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Five Not-So-Best Practices For Banks On Facebook

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

While researching an upcoming Aite Group report on What Bank Marketers Should Do With Twitter, I stumbled across an article on Mashable titled 5 Best Practices for Financial Institutions on Facebook (no link deserved). After stumbling across it, I fell face down in the pile of cow dung that the article is. The article list five best practices for FIs on Facebook:

1) Don’t just talk about banking; 2) Host contests; 3) Offer career advice; 4) Be cool; and 5) Show off your good work.

My take: To call something a “best practice” implies that it produces a positive, desirable business result. If you can’t prove that it does, you need solid reasoning and logic why it should. Unfortunately, the Mushable (intentional slur) article does neither.


Let’s examine these so-called best practices one by one:

1. Why shouldn’t you just talk about banking? People have a million places to go online to interact on the millions of things that occupy their time. Why in the world would they go to a bank or credit union Facebook page to watch a soccer video? It’s not that it’s wrong to talk about things other than banking (which I would broadly define as things related to managing one’s financial life). But with the choices available, FIs need to train customers to expect certain kinds of content on their Facebook page. Random content about non-banking things won’t get people to come back often.

2. Hosting a contest can’t be bad, can it? For most FIs, hosting a contest on Facebook is like promising a friend you’re going to take her to a great party, then driving out to some god-forsaken barren, deserted place, dropping her off and leaving. So you’ve lured your customer to your Facebook with the promise of winning a contest (which, if they had a brain in their head, they would know they wouldn’t win), and then after they get there, you do nothing to keep them there, because the content on your Facebook is just a bunch of irrelevant drivel, rehashed from marketing messages dreamed up by some marketing intern. Nix the contests.

3. Bank of America is where I always turn for career advice. No better place to turn for career advice than to companies going through their own RIFs. If you take career advice from a bank, or ask a bank for career advice, I hope I’m never stuck in YOUR line at the cash registers at Frenchy’s Adult Book Store.

4. Be cool. Dear Mashable: Telling a bank to “be cool” is like telling Joe Biden to “be articulate.” And a bank does not qualify as cool just because it used the word “huzzah” on its Facebook page.

5. Show off your good work. I’m actually inclined to agree with this one. People who interact with their banks on Facebook are highly engaged in their financial lives.  They’re not their to chit chat, watch soccer videos, or talk about whether or not they should quit their jobs. They’re looking for a deeper connection with their chosen FI (I know that’s hard to believe, but they are the minority), and want reinforcement that they’ve made the right decision about who to do business with. So go ahead and toot your horn from time to time.

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

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

Digital Banking Report | 2017 Marketing Trends


  1. I always love when companies post things that have nothing to do with industry on Twitter or Facebook. At least try to make it relevant if you feel you have nothing to offer in the personal finance realm. You are right, share things that deal with banking, saving money, or getting the best deal on a car. IF your CU is SEG based, share things that are good for your sponsor group. It can help relations with them.

    There are things we can do to have fun, you just have to try a bit harder to be relevant. As always a great post Ron.

  2. Ron,

    I agree with most everything you’ve written above, but as for running contests, I have to disagree. For the most part contests are not the “best practice” and this is only because most 3rd party programming is extremely expensive. For the majority of credit unions, this causes them to violate FB TOS and run their own “randomly drawn” contests. For those choosing to obey the rules, well, in most cases they are forced to spend a lot of money for the App to run their contest or sweepstakes correctly.

    From what I have witnessed, this causes most, if not all credit unions to use a program at it’s lowest level. This generally means they get a generic contest page with no customization, they run a contest for a period of time and their winner’s name is emailed to them. Many Apps have capitalized on the idea that new media marketers only care about “Fans” so they actually developed an additional App to let people know about all of the contests being run on their specific App. This is bad business. It leads to “phantom Fans” and a lot of “Likes” that are meaningless.

    Obviously, I have a vested interest in the contest software that we’ve developed at Chatter Yak! We saw these things as a problem and we wanted to create a solution that was affordable, but also provided marketers with a return on their investment. For these reasons, we offer an application that gives the user information about their contest entrants, allows them to distinguish who is actually eligible for membership and can create a long list of leads.

    Giving a prize away just for the sake of giving something away is ridiculous. As marketers and advertisers, we need to think beyond the Like and establish ways to follow up with people who have expressed an affinity for our brand or credit union. If we cannot do this, I would completely agree with your thoughts about contests on new media.

    As always, thanks for the post.


  3. I wrote a blog post recently on common mistakes companies make online, I think what you’re covering here falls into the “failing to add meaningful value” category http://www.peoplemetrics.com/blog/common-mistakes-in-creating-the-customer-experience-online/. Then again, can you blame them when the “social media experts” on Mushable (love that) are giving advice like, “be cool”?

    Great post!

  4. They aren’t giving away prizes for no reason… they are doing it to grow their number of ‘Likes.’

    It’s not much of a reason, and financial marketers have no idea what they are going to do with those ‘Likes’ …but that’s the reason.

  5. Sarah McGranahan says:

    I would have to agree with Bryce, as we use the software mentioned above. By using Chatter Yak! for contests we’ve developed a faithful group of fans. These fans not only come to our page for the possibility of winning a prize, but they also consistently comment/like other status updates. We’ve gained new members from hosting contests because our current faithful fans/members have shared the contest link on their page. As Bryce said above, we have full access to this information and can customize the contest to our liking, we can ask questions like “are you a current member or would you like more information about becoming a member” then we follow through with contacting them.

    So my advice, don’t nix the contests but rather educate yourself on the best ways to utilize them.

    While I’m here I’m might add that I have to disagree with only posting about financial/banking information. If I’m constantly telling you what our rates are, how to save money, etc, then you’re more likely to look over my posts as time goes on. You have to keep it interesting. I’m not saying post “soccer videos” but post about things that are going on in the world that may interest your fans/members, examples- the election, the Superbowl/World Series. You can be cool, interesting and fun yet still provide useful information.

  6. Bryce —

    I’m not sure why you say you disagree with me. It sounds like you do. I’m not saying that running a contest on FB is bad, or wrong, in and of itself. But doing so is not a “best practice”. While I’m sure there are plenty of FIs who will boast about the response (in terms of # of entries) they got to their FB contest, the criteria (at least as I set up in the post) for “best practice” is positive, desirable result. So did any of these contests generate new customers? Drive continued engagement on FB w/ the bank or CU? Who knows. But I doubt it, and I really doubt they can prove it.

    The fact that someone (i.e., you) saw a need to develop contest software proves that it’s not as simple as just using FB to “host contests.”


  7. Jessica: Totally agree that the not-so-best-practices here fall into the “fail to add value” category. But they also fall into a “no business rationale” category. There needs to be an economic compass guiding a bank’s use of FB.

  8. Sarah: Thanks for your comment. I may back off my contests comment a bit if I see/hear economic rationale/proof (which I didn’t see in the Mashable article).

    As for your comment about financial/banking info: There’s a big difference between posting rates and providing advice. If the FB page has nothing more than “The Statesboro branch will be open at 9AM on Saturday!” or “See if you qualify for our 4% mortgage rate!” then, yes, customers will ignore.

    But if the posts are about opportunities to get discounts on products, financial advice on how to save money on utilities, tips/tricks that other people have posted, etc., then people who would find this valuable will continue to come to the page. And here’s the thing — the people who interact w/ their banks and CUs on FB ARE THOSE PEOPLE.

  9. Ron,

    Thanks for the post, man! As always, you’ve sparked a conversation that obviously needs to take place in the industry.

    People like free stuff. So, in that regard, the contests serve a purpose.


    To piggyback on Bryce’s response: We use Chatter Yak! to run contests on FB and cannot compliment this CUSO enough. Prior to working w/ Chatter Yak!, we used Wildfire. While Wildfire helped us avoid violating FB TOS…it was unbelievably expensive, and our budget just would’t allow us to run multiple contests throughout the year. Now that we’re using Chatter Yak!, we’re still avoiding FB TOS violations, we’ve ran (4) contests so far with another planned by year’s end, and we’re gaining Likes.

    While these contests helped us gain Likes (nearly 500 [engaged fans] with one contest alone), we’ve gained valuable insight and data, and have gotten much better at utilizing it. Chatter Yak! provides analytics and reports that have helped us adjust our approach and better market to those entrants. Best of all…the products offered by Chatter Yak! are uniquely affordable for CUs of all sizes.

    I could’ve also copied and pasted Sarah’s response above, as it was perfectly said. Keep your content varied, interesting, and relevant. You must continually ask yourself, “If I didn’t work here, would I follow me?” And remember, “It’s all about people.” Social media platforms aren’t for advertising. Engage, converse, and give the brick and mortar a voice.

    Keep Yakkin’ it up and keep rockin’ the CU Revolution, everyone!


  10. Ron,

    I guess I shouldn’t have said disagree (duh). You are correct that just hosting a contest to garner “Likes” is a complete waste of time if you have no follow up plan or no information that allows you to follow up. I guess my point was this: If you are running a contest correctly, and you understand that as a marketer, your sole responsibility is to create a return and show that return you darn well be able to prove why you’re spending so much time on new media.

    Financial Brand, you are correct. For the most part, marketers get on these new channels because they are instructed to do so. Most of the time, the marketer has no idea what to do and the person instructing them to adopt new technology has even less of a clue.

    Everyone says that marketing is changing and I would agree that it is shifting, but one thing remains constant: Marketers need to be able to track everything they do, demonstrate a return or be able to assess what could be tweaked the next time. For me, I look at my marketing budget as our member’s money. When you think about things that way, you tend to do a lot more planning and research.

    Thanks for the responses, guys.


  11. Frank Evans says:

    Interesting, because I also have “Be Cool” on my list of things to do every day, right after “Go Viral”.

  12. I would just add that I truly believe Credit Unions and banks are fundamentally different in terms of their relationships with their patrons. To that end, I would not expect an effective model of social communication would be completely consistent for both entities. Our members expect a more personal relationship, and certainly Facebook augments our efforts to achieve that kind of relationship. I agree that we are a source of financial expertise, and ought to be responsible stewards of that expertise by using social media as a way to educate our communities.

    How do contests fit into this mix? I believe, as has been previously stated in this thread, that they help us achieve the critical mass and community engagement necessary to have conversations with others. I don’t believe we should strive for “likes” for the sake of “likes,” but I do believe we need strategies to build a following, otherwise, why are we on social media? If a TV station told me they had four viewers, I wouldn’t spend the time or money advertising with them, and of course the same holds true with social media. We need people to talk to. Contests are a great way to help develop that critical mass. We emailed our members about a contest, and by the end of the day we doubled our following. What that means to me, is we now brought several members into a new kind of conversation with their Credit Union, which will allow us to deepen our relationship with them, provide them with timely and useful information and give us a way to give back to them. We’re giving back to our members all the time anyway. Why not utilize this channel as an effective way to do that while engaging them and rewarding them for being a part of the conversation we want to have on social media? I do believe effectively using contests is a best practice for those institutions seeking to deepen member relationships and develop their social media presence. Just be sure to do them the right way. A partner like Chatter Yak can help.

  13. Hey Ron — I am in agreement on most, as usual.

    Just thought I would point out one big difference we have on this:

    Random content about non-banking things won’t get people to come back often.

    Facebook isn’t designed to get people to come back. The content is pushed to them, and then appears in their stream. If your goal is to increase your universe, then you try to garner Likes so you will push content out. And once it’s out there, it would take egregious and prolonged abuse of expectations to get people to UnLike or Hide future content. Still, GraphRank weeds out most of your Fans, so it’s a losing proposition unless your content is quite engaging.

    And THAT is the real crux of the issue for financial institutions. It’s not that you can’t create engaging content — it’s that you can’t create Universally engaging content. Your near-retirees aren’t motivated at all by the same triggers and subjects as your DINKs (Double Income, No Kids.) And the SITCOMs (Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage) have competing requirements to play long ball for retirement and short-ball for upcoming tuition and/or weddings.

    You can’t create content that fits ALL of the needs of the above. But you CAN target those posts now.

    There is no reason whatsoever that a financial institution should have a single content calendar for Facebook. With the ability to target posts (not sponsored posts, just regular free ones) based on age, gender, demographics, and level of education, you can make some reasonable guesses about where your customers are in stage of life. Program for them accordingly. Once you garner the Like, then be courteous about what you put in their streams.

    I would argue that a financial institution CAN and SHOULD talk about things other than reverse annuities and mortgage calculators. But it should never broadcast those messages to the widest base. Talk about expensive cars, or vacations, or lifestyle luxuries — but always wrap it around the context of how you plan to get there.

    You get greater latitude for messages the more you target them.

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