5 Key Social Media Questions Answered to Help Guide Banks’ Strategy

Want to maximize the potential of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok? Then have a strategy that is tailored to your financial institution, who its customers and employees are, and how you’d like to engage with the community. But no more product promotions please.
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Social media is young. The biggest social media platforms weren’t even around when the first Gen Zers were born.

Yet, in just under two decades, social networks have amassed a user base that consists of half the world’s population. At the beginning of 2022, nearly four billion people globally were on at least one social media platform, according to SproutSocial.

Use in the United States is even higher, with four-fifths of the total population active on social media, according to Meredith Olmstead, founder and chief executive of FI Grow Solutions.

But most financial marketers struggle to maximize the value of social media.

Lincoln Parks, cofounder of Lincoln James Financial Marketing, chalks up this shortcoming to the need for a deliberate strategy.

“Where are your customers? Who are you trying to attract?” Parks asks.

Answer these questions to help determine how your bank or credit union should go about trying to engage with social media users — from the choice of platform to the type of content.

Whether your institution aims to develop a reliable social media presence in 2023, or deepen its engagement with the communities it serves, here are some key considerations, as highlighted by various speakers at The Financial Brand Forum in Las Vegas.

Do Banks Need to Be Active in Every Social Media Channel?

The short answer is no.

Andrew Weinreich launched Six Degrees in 1997, a social media platform founded on the idea that everyone in the world is linked by six connections or less. Six Degrees fizzled, replaced by the likes of LinkedIn in 2003 and Facebook in 2004.

Options have proliferated ever since: a November 2022 Influencer Marketing Hub report tallies 128 social media sites.

But only a handful matter to banks and credit unions: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram. (The popularity of TikTok is also on the rise, but more on that later.)

Whether a financial institution should be active in all of those is open to debate.

Liz McIntyre, director of social media at $16.5 billion-asset Renasant Bank in Tupelo, Miss., recommends focusing on a single platform initially and expanding from there.

“Don’t spread yourself thin,” McIntyre says. “Really dig into one. Once you’re really competent there and you’re seeing these organic numbers, then start dabbling in other platforms.”

McIntyre’s strategy is to focus on creating a strong community on social media, which she says works best by building connections with key demographics on one platform.

By contrast, Courtney Oldendorf, social media and employee event director at the $3 billion-asset ORNL Federal Credit Union in Oak Ridge, Tenn., believes marketers should dip their toes into every major social media pool, to cast a wide net.

“Our audiences are so fast,” Oldendorf says. “They have very different age ranges and interests. They’re all over the country, depending on who your bank or credit union caters to.”

Oldendorf is responsible for posting across all five of ORNL’s social media channels — which is not unusual in the banking industry. Many financial institutions have a single team member juggling social media, often in addition to other marketing duties.

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How Can a Marketer Excel if They’re Handling Social Media Solo?

At community banks and credit unions, the person overseeing social media accounts is typically charged with creating content, mapping out a detailed schedule for posts and aggregating performance data to see what kinds of posts prompt engagement, and on what days and at what times.

Often the same person also coordinates customer service troubleshooting, responding to people’s questions and complaints through a comment on a social media post or in a direct message (DM).

To pull off her one-man show, Oldendorf says she recruits her coworkers at the credit union’s various branches as much as she can, asking them to forward her potential content.

Specific prompts can be more effective than generic requests — for example, asking tellers to pass along a photo of themselves with one of their favorite customers. The post can include a few sentences about why the teller looks forward to seeing that person.

“We give them treats and giveaways for helping us because they contribute so much,” she says.

Dig Deeper:

Where Do Banks Go Wrong on Social Media?

There is one common mistake many financial marketers make: using social media primarily to broadcast information about existing products and services.

“Just because you are a financial institution, everything that you post on social media does not have to be a product or service,” McIntyre says.

Oldendorf says she rarely posts that type of content, because the intent in social media is to create a genuine connection with people. “We are a credit union, and we are very heavily involved in the community. We have so much going on that the content just creates itself.”

Steering clear of product plugs in social media also can avoid regulatory headaches, McIntyre says, given concerns raised by agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the banking regulators about compliance on social media.

What Should Social Media Content Look Like?

Some financial institutions have made financial education the focal point of their social media strategy. Wells Fargo, for example, takes this approach on Facebook. Others, like Silicon Valley Bank, showcase their social advocacy work across multiple platforms.

Natalie Bartholomew, community president at the $2 billion-asset Community First Bank in Batesville, Ark., discourages banks and credit unions from an overreliance on holiday and birthday posts. While they can be supplemental, they typically aren’t conducive to natural social media engagement, she says.

On the other hand, giveaways are great, Oldendorf maintains. Every year, her credit union uses dividends to pay off existing loans for members and promotes the initiative in social media — which she calls a “huge organic win.”

“All I have to do is post these pictures of all these people that are smiling, grateful they have debt erased,” Oldendorf says. “They ask for the pictures to post themselves. And they tell their friends and family.”

Social media can be used to draw users to a financial institution’s website, with the right strategy. Educational blog content is one possibility, if done well.

Bartholomew recalls the day when Facebook and Instagram went dark. She worried about all the potentially lost content on the two social networks, and was relieved when the two social media giants were back the next day, with the content intact. But it prompted her to start a blog for the bank, to hedge against the potential for that kind of devastating disruption on social media sites.

“We were able to post the content from that blog onto our social channels that ultimately drove traffic back to our website,” Bartholomew says. “The day that Facebook and Instagram went down was a really great reminder of who owns our content.”

Read More: The Top 20 U.S. Banks on Social Media

Should Your Bank or Credit Union Be on TikTok?

TikTok is growing and is very popular with young people in particular. Two out of five members of Gen Z (40%) spend more than three hours a day on TikTok, according to Insider Intelligence.

Some early TikTok adopters like FNB Community Bank in Midwest City, Okla., have done well with a mix of videos that sometimes offer financial tips, but mostly are just for fun.

If a bank or credit union marketer wants to try their hand on the video app, they must be similarly strategic about it, advises Bartholomew, a Gen Zer whose own favorite social media app is TikTok. (Bartholomew is also the founder of “The Girl Banker,” a blog and podcast for women in banking.)

“From a banking perspective, you have to think about the kind of content that you like to engage with,” she says. “Unless your organization has the resources, the tools, and a person dedicated to creating the content that TikTok demands, don’t feel the pressure to do so. Just lean into what you’re doing really well.”

Check out more Financial Brand Forum coverage:
‘Hug Your Haters’: Day 1 Takeaways
Innovation Challenge: Day 2 Takeaways

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