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Facebook Engagement in Banking: How The Top 5 Brands Get It Done

Digging into The Financial Brand’s ‘Power 100’ database, we can see what type of content generates the greatest engagement with the most fans for financial brands on Facebook.

By Tracey Parsons, Digital Strategist at Social Media Explorer

Some people think a lot of fans are fine. But if they aren’t really engaged, what’s the value? But engagement isn’t everything. Having a highly engaged fans doesn’t mean much if you only have a handful of ‘Likes.’ The truth is that success on Facebook is highly dependent on both engagement rates and size of fan base. One doesn’t mean much without the other. Ultimately, social media success is about creating a large group of highly engaged fans that will help a brand amplify its message.

As part of the Power 100 social media database, The Financial Brand tracks engagement rates for banks and credit unions on Facebook. I took a deep dive into this data, and what I found was both interesting and enlightening. For starters, there are only 29 institutions out of the 500+ tracked that are worth talking about — those with a large, highly engaged audience. (The Financial Brand calculates a “Facebook Engagement Score” using a formula that factors both audience size and engagement rates.)

Subscribe TodayThese institutions are setting the bar for social media success in the banking industry. They are posting content to a large audience and that audience is engaging. These institutions are getting the widest possible audience to absorb their message, whatever that may be.

But what are they doing to generate this type of success, and what lessons can we learn from them? There are countless blog posts each week telling financial institutions what they should be doing in social channels. However, in this article, we’re going to take a look at what’s actually working.


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So What Works?

If you ask a social media expert what it takes to create a large, highly engaged audience they will likely tell you these five things: Be Authentic, Add value, Use Images, Curate Great Content, and Tell Amazing Stories. When you look at the content that has been generating good engagement from the top five financial institutions with the highest Power 100 Facebook Engagement Score, there are some similar themes. And — gasp! — very few of them are directly aligned with the list above.

Among the common threads, you’ll see that these brands have identified things that interest their audience. What generates the most engagement isn’t necessarily “authentic” or “valuable” (at least on the surface). In fact the content that gets people to engage with a financial institution is stuff people are either passionate about or feel personally invested in (hint: not banking).

The most fascinating aspect of this analysis is that none of the content generates big engagement rates has nothing to do with the brand that’s pumping out the content. The brands generating the most engagement on Facebook are drafting off a shared passion for other brands, other causes the audience loves (e.g., sports teams, charities). Some might call it pandering. Others might say “affinity.” Savvy executives might call it “halo marketing.” Whatever you call it, this is what’s working today.

Bank of America

With over 1.1 million fans and a whopping 7% engagement rate, BofA is generating both ‘Likes’ and dialogue, and that’s not easy. For reference, a typical brand with over 1 million fans a 0.09% engagement rate is considered good by social media experts. BofA is beating that 77 times over!

Looking closely at their content, what was really generating the most activity (‘Likes,’ comments and shares) was around BofA’s involvement in programs that benefit military men and women. For example, when BoA changed their cover art to one focused on the military (below), their fan base engaged heavily.

( Read More: Top 100 Most Liked Banks on Facebook )


BofA posted this image for Memorial Day 2013 and got 1,243 ‘Likes,’ 30 shares and 35 comments… on a Cover Photo!

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BMO Harris Bank

With just over 25,000 fans as of June 2013, BMO Harris Bank’s whopping 41% engagement rate is nearly unfathomable in the financial industry. Based on averages for this number of fans, anything over 0.21% would be considered good.

BMO Harris Bank generated this metric by leveraging their partnership with the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Their focus on a shared passion drove engagement rates up just as the action on the ice was heating up. As the Hawks won the Cup, the bank changed cover art and generated nice engagement.


One of the many photos BMO Harris posted to its Facebook page exploiting its NHL affiliation as the Chicago Blackhawks advanced through the Stanley Cups Playoffs.

While BMO Harris Bank’s fan base is only 2% the size that BoA has, their content during was more engaging — sharing audience’s passion. Who doesn’t love a winner? This is one of the big benefits of a sports marketing affiliation — sometimes you’re backing the league championship winner.

ICICI Bank (India)

ICICI likes to leverage the power of images on its Facebook page. The photos are beautiful, consistent and branded. But the content that generates engagement among their 2+ million fans is a steady diet of contests and promotions.

Even though ICICI has more than 2 million fans, they still are able to manage an engagement rate north of 3%! That means 60,000 fans will engage with their content! And those 60,000 people have 300 friends. That means there is a chance that more than 18 million people could see a post from ICICI. Now that’s reach!

The bank consistently gives their fan base opportunities to win prizes with promotional giveaways, like the photo contest that ran in late June that generated more than 10,000 likes and 712 shares.


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Barclays (UK)

When The Financial Brand last checked, Barclays had around 215,000 Facebook ‘Likes.’ Today they have over 300,000. And yet, despite having hundreds of thousands of fans, the bank can still muster a staggering 10% engagement rate.

Similar to BMO Harris Bank, Barclays has aligned themselves with sports (much more interesting — and engaging — than banking). Posts from Barclays in Q2 2013 that generated strong engagement leveraged the national pride surrounding Wimbledon, the annual tennis spectacle. The brand also ran some short, simple promotions that supported both the tournament and the brand.

( See More: 75 Facebook Cover Photo Ideas for Financial Marketers )


Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy FCU has more than 700,000 fans and a very respectable 5% engagement rate. This credit union understands their audience and does a great job of honing in on the passions of their audience. They recently hosted a motorcycle-themed photo contest, creating awareness around a financial product. In this instance, engagement rates were boosted through user-generated content.

( Read More: Top 100 Most Liked Credit Unions on Facebook )


Tracey Parsons is the Digital Strategist at Social Media Explorer. With more than 15 years in digital, Tracey is dedicated to bringing cutting edge, thoughtful and measurable solutions to marketers. She has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands to develop and devise cutting-edge social, mobile and digital marketing practices. Connect with Tracey on Twitter @tparsons.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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  1. If you ask a social media expert what it takes to create a large, highly engaged audience they will likely tell you these five things: Be Authentic, Add value, Use Images, Curate Great Content, and Tell Amazing Stories.

    An important element that I think is missing from here is to ask for the business from time to time buy listening, learning and engaging with those interacting with you through social channels. This skill takes practice and is not for the majority of people running a banks or credit union social presence which may typically be a Gen-Y intern.

    However, when managed properly by a digital business development officer (a possible new title), leads for loans and new accounts can be generated through social engagement.

    As the Editor has noted in another article, social has to move beyond “cocktail conversation” but start to generate real business impact.

    The example noted by Navy Fed is great as they focused on a specific product that connected with their members to inadvertently create awareness around the product offering, loans.

    At the end of the day, it goes back to this:

    The brands generating the most engagement on Facebook are drafting off a shared passion for other brands, other causes the audience loves (e.g., sports teams, charities). Some might call it pandering. Others might say “affinity.” Savvy executives might call it “halo marketing.” Whatever you call it, this is what’s working today.

    Once again, we see a key benefit of banks and credit unions taking a step back not to focus on themselves but to align people, product and process around purpose.

  2. You indicate that your engagement value is based on a formula that factors both audience size and engagement rates, but what is the time frame considered? It would be nice to know more about how the engagement is calculated to compare other institutions to your list.


  3. Mr. Bamford,

    That’s a good question. We pull the data at one point in time — a day near the end of each calendar quarter. If a financial institution has a big promotion going (or some scandal), there could be an abnormal amount of user activity and engagement. Conversely, if a financial institution is in between campaigns, things could be rather quiet. This means there could be significant variance in one institution’s “Engagement Score” from quarter to quarter. While this isn’t ideal, it is the reality of working with Facebook and the nature of the data we’re tracking.

    Preferably, all Facebook stats would be harvested through API hooks — and in real time — but sadly that isn’t really feasible. Social media platforms limit the number of API queries you can run. With over 500 institutions in the database (and growing), it just won’t work. We investigated quite a few different options, and after six months decided it just wasn’t going to be possible.

    Any financial institution that wants to keep their scores high and retain their spot in subsequent Power 100 rankings will have to sustain an exceptional rate of engagement rate in the future. What’s interesting about the five institutions singled out in this article here is that they all do a good job — consistently — at engaging their fans. Load up their Facebook pages (linked to the bank/CU name in each section of the article) and take a look. While their engagement rates may have dipped some since the data was initially pulled, you’ll see they all still have solid, respectable engagement rates.

  4. When, when, WHEN will CMOs and other marketing executives realize that the impact of social media varies tremendously by industry? Some sectors within retail absolutely thrive on it. Other sectors — like financial services — not so much.

    Consider: Magnolia Bakery has 98,000 likes (FOUR times the number of BMO Harris) on annual sales of $26 million. See the futility here?

    Is SM dead in the financial sector? Of course not. But for some industries, despite all the wishful thinking and cool technology advances, it will never be the centerpiece of effective marketing.

    For the vast majority of financial brands, even if the SM development costs, content curation expenses and records retention functions could somehow produce a positive ROI (which is doubtful), just look at the tiny numbers of customers impacted relative to the overall base: For Navy FCU, a “very respectable” 5% engagement rate of 700,000 likes is a mere 2.6% of their total membership base. I don’t care how “engaged” they are, that’s not going to move the needle very much.

    Sure, the correlation between engagement and purchase is encouraging. But it’s nowhere near one-to-one. Not even close.

    There’s no question an SM presence is a requirement of doing business, and for a small number of customers, it can be a highly effective tool. But budgeting and personnel resource allocations in SM these days seem to be completely misaligned to actual results.

    These networks were built to entertain and inform on a personal relationship level. They weren’t built to sell and bore on a business level. The ONLY way a business can thrive in SM is if it truly and deeply understands this critical premise.

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