Social media can play a critical role in your financial institution’s corporate responsibility initiatives, where you can highlight your organization’s philanthropy, promote volunteerism, and connect with consumers around their favorite social and civic causes. It extends the scope and reach of your giving campaigns, and helps build brand equity. By weaving cause marketing into your social media strategy, you can more effectively showcase your community support, enhance your online presence, and maybe even raise the visibility of key products and services.
“Seventy-five percent of the companies in the U.S. give back, but only a few tell their stories very effectively and reach out to their business and consumer customers to engage them,” says Sandra Morris, CEO of CafeGive Social, which provides a digital marketing and social media platform to help tell those stories and connect with communities.
Rallying That Old School Spirit
Forging connections with consumers by giving back begins with knowing what causes matter most to them. Farmers Bank & Trust chose to support performing arts programs at schools in its market (Arkansas and Texas). The campaign was built around an online voting campaign powered by CafeGive Social’s online voting app, encouraging customers to click in support of their schools. Votes were cast by clicking on icons of the bank’s debit cards emblazoned with the mascots of participating schools. Schools competed for votes in two size categories, and Farmers Bank awarded prizes to the the music and drama programs of the top three school districts that got the most votes.
“In any size town, families get behind what’s going on with their children and schools,” says Neca Pharr, VP/Marketing at Farmers Bank. “This campaign provided an opportunity to reinforce our products and reach out to people across our range of city and rural markets.”
Some of the smallest school districts actually outpolled their larger counterparts in the competition. “They really got excited,” notes Rachael Schwartz, Electronic Marketing Specialist for Farmers Bank. The folks of Emerson, Arkansas (population 354), and surrounding areas served by its school district tallied 2,700 votes to win the first-place $3,000 award in the small school category.
The winner in the large school category, with 4,800 votes, was in a new community where the campaign helped Farmers Bank amp up its presence.
The contest also helped the bank showcase its affinity debit card program. Some branches even exhausted their supply of the school mascot designs.
“Five other school districts have already told us that they want their school to have a debit card,” Schwartz says. “Next year, the contest will have over 30 school districts, and we want to be involved in every single one of them.”
The number of debit cards issued, the number of new checking accounts and new customers were key metrics for monitoring the campaign’s success. But the campaign also raised the bank’s social media profile — literally — doubling its Facebook fan base to 2,900. A final Facebook post congratulating the winners and thanking voters for their support reached more than 5,000 users, and generated 119 ‘Likes,’ 21 comments and 37 shares. That’s not too shabby for a bank with $883 million in assets.
“We still want to be known as a community bank,” Pharr explains. “In all of our markets, one thing in the South that is strong are families and schools, so this program was a natural fit.”
Campaigns like these can be extremely effective at connecting with consumers, Morris says. “Secondary research shows that consumers are more and more interested not only in a company’s products and services, but who they are in terms of their presence in the world. Are they good stewards of the environment and in their communities? Are they giving back? Are they having a positive impact?”
Showcasing a Day of Caring
For the past two years on Columbus Day, Chemical Bank has closed its doors, and its 2,000 employees have fanned out across Michigan, spending the day volunteering in schools, retirement homes, food pantries, parks, and animal shelters.
For the inaugural “Chemical Cares Day” in 2013, the bank encouraged staff to share posts, photos, and videos of themselves and their colleagues in action on Twitter (using #CBCaresDay), Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The volunteer effort was “wildly successful,” according to John Hatfield, First Vice President and Director of Marketing for the $7.4 billion Chemical Bank, “but it was hard to aggregate a full sense of what we’d accomplished” with employees working in more than 100 communities.
Enter CafeGive Social, whose contribution was “helping us pull it all together in a Social Impact Profile in a real-time fashion, which was an added benefit,” Hatfield notes.
The bank’s Facebook page offers an interactive visual summary of our 237 different events and activities, with volunteer hours tallied by category.
The 2014 Cares Day was held in the midst of a conversion merging an $800 million institution into Chemical Bank, so its soon-to-be newest employees joined the volunteer effort as well. The events garner a great deal of attention and thanks from both community members and employees, Hatfield says. “Employees were happy to be doing something different on Columbus Day and happy to have a choice of what they could do from a diversity of projects.”
“Our goal is to be the community bank for Michigan, and Cares Day aligns nearly perfectly with our brand to improve quality of life for our communities,” he adds. “Our entire employee base being out volunteering on the same day has been very powerful, an extension of everything that being a community bank means to us.”
Chemical Bank is already planning Cares Day 2015, and its marketing staff are working on expanding use of the Social Impact Profile app from CafeGive to convey the bank’s full range of community giving and partnerships, including fundraising, sponsorship of local events, and a competition to select children’s art for holiday cards.
From Charity Rock Concerts to Motorcycle Poker Rides
Fibre Federal Credit Union also employs the Social Impact Profile to help manage its range of community service and giving, from a donation to support a senior citizen prom night to the annual Ride and Rock, a motorcycle poker run and concert co-hosted by two credit unions that raised $73,000 for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, in 2014.
“Ride and Rock is a huge, fun event that we plan all year long,” but it’s only one of the many ways Fibre supports the communities it serves, says Marketing Assistant Austi Baudro. In fact, the $776 million Longview, Washington, credit union has convened a community service committee of staff members to review and select causes to support from the many requests it receives from area organizations and suggestions from employees.
Fibre publishes its Social Impact Profile on Facebook, where it has 7,000 followers, and encourages interactions with members and others in its communities.
“People relate to cause marketing—that’s why it works,” Baudro adds. “When consumers see that the business they’re doing business with supports their community, it builds an emotional connection and loyalty. And using a social media platform encourages even more engagement. We want to fill our map with pins that show our support everywhere our members are.”
With well-established ties to the communities they serve, financial institutions may have a head start over other business sectors in cause marketing.
“While other companies are in the mode of figuring out how to get involved, community banks and credit unions are looking for ways to more effectively tell the stories of their longstanding community partnerships,” Morris at CafeGive says.
Both social media and cause marketing can be tricky because they are both hard to measure in terms of direct impact on the bottom line. Nevertheless, few institutions seem to pick their charitable partnerships strategically. To that end, starting with some fundamental questions can help financial institutions optimize the impact of their cause marketing initiatives:
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- What audience(s) do you want to connect with, demographically and geographically?
- What are you trying to accomplish from a marketing and brand perspective?
“Choose your partners with your goals in mind,” Morris advises. “If you’re planning a campaign that you want to go national, pick a national branded organization to partner with. If you want to connect with new folks beyond those already in your online community, identifying the right partner to help you share your story with a new audience is the pathway to accomplish that.”
Once those questions are answered, the next step is selecting the most useful social media tools to accomplish those aims: engaging customers and raising awareness through contests, voting, submission of content, and counting actions participants take; facilitating social giving through infrastructures for matching grants and virtual pinups (like poppies, shamrocks, and snowmen posted online to represent donations) and all the accompanying administrative details (e.g., distribution of funds and tax receipts, thermometers to gauge progress, dashboards to monitor responses); and developing and maintain a social impact profile to provide a comprehensive view in a visually engaging format of community connections, support, and volunteering.
“Many of your competitors may be doing similar things — supporting similar charities and civic events — so you need to be able to differentiate, and show how what you’re doing is unique and aligned with your mission,” she adds.
It is possible to structure cause marketing campaigns to align with sales of products and services — the Farmers Bank school campaign tied to affinity debit cards is a case in point — but it requires careful planning to keep it from seeming self-serving.
“In the social media world, people expect something deeper and richer from you than just promotion,” Morris cautions. “The balance in achieving social impact is different.”
On the other hand, using social media to spotlight philanthropy and connect with customers and prospective customers over mutually favored causes generates a wealth of data. CafeGive’s social impact profiles are developed as web microsites, with dashboards employing Google Analytics to track online interactions. This approach also gives clients the option of featuring their social impact profiles, photo contests, or voting activities on Facebook and/or as a microsite linked to their website to make it accessible to people who are not Facebook users.
Optimizing a New Channel for Engagement
The experience of the Adirondack Trust Company, a community bank in Saratoga Springs, New York, was a process of “learning by doing.” They launched two campaigns —a “Vote-for-a-Cause” contest and an “Autumn of Giving” campaign — to support The Community Fund, a non-profit organization created by the $1.0 billion bank.
In the first year, both campaigns took place at the same time — in the fall. “But that’s a lot to do in one month, and the messaging became a little confusing for people,” recalls Robert Ward, Marketing Director for Adirondack.
In 2014, the bank opted to hold the “Vote for a Cause” campaign in June, and they saw participation increase significantly from 279 votes to 3,669 in the second year.
Another change in the online voting campaign was to combine the bank’s three $500 awards granted in 2013 to local nonprofits in three separate categories into one $1,500 grant. The bigger prize created a lot more incentive to lobby for votes among the community organizations leading the pack early, Ward notes; however, that interest fell off later in the contest among the nonprofits that were trailing in total votes.
“We will probably look to see if there’s something we can tweak to keep more nonprofits engaged in 2015,” he adds.
The combined impact of the two social media campaigns, facilitated by CafeGive’s social platform, has been to provide a cost-effective means of raising funds for local nonprofits and to raise awareness of their work and the mission of the ATC Community Fund. The Autumn of Giving match campaign also features local businesses that generously support the fundraising efforts.
The 2014 Autumn of Giving campaign raised $46,000 from the public—up $5,000 from the previous year. In addition to individual donations, a variety of local businesses partnered with the bank in the effort by contributing a percentage of sales during the campaign; in turn, their support was promoted via social media. With the bank match, a grand total of $96,000 was raised to benefit the Community Fund. As a result of the 2014 campaign’s success, the financial strength of the fund grew, and in December grants were awarded to support 22 local nonprofits (up from 13 in 2013).
“Social media isn’t the only channel we rely on, but it complements the other channels we use,” Ward explains. “These are feel-good campaigns, so social helps us see what people like and what they’re saying. And we can dive into the wealth of digital metrics that aren’t available with traditional media.”
The intersection of social media and cause marketing presents an opportunity “that’s unprecedented in terms of how brands can start to have a conversation with the communities they serve,” Morris notes, “and we built a platform that enables people to build cause marketing campaigns very efficiently and, we believe, very effectively.”