries of compliance:

1) Iron out team responsibilities.

I’ve often conversed with compliance teams that refuse to engage on social media because they’re worried about the additional workload that accompanies it. That creates an awkward dynamic with the marketing team that appreciates social media’s benefits but doesn’t want to alienate the compliance team, on whom it relies to get content reviewed and approved.

But by using the right practices and procedures to create and deploy social media content, you can spare yourself the agony. First and foremost, create a team workflow to chart the path from ideation to publication and define each member’s role.

In doing so, you’ll also create multiple checks that prevent noncompliant or brand-damaging content from slipping through the cracks. I also recommend building a library of pre-approved social media content. When you have content queued up and ready to go it takes the headache out of daily posting.

2) Tap into the power of social selling.

I empathize with banks. Most understand the importance of social media but also fear compliance violations. Some try to compromise by posting only company updates or community involvement projects. While they certainly have their place in the content mix, these posts shouldn’t dominate a bank’s social media feed.

You’ll also fail to establish yourself as a thought leader among target customers. Instead, work to establish trusting customer relationships through social selling: the practice of distributing branded content through the personal social media channels of your employees (loan officers, wealth managers, branch managers, etc.) rather than an official company account.

Train employees to build relationships, respond to inquiries and engage the public with relevant content. They’ll become powerful advocates for your brand in the process. When used alongside traditional social media marketing programs, social selling can be a highly effective tool.

This commentary by BAI chief marketing officer Holly Hughes highlights the tremendous potential of bank brand ambassadors. In it, Hughes highlights the standout efforts of institutions such as Avidia Bank. (Their success story is also discussed on the BAI Banking Strategies podcast by Avidia digital banking strategist CarrieAnne Cormier.)

3) Publish content that matters via “4-1-1 cadence.”

Ensure your content aims to solve real problems your followers face and transcends obvious promotion. The more it helps, the more likely it will change how the person feels about you and your organization. I always advocate for a “4-1-1 cadence.” For every fourth piece of new content you share (housing-market trends or local economic data, for example), post a compelling company update or personal story. This will establish you as a consistent, helpful presence in followers’ feeds.

It also matters where you post and how. Users visit Twitter for short updates and playful content. LinkedIn showcases pertinent industry updates. Ideal Facebook content mixes fun and information. Its recent algorithm change makes it more important to spark conversations than to hit readers with multiple posts. Play to each platform’s strengths, and you’ll maximize channel impact.

Putting it all together: So social, highest compliance

After a decade-plus in the financial space, I’m all too familiar with the compliance risk that accompanies social media. But don’t give up on social entirely for that reason. The upsides to engage on social become clearer every day—and the excuses to avoid it continue to fall flat.

Bank leaders can balance compliance and social engagement—and find in the final analysis how seemingly contrary forces can work in tandem as forces for good. Given the potential rewards your peers already reap, it’s time to comply with common sense.

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Doug Wilber is the CEO of Gremlin Social.