A banking conference in Newark, N.J., during two unseasonably cold days in late spring might not sound like a great time. But when every session features a clear glimpse into the future, with quantitative case studies and a whole lot of fun stories, that’s exactly what it becomes.

We earlier discussed on this blog our plans to attend #BankSocial, even while acknowledging the inherent contradiction: going out of your way to meet people face to face, just to get into the nitty-gritty of digital operations? Isn’t this exactly why a host of other social media channels were created? Why meet to talk about Twitter and Facebook when you can use those forms of media to communicate?

Fair enough, but there was an even bigger hurdle to mount: These social media tools advances are definitely fun and popular, but what does that have to do with what we do? Banks and credit unions are serious institutions in a serious business. Creating hashtags and sending out pics via Instagram—is that a good use of a bank’s time?

Boy, is it ever.

Let’s be clear: One of the many unique aspects of the banking/social media equation is that it’salways evolving. Many best practices are obsolete by the time they’re developed, because the audience has moved on from the platforms and tools they involve.  As a result, every grand strategy, and every initiative that’s part of it, is a work in progress.

But that’s also why the presenters and panelists at #BankSocial were so refreshing. It’s not as if anyone has all the answers—they’re instead innovators who see diminishing returns on traditional tactics and take calculated risks, frequently with lower budgets. It was also very clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, the extremely personalized nature of most social tools and technologies lends itself to strategies and tactics that are customized to meet specific needs in specific markets.

For example, we earlier profiled Jill Castilla, President and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond, Oklahoma. She’s been very aggressive in her outreach for the bank, and it has certainly paid off: Consider 40,000 views on YouTube and 30,000-plus followers who engage with Citizens through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Her fellow panelists included Tim Marshall, President & CEO of the Bank of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Keith Costello, President of E&K Financial (and a former boss at several banks).  They’ve all done enough on social media to have compelling stories to tell, yet they all took very different paths to get there. More to the point, their goals, strategies and tactics are very different from each other.

It was the same story with the ranking executives from credit unions—their overall operating structure is somewhat different, and each has its own priorities, but they all fundamentally understand that the era of face-to-face and e-mail is fading, and most customers now prefer alternative modes of communication.

More significantly, these social media channels offer unique opportunities for customized yet public interaction. We heard stories of executives responding to customer complaints in real time via explanatory Tweets, which draws appreciative responses. We learned of podcasts that have a tiny audience, perhaps, but make for an easy way to explain the intricacies of mortgage refinancing—which those interested can download and absorb at their convenience. We heard of Facebook groups that can be used to draw crowds at bank-sponsored gatherings.

The videos of these presentations are being put up in the next few months, and they make for interesting viewing. Again, there’s no panacea, and there are cautionary tales as well (a single misguided Tweet from a bank employee can cause lasting headaches).

But as mentioned above, this conference—the first dedicated specifically to the concept of banking and social media—did offer an alternative take on the current state of the industry. Financial services institutions have long prided themselves on stability and tradition. We handle other people’s money, and that’s a discipline that deserves respect and adherence to best practices and government mandates. But the business, the customer base and the world at large are changing faster than ever before, and these social tools and technologies, trivial as they seem, mirror and enable those changes. That’s why we need to change too.

This is a reprint from Banking.com. Read the original article here.