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5 Ways Community Banks Can Adopt Social Media

it's a wonderful life - sold outThis is a guest blog post written by Dave Clarke, an award-winning editor and editorial director in the marketing departments of Fortune 500 companies such as Oracle and Symantec. He is currently editorial director for Hologram Publishing, a provider of custom content for companies large and small.

At the heart of the timeless holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, after a generation of saving the community of Bedford Falls, Bailey Savings & Loan finds itself saved by the generosity of its own community.

While community banks have come a long way technologically since George Bailey rubbed Mama Dollar and Papa Dollar together to make baby dollars, that same community spirit is at the heart of today’s community banks. Only now, in addition to the bank lobby, the community more often congregates online via social media to share everything from recipes to mortgage rates.

“We believe the best part about community banking is the community,” says Dorothea Henry, the social media experience manager for Virginia-based Union First Market Bank. “Participating in the social media community allows us to strengthen the partnerships and relationships we have inside and outside of our branches, all across our footprint.” Union First Market operates 99 branches statewide and is an avid user of social media marketing tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to connect to the community at large and vice versa. The bank is even exploring recruitment efforts on LinkedIn.

Leveraging Your Online Assets

Besides the obvious opportunity to build stronger ties to the community, social media tools also help banks learn about their customers and vice versa. Banks use Facebook and blogs for product research by crowdsourcing to gain insight into their customer’s needs and preferences. They also use these tools to share information about products and services.

“Social media has provided an opportunity for us to have a dialogue with individuals and businesses outside the branch and really learn what is in the hearts and minds of consumers,” Henry explains. “Whether it’s a groundswell of support for a Shop Local initiative or a request for an ATM upgrade, we are there to listen, learn, and respond to those needs. Likewise, social media allows us to share our own news and information, which gives our followers transparency into our company and the banking industry as a whole.”

Balancing Act: Community and Commerce

At first, somewhat surprised that a traditionally staid institution such as a bank would be so casual and cutting edge, customers are soon and easily persuaded by the benefits of having their community bank be a part of their social media experience. “We’ve had so many 'shout outs' and 'thanks,' we had to create a separate report just to track the positive responses,” Henry reports.

Community banks focus as much on the community aspect of social media as they do on the banking aspect, in keeping with their “community” banking roots. Customers are just as likely to receive tweets cheering on the home team, whether it’s Little League, NCAA or NBA, as they are about higher interest rates or new savings programs.

Hey Banker, We “Like” You!

An early adopter of social media, the Bank of Ann Arbor (in Michigan) focused on improving its Facebook “Likes” numbers for 2011. One of the ways it did that was to use the bank’s Facebook Page to allow people to vote for their favorite charities as part of the bank’s $75,000 Sweet 15 Local Charity Drive. Garnering more than 100,000 votes, the campaign also raised the bank's Facebook Like numbers from a paltry 279 before the campaign to more than 16,000 by the time the campaign was over. And, as the bank’s President and CEO Tim Marshall recently told Michigan Banker Magazine, one of the best parts of using social media is the younger audience demographic driving not just present customers but also future customers to become aware of the bank too.

While the nation’s banking giants all lost deposits during the current recession, the nation’s roughly 4,100 community banks (about 52% of all banks, according to the FDIC) saw their assets rise, some by as much as 27% in the past five years. That means community banks continue to be part of the conversation, something for which social media and inbound marketing is ideally suited.

5 Tips to Maximize Your Community Bank’s Social Media Marketing

1. Understand that, while social media creates a virtual community, it takes real time to properly service and manage your social media. Time management is crucial. Create a strategy for what types of messages will be posted, by whom, and how often. Don’t limit your marketing to banking topics only. Keep the community front and center, too in your social media efforts.

2. Get your internal policy right. Make sure staff across the bank understand how social media works in a business setting and how that intersects with their professional responsibilities.

3. Read everything. Social media platforms are constantly evolving and changing. Just when you think you have a platform mastered, the technology, user demographics or even the jargon associated with those channels can shift.

4. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but with banking regulations being what they are, the privacy policies guiding their posting (especially if they include customers) can be 10 times that. Work with your legal department to streamline the process to get photos posted in a timely manner. Photos of community bankers out in the community are one of the most valuable tools for conveying the bank’s commitment to the community at large.

5. Be sure executive management, IT, and marketing are all behind your social media efforts. Without any one of them, your social media campaign cannot succeed.

Interested in learning more about how to implement a social media strategy that benefits your community bank's marketing efforts? Join us at the New England Financial Marketing Association's fall conference for HubSpot's social media session.

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