Stop Wasting Your Time With Social Networks Like Google+

According to The Financial Brand’s “2013 State of Retail Bank Marketing” study, 18.3% of all banks and credit unions are on Google+ today. And 1 in every 13 have plans to hop on the social network this year. Should they bother? No way.

The Financial Brand looked at 100 retail financial institutions on Google+. Nearly half have abandoned their once-active accounts — 30% of banks and 64% of credit unions. In fact, you really have to search hard to find a credit union that is still active on Google+ today.

Among the 35 active banks still on Google+, they have accrued a total of 36,677 “+1s” (Google’s equivalent of Facebook’s ‘Like‘). Just under half of those belong to one bank — BofA. The 28 active credit unions have collectively generated a paltry 6,225 +1s, again with half coming from just one institution: Navy Federal.


Of 50 banks studied, only 35 were still active, and only one of those had anything you could describe as “traction”: Bank of America. In the study, BofA represented 41.4% of the total +1s and 37.6% of the total number of followers. Each post they put on Google+ gets maybe two or three +1s, with some getting a dozen or so.

Verdict on Google+? It’s A Death Sentence

Google+ is by far the lamest major social network around today. Even MySpace is better. The Google+ user experience is poor. The interface is bulky and complex. Ultimately Google+ is a social media redundancy offering no real advantage over Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. And if Google’s own management team doesn’t use Google+, should it come as any surprise that the company’s social media experiment is failing.

Who is it for? What does it do (differently)? What marketplace need does it fulfill?

The Financial Brand has frequently asserted that social media (at least for many) financial institutions can be a huge waste of time, particularly for those who refuse to contend with the harsh realities they face. While there may be specific and limited applications for some financial institutions on some major social channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Google+ is without question a complete bust. Even if you think Google+ takes “only a couple minutes,” that time would most certainly be better spent chatting with coworkers at the water cooler. Seriously.


Pick One or Two Social Channels and Dump the Others

“You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram!”

That sounds great. It makes the company sound so hip and committed to new media channels. But then you load up those social media pages and what do you find? Nothing but neglected, empty, abandoned accounts — lots and lots of crickets.

Do banks and credit unions really need to be on all these social networks? No. Hell no! Most only have the time and resources to put into one social media channel at the most (and even then, possibly not very well). Despite what many social media experts recommend, every bank and every credit union does not need to have a presence on every social platform.

Reality Check: The best a bank or credit union can hope for is to excel in only one social media channel, with perhaps mediocre success in a second. In the financial industry, you won’t find more than a handful of exceptions to this rule — anywhere around the world — and those exceptions will all be huge household brands (the top 200 global banks).

A Social Media ‘Strategy’ for Financial Institutions in 125 Words or Less

Financial institutions seem to be looking for the easiest solutions to tackle social media — “What’s the minimum we have to do in order to put that cool little social media icon up on our homepage?” So here you go… a social media “strategy” in one paragraph:

Big banks and a handful of big credit unions should consider using Twitter to solve customer problems and answer their questions. Facebook is great for giving away money to charities, and other similar community-oriented initiatives. YouTube is a good place to stuff your TV commercials and financial education videos. Forget Google+ and Pinterest completely. Foursquare has lost its novelty, so you can pass on that too. If you haven’t started a blog yet, don’t bother because no one is going to read it. And what about LinkedIn? Well, if you think having a company page there helps you in any way, go ahead and take an hour to set one up.

If that’s still too complex, you could really boil it down to this: If you only have time for one social media channel (as will be the case for 9 out of 10 financial institutions), just stick with Facebook and forget the rest.

Due Diligence: Do Your Homework!

Before your financial institution jumps onto any social network, you need to spend a minimum of 10 hours studying what other banks and credit unions are doing there. Assess what impact (if any) their efforts are having, and be honest about it. Ten hours on the front end could spare you hundreds of fruitless hours on the back end.

You need to study peers in your asset class. If you’re a community bank with $200 million in assets, it doesn’t do you any good to look at what a $2 trillion bank has put together. If you can find five successful case studies for any particular social channel from similar financial institutions with comparable assets, you may have an easier time making the case to your CEO.

You should be asking the same questions about potential social channels as you would any other opportunity: How does your financial institution benefit? What are you really going to get out of it? How do those things complement your organization’s strategic plan? How do they support your company’s business objectives? How many fans and followers are you really going to see? How engaged will they actually be? And who is going to spend how much time managing it? In other words, what do you get, and what do you have to give to get it?

Jeffry PilcherDon't miss The Financial Brand Forum 2019, the biggest and fastest-growing annual conference for senior-level executives in the banking industry. Join 2,000+ of the best and brightest in banking April 15-17, 2019 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Banks and credit unions that register now $1,105.00 and pay nothing until next year!

This article was originally published on February 14, 2013. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. Um…you are forgetting about the SEO perks. Even if your copy verbatim what is on your Facebook page, your website gets an SEO bump for every +1 and share you get on Google+.

  2. SEO largely hinges on having a solid content strategy. Most financial institutions struggle to consistently generate any kind of content consumers care about, whether it be on Facebook or Google+.

    There are lots of ways to improve SEO, Google+ being one of them (but arguably less important/effective than other tools). Regardless, step 1 in any SEO/content strategy is having the content. When 1 out of every 4 financial institutions have only two marketing employees or less, any kind of serious commitment to a content strategy is going to place unreasonable strains on their time and priorities.

  3. The points raised are valid for the majority of the FIs out there. Bit tough to compete or replicate Chase’s Community Giving or AMEX Small Business Saturday Facebook pages. I do believe Twitter is a valid customer service channel (one of many); however, as a bank you have to commit the right type of internal resources for this effort. My personal view is in line with the article – leave Pintrest to the retailers. Google+: don’t think so. Use Facebook as a ‘get to know us as a community of real people’ and not marketing. Use YouTube to educate. As the article states, focus and passion is critical. If you aren’t going to update with real value added content on a channel then don’t waste your time and money.

  4. Google+ is also tied to Google Places/Google Local and SEO search from my understanding. Although posting may not be necessary, having a profile appears to be a must.

  5. So Andy, does that mean that a financial institution with 1,500 locations needs to create a Google+ page for every one of those locations?

  6. Further poking around on the subject of SEO and Google+ suggests that merely having a presence isn’t enough. Here are a couple reports on the subject, and their takeaways.

    Google Plus Box Ranking Factors Report:

    • Fresh content matters. Google+ profiles with no posts within the last 72 hours don’t show up in the “Related People/Pages” section of Google’s search results

    • +1s matter. Profiles/pages that get a lot of +1s on their posts tend to show up more often in the “Related People/Pages” results

    • Reach/follower count matter a lot

    Google+ SEO:

    • SEO perks are heavily dependent on what search terms are populated in your profile, and in what sections.

    • Search results for those end-users who are on Google+ can be radically impacted by their Google+ activities and preferences (Search+), while search results for everyone else might be unaffected

  7. mike lawson says:

    Nice take on Google+, Jeffry. I agree that it is mostly a bust in the financial services sector. Too bad, though, because Google+ has some incredible social features to offer from which FIs could really benefit — Hangouts being one of them. And I think it has been treated like an experiment by Google, which is a huge knock on them. Even though it’s not really an experiment anymore, it still has that “we’re still trying to figure this out” stigma. Who wants to commit to that?

    But I think it all comes down to time. Time is the enemy of any quality social media effort. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we only have so many hours in the day to get our stuff done. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogging staked their dominance early in the SM game and it’s incredibly challenging to fit yet another channel/task in the works.

    What I have been hearing a lot lately is commit to a couple of them and use them really well. If your audience happens to be on Google+, the focus on that one. Chasing after every network spreads yourself too thin and will most likely promote a strained attempt in the end — which nobody wants to follow.

  8. True, Google Hangouts seems to be the one cool, useful thing Google+ has brought to the table.

  9. No one in the tech world really has much of anything positive to say about Google+. Here’s a sampling of how the tech world covered the subject of Google+ yesterday:

    “Google+ Is Down, Due To Neglect Probably”
    – Gizmodo

    “If A Social Network Falls In A Forest…”
    – TechCrunch

    “7 Things Google+ Could Do Today to Make it Less of a Ghost Town”

    Most experts ridicule the number of active users Google claims are on Google+ (some “500 million”) because the stats are artificially inflated: Google forces all new users sign-up for a Google+ account, and you can’t even poke around to see if Google+ looks interesting without making an account (unlike all the other social platforms). Google+ supporters want you to believe it is “the second largest social media network today,” but that simply isn’t true. Google may have seen 500 million people fill out the new Google+ account form, but 80% of those accounts were DOA. The average time per user per month on Google+ is measured in minutes, whereas the average time on Facebook is hours.

    Furthermore, the argument that is often bandied about by social media proponents — that “there are XXX million users of [social network X]” — is strategically defective. There are tens of millions of users on Pinterest, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of users are women looking for fashion, wedding and hairstyle ideas. There are millions of people who hang out in other social venues every day — like bars and pubs — but you don’t hear anyone blabbing about how “banks and credit unions need to penetrate this vital social channel where conversations about finance occur every day.”

    So Google+ may have around 135 million active users… worldwide? So what? How many of those users live in your country? How many of those users live within the geographic scope of your financial institution? How many of those users are your customers? And how many of those users would have any interest in hearing what your bank or credit union has to say?

    The crux of a strategic argument cannot hinge on factoids like “135 million users” and “SEO perks.” Try putting that forward to your CEO and you can expect nothing but a blank stare in return. “So what?” the CEO wonders (either privately or aloud). “How does this support our strategic plan and achieve our objectives?”

  10. Trevor –

    The Financial Brand has previously noted that banks and credit unions are largely incapable of- and disinterested in creating quality content. The leap from one model (finance and numbers) to the other (entertainment and publishing) is too great. There are other significant issues involved with any financial institution’s potential content marketing strategy.

    Whether it’s called a content marketing strategy, an SEO strategy or a social media strategy, FIs suck at it. So if banks and CUs suck at creating content and building relationships, why should they pursue social channels? In other words, why do they need to change who they are? (Answers like, “Because social media is where the world is headed” won’t cut it. FIs need to hear an articulate business case.)

    Google+ may have noble plans to conquer the world, but that shouldn’t have any influence on a marketer’s decision to use the social platform or not.

    For those investing energy into Google+, when you say they’ve seen results, you mean they’ve seen SEO results, right? Not bottom line results?

    As far as “short sightedness,” well… The Financial Brand’s responsibility is to help bank and credit union marketing executives make smart decisions. Out of the 5,000 people or so who will read this article, Google+ probably isn’t right for 4,990 of them. So when something applies to 99.8% of readers, The Financial Brand is comfortable making “blanket statements.” Besides, the 10 exceptions (and many others!) are probably going to do what they damn well please regardless of what gets published here.

    It’s also a tad ironic that The Financial Brand gets called-out for making “blanket statements” when one of the site’s main missions is to undo the damage done by all the blanket statements made by social media consultants and trade pubs. They have besieged all FIs everywhere to hop on every social network without any regard to size, scope, manpower, strategic plans or goals. Social media consultants talk as if there is no difference between a global bank with $500 billion in assets, 2,500 branches, 50,000 employees and 60 million customers vs. a $150 million credit union with 1 branch, 20 employees and 6,000 members. They just love to say thoughtless, unsubstantiated crap like, “Every Bank Needs to Be on Twitter Today.”

    If you can find a financial institution that…
    • is not leaving money on the table by ignoring low-hanging fruit
    • has all the basic, proven marketing tools in place and humming along
    • has a social media strategy tied to the organization’s goals
    • is capable of generating quality content
    • is currently excelling in at least one or two social media channels
    • is keenly interested in pursuing SEO as a broader strategy
    • has the staff time and resources to do Google+ right

    …then yes, The Financial Brand would concede that Google+ may be right for them.

    So what’s that, like 1 in 500? Even then, what’s the upside? Aren’t there other areas a bank/CU can speculate and gamble with its resources that offer a clearer, more promising potential ROI?

  11. There are some aspects I agree with, while others I oppose in here.

    First, I agree that they need to choose certain channels and excel at them. Trying to be all things to all people is why banks are failing so much. Do a little research figure out what your target customers use and go there (while keeping an ear open for emerging options).

    Second, the biggest problem most banks have with social media is that they really don’t have a strategy geared toward the channel. They start their sites and just push the same content in the same way and its content the consumer could care less about. Social media is about TWO things for businesses: Delivering great content and building relationships. Most banks aren’t doing either.

    Third, Google+ and blogs with SEO are not something to take lightly. But obviously that is reliant on a content strategy and putting information out there that you customer would want. That is kind of a given. You aren’t going to get SEO without good content, no matter what kind of site you are using. I think that is the big problem for banks they aren’t delivering content their customers care about which is why social in general isn’t working for them. Customers CRAVE learning how to better manage their money and these places done help them.

    Four, in defense of Google, they are making VERY serious moves on LinkedIn’s groups and have a better system in place with great SEO that could be the thing that starts to get them some serious growth. The people I talk to that really put energy into figuring out G+ have seen results the problem is that G+ didn’t come out and tell us what they were or how they were different so everyone just assumed it was attempting to be the new Facebook. Again, the key is to spend some time looking at each channel and how they fit with your customers and market.

    By the way…plenty of articles out there too on how this is the year G+ makes the move:

    I’m not saying you aren’t right here but I am saying that blanket statements about a certain channel not being right for an entire industry is a little short sighted. Find out what channels your customers want to interact with you, focus on those channels, and build a plan to succeed on those channels. Its about the customer.

  12. Sorry, didn’t mean to rub you the wrong way with my post. You know I am a big FinancialBrand fan.

    I am not sure if SM is ever going to truly point to bottom line results. Not everything in marketing is going to be a straight line connection to profit, right? There is awareness, relationship building, driving web traffic, etc. Some areas of marketing are always going to be dotted lines in results. Social media channels are really about building those relationships and driving traffic where other forms of marketing and sales take them to the close.

    I think there are ways it could be used to benefit banks and CUs BUT it would be a part of a larger strategy which they would have to work on creating and executing (I am curious to see what TD Bank is going to put out there, I like that they were able to bring attention to it so people know its happening). Just like all SM channels, they all need a unique plan with unique content. I agree they need to find one or two and focus a great effort on those and for most G+ is going to be a ways down the list but the change from one to the next happens quickly.

    Its unfortunate that there are so many sources/companies out there steering FIs so poorly in this area. We are going to start a series of posts at about social media soon and my goal is to be realistic and help them understand how to be successful in social media, not just be out there because they have to be. If they can’t invest the time to do it right, they are better off to not be out there at all!

    You made some interesting points in your first two paragraphs that make me very interested in talking to you some more about what your insights are into the FI industry and their abilities around content and social media. Any chance we could chat…we are working on a few ideas/concepts in this area that could be interesting but trying to understand a little more into what FIs capabilities are. I am going to dig through the post you cited as well. Thanks.

  13. Trevor –

    The frustration isn’t with you per se. It’s the ass-backward approach to social media most FIs take. They decide they are going to be on social networks before they know (1) why, (2) what they’ll be saying, (3) to whom, (4) how often, (5) and who will manage it. They decide to use Twitter or Facebook, then when someone asks them why, they whip up their rationale after the fact. They reverse-engineer their strategy and goals to suit whatever channels they’ve already selected.

    As with anything involving marketing, there are three fundamental questions:

    1. What do we want to accomplish?
    2. Who are we trying to reach?
    3. What is our budget?

    If most financial marketers started with those three questions instead of starting with a tool-first, medium-first, channel-first thought process, very few would conclude social media is a smart investment of time, money and resources. But instead they look at social media and wonder, “Gee whiz, how can I use this? Hmm, let’s see… We could give away money for charities. Or we could build brand. Or we could provide customer service.” Bottom-up vs. top-down thinking.

    If SEO is a major strategic focus, then Google+ may be appropriate. But 1 in 4 FIs say it isn’t, and many more have some really basic SEO stuff to tackle first (e.g., meta information, broken links). The Financial Brand would argue that if SEO is indeed a major focus for a bank or CU, then Google+ would probably be about item #50 on their to-do list.

    If building brand awareness is a major strategic focus, then social media more broadly may be appropriate. But if a bank or CU hasn’t ever run pure brand ads in the past (on TV or radio, for instance) as most haven’t, then why would they all of a sudden start caring about “building brand” just because “free” social media tools are available? The CEO at most FIs would choke if their marketing people proposed an awareness campaign for traditional media with no obvious ROI, so what makes social media any different?

    Instead, most of the social media advice offered to financial institutions assumes “building brand,” “improving SEO” and the slough of other tangential benefits are all equal priorities for everyone. They presume all FIs share the same goals, and have the same resources available to apply to those goals.

    The time-opportunity cost of social media is a major hot-button issue for The Financial Brand. In a fantasy world where time and money are unlimited resources, social media is a wonderful idea. But for the 50% of FIs with only 1-5 marketing people, it’s hard to justify reallocating resources when there is so much they haven’t done yet because they just don’t have time.

  14. I see a lot of the comments have been built around this “social media argument” that has been raging for the past few years. I am not even going to touch this one because the story is the same. Even more important than social, let’s just talk about a credit union or bank that has a solid digital marketing strategy.

    More and more I am finding credit unions unprepared for a shift to digital as they have patched work things with no long term strategy. It could end up killing some:

    For example, look at the majority of credit union web sites and you will find glorified brochures? What’s the main reason for a credit union web site? It should be to drive leads for loans and new accounts but many are lacking basic call to action and lead forms.

    Speaking of leads, another broken pattern for credit unions is the fact they are lacking a solid email marketing strategy. Blasting members once a month with general news/promos is so 1999. It is now possible to send 1:1 messages based on interactions in person/online/mobile but how many credit unions have email addresses of members? I know of a few cores that do not even require them?

    My point is, there are so many other elements that must be covered first for credit unions to be successful in digital delivery. Social media should be pretty far down the list.

    This will only happen though once credit unions stop viewing digital as the red headed step child and another check list item:

  15. The comprehensive strategy… the integrated approach to marketing… the quality content (paid for with a salaried position)… These are the reasons why Young & Free is considered one of the best “social media” programs out there. But it isn’t really a social media initiative, it just happens to involve some social media components (maybe 30-40% of the overall program). It’s actually an integrated youth marketing strategy, involving products and events specifically engineered for the target audience.

  16. I think it comes down to just what Jeffry was saying, they lack a full strategy. Social media by itself is not a strategy. You can’t just DO social media, its part of an overall plan and goal. Digital is a piece of that. I look at the online banking format for the credit union I am with and its embarrassing, its SO confusing, we can’t find anything we are looking for…and you are right, their website is just a digital brochure. Its a place you go look for a rate and maybe some information about who they can contact.

    There is a relationship issue going on in the financial industry and those that properly address it through a variety of methods will grow and those that don’t are really going to struggle to resonate and stay competitive.

  17. Nothing to add except thank you to Jeffry and everyone else who contributed to one of the best discussions I have seen on social media in financial services!

  18. Tim Bunch says:

    G+ has tons of potential, and is definitely growing. Is it something CU’s need to be focusing on? Not yet, at least for us. Owning a tool set doesn’t make you a mechanic, and having a social media account doesn’t make you a social media marketer.

    However, if you can come up with a reasonable strategy and use for G+ that works for you (like Hangouts or Communities), then great! But chances are, most CU’s won’t turn it into a great experience. Being intentional with Social Media isn’t something our Industry is really good at.

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