At first glance, social media and retail banks may seem like an odd match doomed to fail from the start.
But in reality, in today's world, having a clear and well thought-out social media strategy can make or break a financial institution.
From acquiring and retaining customers to boosting profits, creating a positive brand image and dealing quickly with crises, there's no limit to the power of social media.
Here are 5 innovative ways banks can make the most out of social media.
1. Provide real-time customer service
Social media isn't just for socialising; it's rapidly becoming the number one place people go for customer service.
In fact, a study from J.D. Power found that nearly 70% of consumers have used a company's social media site for customer service needs.
That means banks need to be fully present and engaged on social platforms so that they can respond with speed and accuracy to any questions or concerns that arise.
Being on social media gives brands something they've never had before: the opportunity to handle issues in real time, thereby instantly boosting customer satisfaction levels.
For customers, this speediness no doubt provides a very welcome break from traditional banking customer service techniques, which were often slow and lacked personalisation
But being proactive on social isn't just good for brand image; it's also been shown to increase sales.
A study by Bain & Company found that when companies engage and respond to customer service requests over social media, those customers end up spending 20% to 40% more with the company.
The key to effective social media customer service is being accurate, good-natured and quick.
Indeed, according to FreshSparks, 42% of consumers expect a customer service response on social media within 60 minutes.
Compare that with the fact that financial services companies typically take more than nine hours to get back in touch, and it's clear there's lots of room for improvement.
Perhaps even more shockingly, after having a poor customer experience, 56% of customers will never use the company again.
Therefore it's essential for the whole social media team to be highly trained so that they're on the same page when it comes to usage and communication policies as well as crisis management.
As a general rule, the best way to handle negative comments is to address the person directly with a friendly, human response.
If the negativity continues, offer to take the conversation offline so that the rest of your followers don't have to watch the dispute unfold.
But most of all, be honest, be transparent, and don't lose your temper. That kind of behaviour will always make you look bad, and it will likely cost you customers as well.
Alongside implementing a social media customer service strategy, banks should also be monitoring social channels to get a feel for the landscape and react to useful feedback.
This is what's known as social listening.
Twitter and Facebook are incredible places to do social listening, which you can also think of as modern-day market research.
These platforms let you gather important information about customers and potential customers to help you plan new products and services.
These platforms let you gather important information about customers and potential customers to help you plan new products and services.
To master social listening, take some time to understand how your audience behaves. What keywords are they using? What are they searching for? What platforms do they use most?
Answering these questions will help you engage more effectively with your target audience and ultimately turn them into brand advocates.
Organisations can also use information gleaned from social listening to improve existing propositions and spot opportunities for new business.
Remember: a single, genuine Twitter comment can often be far more useful than multiple generic survey responses.
2. Launch new products and promote to people who care
Accruing a following on social is essentially like being gifted a mass of people who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer.
This makes your social platforms the perfect resource for marketing the launch of a new product or feature.
Promoting your new product on social media – without being too pushy or salesy (we'll get into this more later) – can have a huge effect on how well it does.
Take for example Avidia, a community bank based in the U.S., which launched a social media campaign before releasing their Cardless Cash product.
Their social efforts included a live Q&A on Periscope and influencer targeting.
As a result, Avivia saw a 13% increase in mobile app enrollments, and the bank's Twitter engagement saw an overall 101% boost.
Monzo also leverages social media to generate excitement before launching new products and features, gaining a substantial following in the process.
To make the most of a social media product launch campaign, you can do some of the following: create a memorable hashtag, ask questions to get people involved, host a contest, give regular updates, and start a countdown as the launch date approaches.
According to Sprout Social, 74% of consumers use social media to guide their purchasing decisions.
Evidently, taking advantage of social media has the potential to drive the success of your new product; just remember not to make your posts look like too much like an ad.
3. Interact in fun and innovative ways to engage customers
Ask questions & join conversations
At its heart, social media is a community, allowing people from all across the globe to interact and connect with one another at the click of a button.
And so, if your company is using social media solely as a megaphone for talking about itself, they're doing it wrong.
The most successful organisations take part in relevant conversations and ask thought-provoking questions that inspire their target audience to react and engage.
They use trending hashtags to have their say in global discussions, react to relevant news stories, and incorporate national holidays and big events into their social media plan.
Organisations should also bear in mind that in order for their posts to have any traction, they need to be visually appealing or intriguing, otherwise they're likely to get overlooked.
Stimulating videos, surprising facts and interesting infographics are just some of the types of content that are bound to provoke responses and get shared and re-shared.
Just try not to be captivated by this eye-catching infographic about infographics:
Have fun with it
Of course, social media isn't all about providing dry information; it's also important to inject an element of fun into it.
After all, getting on social media is a bank's chance to demonstrate its human side and show the world that it's not just a faceless corporation.
From quizzes and contests to exciting giveaways, there are lots of ways retail banks can get people engaged with their brand.
Wisconsin-based First Bank Financial Centre, for instance, came up with a unique way to reach people by launching a campaign on Facebook called Where's Mark Wednesday.
Each week, a bobblehead figure of CEO Mark Mohr appears in a different location around the world. The first person to correctly guess the location wins a $10 gift card.
No matter how small or silly the prize, creating a contest – especially one that involves the CEO – humanises an organisation and gets people interested in what they have to say.
And when people are able to see the human, relatable side of a company, they're far more likely to have a closer look at what they have to offer financially.
Another great example of social media done right comes from Bank of America, whose Pinterest account has an impressive 1.1million monthly unique viewers.
The bank's Pinterest boards are filled with humorous infographics, cute characters and useful financial tips aimed at people in various stages of their lives.
Some of the pins – like Llama Life Lessons – may seem silly, but that's exactly the point. BoA earns automatic points by being authentic and fun, and not taking themselves too seriously.
And the payoff is clear; as of 2015, less than a year after Bank of America joined Pinterest, the platform was already driving 30% of social media traffic to its money management website.
4. Earn trust by being authentic
One of the most important things to remember about social media is that it's a place where people appreciate authenticity and a sense of humour.
That means it is of the utmost importance for companies to get their language and tone right, at the risk of completely alienating their audience and potential customers.
Here are some simple rules to follow:
Stop being salesy & cut the corporate jargon
It's a simple fact that if a company comes across on social media as overly corporate or self-promotional, there's no way people will want to engage.
After all, the reason we use social media is to build and maintain relationships, not to purchase products or services.
So forget the sales pitch, and find more subtle ways to show – rather than tell – people about your company's or product's strengths.
In his book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk says that less than a quarter of all content posted on social media should be promotional.
That being said, you should most certainly build awareness of your products and offers via social; the trick is to promote subtly, and to always offer direct value to the reader.
Another key to blending into the social media landscape is using the appropriate language. While brands should avoid jargon, it's equally important not to try too hard by attempting to use ‘cool' millennial language. They'll be able to see right through it.
As I've already said before, the key to social media is about blending in with your customers' feeds.
That means creating content that someone's friends and family might share, and avoiding posting things that are blatantly adverts.
One bank that does this brilliantly is Monzo. Scroll through their Twitter page and you'll see everything from funny memes and videos to useful money tips and links to their blog.
And the content on their blog features company updates, interviews with real couples about how money plays into their relationships, and even an agony aunt who helps solve everyday financial dilemmas.
Almost every post mentions their brand, but hardly any of them actually tell people to buy their service.
It's this balance that's essential to get right if you want to earn trust and keep people interested.
5. Invest in targeted advertising & watch profits grow
Unfortunately, even if you have the funniest and most engaging social posts in the world, there's a good chance no one will see them because – to put it bluntly – organic reach is dead.
According to Unmetric, unpromoted content on Facebook generates only 90 interactions per post on average.
By contrast, promoted content generates 1,930 interactions – that's 21 times more than organic posts.
It's clear to see that unless you are a super established and well-known brand, the only real way to reach people is through paid social.
‘But this totally contradicts your former point about being too salesy!' I hear you say.
Not so. Done right, paid social will boost your bottom line and cost you a whole lot less than traditional advertising avenues.
Here's how to do it right:
Originally coined by Google, the term ‘micro-moment' is used to describe an ‘intent-rich' moment when a person turns to their device to act on one of four desires:
- I want to know
- I want to go
- I want to do
- I want to buy
Content that targets these pain points can be how-to guides, product reviews, local events, or financial tips that provide real value.
On average, people check their phones up to 150 times a day. That means there are 150 opportunities for banks to draw in potential customers by offering a solution to a genuine pain point.
With an estimated 2 billion Facebook searches and 2.1 billion Twitter searches being made every day, it's crucial to create content that addresses your target audience's micro-moments.
Consider boosting posts
Alongside normal paid campaigns, Facebook also allows business page owners to boost the reach of individual posts.
Consider doing this to get your contests, offers and giveaways seen by more people.
This type of content generates excitement about a brand and is more likely to get shares and engagements, bringing even more people to your website.
Be sure to target your boosted post appropriately, showing it to the audience that will likely respond most positively.
To get the most out of your boosted post, do some experimentation by testing and comparing different ads and targeting a variety of audiences.
And remember that it's not just millennials who use social; in fact, a whopping 79% of 30 to 49-year-olds have Facebook accounts too.
Keep an eye on the analytics so you can see what type of post and targeting does best.
Also note that while boosting a Facebook post can be a great way to drive growth, Twitter has some restrictions on advertising on the platform for financial products and services.
Like any element of a commercial strategy, social media is not just a static thing that you can set up once and then leave it alone; you need to regularly monitor and update your social plan.
This is essential not only for driving engagement, but also for building trust, creating a positive brand image and ultimately converting followers into buyers.
Being active on social media has multiple benefits for banks: it lets them show their human side, interact with real customers, test ideas and products, receive feedback, and provide customer service at a quicker rate than ever.
As long as a bank's social media strategy is carefully planned out and constantly improved, it can be a useful and inexpensive tool for strengthening the brand and growing the business.