Social media has become a vital channel for financial institutions to build real-time, personalized relationships with their customers. Some financial institutions have been slow to fully utilize this important channel due to regulatory guidelines, compliance concerns and (of course) limited financial and human resources. Others have stepped into social media space without a clear strategy for social media to make a measurable contribution to their success.

One thing is clear – to get social media right in today’s dynamic marketplace, you need to have a clear understanding of your market, who your target audience is, the important issues that drive their behaviors, and how you will engage them – on their terms.

Today’s post will focus on three signs that your social media may be ineffective, followed by three tips for strengthening your presence.

Three Signs That Your Social Media Efforts May Be Ineffective

1. You don’t see many likes or comments (not page likes, post likes)

Many institutions are busy collecting likes on their Facebook page, when they should be more concerned about making sure followers are sharing the content they post.  According to Dennis Yu, CEO of the social media insights firm, BlitzMetrics, Facebook’s news feed algorithm gives up to 1,300 percent more weight to shares than likes.  Shares are the best word of mouth, says Yu.

2. You can’t remember the last conversation you had with a follower

Remember that everything you post is the beginning of a conversation – and it is up to you to post the type of content that your followers will be encouraged to engage with. Then keep those conversations going.

3. You notice that most of your posts are self promotional

Rather than talk about your bank or credit union’s brand or push a product, show an active interest in the issues and topics that are important to your followers.  According to a survey by Kentico Software, customer trust in content marketing is high, however, it plummets the second a brand tries to push a sale.  Their survey found that 74% of the public trusts educational content from businesses on a particular topic, but that drops to 29% when a product pitch is included in the post.

These are only three of a much longer potential list of why your social media may not be achieving the results you are looking for.  The following tips, however, will help you build a bridge to a more effective social media strategy and start you on the path to more meaningful social media engagement with your target audience.  So here we go:

Three Tips for Strengthening Your Social Media Presence

1. Align your social media strategy with your brand position

Recently my firm, Market Insights, (as I referenced in a December post) completed an assessment of the social media activities of one of our community bank clients. They are a well run, growing institution with a talented marketing team. Yet our assessment of their social media was critical, as it revealed a problem we see playing out in community banks and credit unions across the country. Their activities were not governed by an over-arching strategy; published content was largely disconnected from their brand position and their actual social media audience. Consequently, the bank’s efforts amounted to a one-way conversation (bank to customer) attempting to push product and content that was not in alignment with their customers; resulting in little to no engagement.

The bank had built its brand proposition around the concept of Simplicity.  Serving markets and a customer base that are well educated, tech focused and short on time, the bank’s brand position provided a powerful strategic focus to find ways to make life easier (simpler) for its customers.  Yet its Facebook posts and tweets made no reference to Simplicity (direct or implied) and were not in alignment with this brand position. One recommendation (among approximately 20) we offered included making simple changes (pun intended) in the way they post content and allowing Simplicity to serve as a filter for all published content.  We suggested they show their customer commitment by offering “top ten” lists like the best lunch spots or best bars to watch the game, etc. 

 2. Be A Publisher, Not A Marketer

Develop content (either created internally or shared from trusted sources) that your target audience will find useful.  A great example is Whole Foods Market – an organic grocery store catering to a demographic willing to pay for organic and free-range foods. With nearly 3.8 mil Twitter followers you would think the company would be pushing its brand and selling product.  Instead, they have a keen understanding of their markets and customers and a large portion of their social media engagement involves sharing content that is relevant for their audience.  They go the extra mile to share timely and informational content on foods and cooking tips, sharing recipes, etc.  This can be as simple as sharing a summer salad recipe with followers.

Ask yourself when you are making a post – is this content useful for our target audience?

3. Use your social media channels to listen to your customers

A recent article published in The Huffington Post talked about how social media is shaping financial services, and one area in particular was mentioned – customer service. Increasingly, customers expect real-time responses from the companies they do business with.  Unhappy customers often need to express their frustration and, frankly, no company wants the negative publicity of not responding or not escalating an important customer issue for resolution.  Consequently, many financial institutions are adding social media, (primarily Twitter and Facebook) as a channel for customer interaction and service.

Using social media as a customer service channel can, potentially, also be good business. It is estimated that the cost of caring for customers through social media channels is less than $1 per interaction, compared to $6 for telephone and $2.50- $5.00 for email per interaction. The key to implementing effective customer care processes and having a social relationship platform in place is to ensure messages are routed and responded to in an appropriate, personalized and timely manner.

The points discussed in this post can serve as a framework to evaluate your own situation. While not every possible scenario is covered, following the tips outlined should begin to put you on the path to better engagement in social media. 

Let us know some of your own tips in the comments below!