When a brand puts a message out on social media, no matter how “uncommercial” it is the perception among consumers is that it’s still advertising. But when an individual that someone knows and follows on social media puts out the same message, its believability and reach can rise tremendously.
“Consumers really want to see a face with a brand,” says Louise Beirne, Social Media Specialist at MD Financial Management, a financial advisor to Canadian doctors. For many companies, the best “face” they can recruit for that role is their own employees.
“Leveraging the employee voice can humanize your brand,” says David Lloyd, CEO at social marketing platform PostBeyond. That makes the brand more real, one that individuals trust and make decisions around. More and more of the people financial brands want to reach today do some research about potential providers on social media, he adds.
Antidote for Lingering Trust Issues
Research shows that trust still presents a problem for the financial services industry as a whole. While a social media post by a financial institution may be suspect in the eyes of a skeptical consumer, when a person they know and trust passes on information, it has credibility.
People trust people. A favorable restaurant review may entice you to try the place, especially if the professional reviewer’s picks have worked in the past. But if your best friend raves about the fried chicken at a local no-name, you’re definitely eating wings tonight.
In general, trust in a bank or credit union’s staff can boost engagement with social messaging by a factor of eight, according to Lloyd. He says that industry research indicates that 76% of consumers say they are more likely to trust content shared by someone in their personal social media network than when shared directly by a brand. And content shared by employees can reach 561% further than information spread corporately. (PostBeyond’s platform facilitates employee sharing and tracks the resulting engagement.)
Improvement that a bank or credit union can see may rise even beyond those levels. Beirne says that MD Financial began adding “employee advocacy” to its social marketing efforts a year ago, and that in that time the reach of its messages has improved by a factor of ten. This increased reach can substantially improve engagement and brand awareness, which Beirne says can be easily tracked.
For financial institutions, the potential is already recognized. A poll taken during the webinar that both Lloyd and Beirne spoke at — “Banking on Trust: Employee Advocacy in Financial Services” — indicated that seven in ten listeners’ institutions already permit employees to share company content on social media.
Key Way to Reach Millennials … And Others
The Pew Research Center reports that seven out of ten people use social media in some form. Even Lloyd’s 80-year-old father tracks his son’s business activities on Facebook and Youtube. Nevertheless, two key groups banks and credit unions can better reach through employee advocacy on social are Millennials and Baby Boomers.
Millennials (and Gen Z in the wings) are coming to dominate the financial services market, with many coming into the prime years for needing what banks and credit unions offer. Yet financial firms have a serious disconnect here.
“71% of Millennials would rather go to the dentist” than hear a financial institution’s message, says Lloyd, quoting research by the American Bankers Association.
That’s a hard barrier to overcome. “But you need to reach this group,” says Lloyd. Employee advocacy isn’t only about getting the brand out to consumers, but also to potential hires. “You want to show that ‘We’re the best brand’,” he explains.
Influence through advocacy cut through all the filters Millennials usually throw up.
Baby Boomers spend more than an hour a day on social media, on average, and thus make good prospects for social advocacy too, says Lloyd, citing figures from GlobalWebIndex.
Getting Staffers On Board with Employee Advocacy
In stuffy, dry corporate governance parlance, much is made of the importance of establishing “tone at the top.” Both Beirne and Lloyd say getting employee advocacy moving can be hastened when company leaders show that they are going to take part in the effort too.
“If your leadership is not going to do this at all,” says Lloyd, “that will set the pace for the program.” In this area, webinar participants may have work ahead of them — only 23% said that they had executive buy-in for advocacy programs.
Beirne says that when she began setting up employee advocacy at MD Financial, a supportive chief marketing officer paved the way for five out of six members of executive management to get set up on social media channels and receive training in use of the PostBeyond platform.
She says that this senior involvement helped. Not every employee has gotten involved — MD Financial has around 350 staffers and Beirne says she never expected to have 100% participation.
Nothing persuades like self-interest, and Lloyd says that WIIFM — “what’s in it for me” — must be communicated at some level to build cooperation with the program. If a bank or credit union can get as much as a third of its employee base involved in advocacy, it will be doing well, he adds — many people are simply passive about their jobs, or looking to leave and not likely to promote the brand.
Lloyd says banking employers can show staff that social can:
- Start conversations with potential customers.
- Showcase thought leadership.
- Build employees’ personal brands.
- Connect staff with decision makers.
If that doesn’t do it, recognition and rewards can boost participation. At MD Financial, each month winning advocates receive gift cards and their efforts appear in company writeups.
Guiding, not commanding, participation in advocacy means more in the long run, according to Lloyd.
Before You Dive In…
Employee advocacy is a tool. For it to be effective, financial institutions must decide what the content is that will be promoted via social advocacy. Categories include:
- Proprietary content — Company generated material such as blogs, whitepapers, public relations materials, job postings, intranet content, social content such as YouTube videos, and email newsletters.
- Curated Industry Content — market news, publications, industry reports.
- User-Generated Content — Photos, videos, and articles from trade shows, community events like Habitat for Humanity builds, local conferences and festivals.
Beirne says that once the appropriate types of content have been determined, the right home for it in social media must be considered. She points out, for instance, that Instagram is a heavily photo-oriented platform, with a younger membership. MD Financial generally uses Instagram for reaching 18-30 year olds, which would include pre-med and medical students, and younger practitioners. LinkedIn and other channels would be used to serve other demographic slices.
In addition, Beirne stresses the importance of piloting any employee advocacy program with a small group, as she did at her company. This helped her gauge how to persuade employees, such as the firm’s financial advisors, to take part, and to spot those who would jump at the chance, those who would go along, and those who would ignore or resist the program.
“You’ll learn so much before you launch it company wide,” says Beirne.