ColoradoBankerMayJune2015In December 2013, the FFIEC released new guidance called "Social Media: Consumer Compliance Risk Management Guidance." The focus of the document is to encourage financial institutions to think about the challenges and risks of social media engagement.

Until recently, involvement in social media was optional and its risks were insignificant. However, with the number of social media users increasing into the billions, companies (financial institutions, included) are compelled to be involved with social media, if not by choice, then by their customers' expectations. According to research by marketing group HubSpot, 95% of Millennials, 87% of Generation X, and 70% of people ages 45 to 60 "expect brands to have a Facebook presence." Based on these numbers, social media involvement is less an option and more an obligation… Or is it?

Other research companies show different numbers. Gallup found that when they "asked more than 18,000 consumers about the influence of social media on their buying decisions, 62% said they had no influence at all." That's strong feedback coming from the same majority that expects companies to be on social media. Nevertheless, it's true.

As an average American consumer, I enjoy it when one of "my companies" is actively involved in social media. Seeing corporate participation in community activities, service projects, and people like myself makes me think I made a good choice by investing in them. On the other hand, I can only take so many promotional posts for laundry detergent before I'm "All" worn out.

Marketing via social media is a treacherous way to lay a foundation for a successful social media presence. If a customer came by your financial institution and asked for more information about the bank, you wouldn't throw all of your marketing materials at them and walk away. Instead, you would sit down, talk with them, tell a couple stories, and if conversation allowed, bring up a service they might be interested in. It depends on the person and the situation.

Social media is not any different. While you cannot have the same connection with a person via the Internet that you have with a face-to-face relationship, people are people and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter exist because of an innate desire to connect. Social media is an integral part of the company/customer relationship and the key to a successful strategy is to tap into the "me" part of social media, making yourself as relevant and authentic as possible. This concept is especially important for financial institutions just getting into social media because the vast majority of consumers who will "Like" or "Follow" your page will typically be current customers of your bank. That being the case, social media should be used sparingly and cautiously for marketing.

So, what should you post? Well, it depends. There is no cookie-cutter way to ensure your viewers will connect with your posts. There are some good practices though. Here are a few things to consider as you explore:

  • Be genuine. People know when you're not, and love it when you are.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is worth ten thousand. If you have the opportunity and ability to share visual media, please do.
  • You are not alone. Other companies have been blazing this trail for a long time. If you need some ideas to get started, look at what other successful companies are doing to connect with their customers. Facebook's Facebook page is a great starting point:
  • Do not post anything that you wouldn't "Like." If you don't like it, then your customers probably won't either.

Using social media to connect with your customers is not an option, nor is it an obligation. It is a privilege and should be an honor to you. By choosing to "Like" or "Follow" your page, your customers are saying "I want you to be a part of my world." Finding your niche requires work, but it will benefit your financial institution's social media presence, and you might be surprised at what it does for your marketing and reputation as well.