Lessons in Social Media Branding from USAA

A financial institution's social media content should always be relevant — to banking, the brand and its audience. To that end, there’s much USAA can teach bank and credit union marketers.

USAA’s Unique Position

When it comes to branding, USAA has a distinct advantage over many other banks and credit unions. USAA provides insurance, banking and investment products specifically for U.S. service members, veterans and eligible family members.

“Our story is built on the values you live by,” it says on the USAA website. “USAA began in 1922 when 25 Army officers agreed to insure each other’s vehicles when no one else would. Today we follow the same military values our founders prized: service, loyalty, honesty and integrity.” As a result, USAA customers have not only many shared experiences based on their service (or a family member’s service) but also many similar and unique needs when it comes to banking.

Subscribe TodaySuch a strong, focused audience makes branding for USAA easier overall. And when it comes to social media, financial institutions need to adopt a similarly disciplined strategy to build the brand and customer experience together. While most banks and credit unions have more diverse audiences, USAA enjoys tremendous success publishing social content that supports its business goals.

USAA’s Results

Take a look at what USAA accomplished on Facebook in Q1, for example. During this time period, USAA moved up a spot in the Power 100, making them the 10th “most Liked” bank. With 642,064 likes recorded in Q1, USAA’s engagement rate of 1.04% is higher than the other U.S. banks in the top 10, except Wells Fargo (1.33%). Facebook engagement rates for the top three banks – Bank of America, Chase and Capital One – are 0.70%, 0.08% and 0.36% respectively. Other financial services companies can learn from USAA how to focus social media streams on what matters to their brand.

Using Facebook Posts to Brand the Customer Experience

By now, most brands are socially savvy enough to recognize some basic “kinds” of posts that companies publish to fans’ newsfeeds: offers, product/service “selling,” curated content, topical content (special events, seasons, etc.), viral content, photographs/images and conversation starters. When a brand like USAA utilizes these posts strategically, they become an integral part of a brand-building strategy and can not only boost brand recognition but also loyalty; consumers want to feel good about where they conduct their business, and a strategic approach to social content helps accomplish this.

The following are examples from USAA’s Facebook Timeline (all from Q1) showing how posts within the categories listed above can work hard for the brand and connect with people.

Promotions

Many brands promote offers exclusive to customers and cardmembers, but are the offers based on the needs and interests of the intended audience? USAA is especially tuned into the offers that make sense for its market segment, as shown by the substance of the offers and reinforced by the language in the posts.

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Product/Service ‘Selling’

It can be difficult — but important nonetheless — to do a small amount of “selling” on Facebook. Often, this means reminding fans about product benefits and services, and sometimes these posts can come across as self-serving. In these examples, however, USAA positions its products at the service of its members. Note: the debt ceiling post links to the USAA “News Center” announcement of special payment arrangements, payroll advance loans (0%), early penalty-free withdrawals from CDs, etc., and the moving post links to the free “MoversAdvantage” program USAA’s network of “real estate agent[s] who know the needs of our military membership.”

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Curated Content

It’s very common for companies to find and share (i.e., “curate”) content from sources extraneous to the brand, but many sources of this content do little to actually build the brand. USAA strategically curates content from a number of sources relevant to the brand and its customers.

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Timely Content

There are always opportunities to tie Facebook content to a topical issue —special events, sports memes, seasons or holidays, etc. However, brands don’t always make these references brand- and customer-specific. What’s the relevance? USAA is a notable exception. Note how it makes the Olympics, the Monday blues, the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day personal to its audience.

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Viral Content

Ah, the elusive viral content! It’s very, very tempting to jump on viral posts no matter how random. When the internet buzzes about something, brands want their draft off that momentum. Strategically, it only makes sense to do so when there’s a branding or customer experience reason to do so, as in these examples from USAA. When news of TJ Oshie honoring “real heroes” and a picture of a dog guarding a resting soldier “went viral,” USAA shared them with fans because of the obvious connection with the brand.

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Photographs/Images

It’s been proven that photographs and images are the most popular content on Facebook and result in high engagement. But quality, compelling photos can be hard — or expensive! — to come by. USAA fills its Timeline with photographs that not only pack an incredible “wow factor,” but also bolsters the brand by celebrating its customer base. Note: It accomplishes this (in part) by curating from relevant sources, as mentioned above.

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Conversation Starters

We’ve all seen brands waste opportunities for conversation on Facebook with generic questions like “What’s your favorite color?” Instead, it’s much more effective to keep the conversation relevant to financial services and customer needs. Even though it’s “social,” the conversation should always be about something that matters to the brand’s audience, as in these examples from USAA.

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Key Takeaways

Relevance cannot be something that happens only once or twice a month, every now and then. Relevance is important all the time. When the brand comes through in every post, its helps customers and prospects know who the brand is and how they might be a good fit. USAA is consistent in its branding and reliably focused on customers and financial services. In fact, you’ll struggle to find any off-topic examples like this…

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It all goes to show that it’s difficult to maintain a disciplined focus. But when a brand “gets” its customers, the opportunities to convey it are far more meaningful than random trivia — inspirational quotes and puppy pics. USAA gets it right time and time again.

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