Click and Connect

More community banks are hopping on social media to engage personally and powerfully with their customers

By Beth Mattson-Teig

Community banks are continuing to like social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

Although the community banks embracing social media still represent a fraction of the industry, the momentum to add social media is clearly building industrywide. “Social media is another tool to help community banks do something they are already good at, which is being leaders in their communities,” says Ann Chen, ICBA’s senior social media specialist. As more community banks embrace the learning curve for building a social media presence, they also are able to tap a valuable resource for advice and lessons learned in that space—their industry peers.

This year, ICBA introduced a list of the “Top Community Bank Leaders in Social Media”. The list was created to showcase some of the industry’s success stories, and it includes community banks that are proven leaders in social media based on fans and followers, engagement, content and frequency of posts.

“This list gives recognition to those community banks that are ahead of the curve in embracing social media, and it also shows others some examples of community banks that are doing a great job in their use of social media,” Chen says. “We hope this list becomes a benchmark for the industry going forward.”

One of the stumbling blocks for community banks to engage in social media is allocating the resources—both people and time—to keep up with trends that often move at a rapid-fire pace. Social media is not something that a bank can create and then put on a shelf and forget about. It requires constant monitoring and updating.

Yet community banks using sites such as Facebook and Twitter are finding that it is worth the investment. “Hands down, the No. 1 reason that we love social media is the customer feedback. We have given customers another way of talking with us,” says Caitlin Schlichting, interactive marketing specialist and Web developer at Bank of Missouri, a $1 billion-asset bank in Perryville, Mo., and one of this year’s top social media industry leaders. The different metrics available to electronically track that activity through clicks or views also allows the bank to gather and analyze feedback in more detail than traditional marketing.

“I think that customer feedback through these channels is just invaluable to us,” Schlichting adds.

Developing a strategy

The key for community banks that are looking to either launch or expand an existing social media platform is having a detailed, comprehensive plan in place that addresses everything from goals and content to compliance risk and crisis management.

Another top ICBA social media industry leader, Fidelity Bank in Dunmore, Pa., began using social media in 2010. Currently, the bank uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. “Strategically, we felt that it was an extension of our current public relations policy,” says Joann Marsili, the $615 million-asset bank’s vice president of marketing and sales. Even from the beginning, the goal of using social media has been to be conversational, yet professional and also relevant to finance and what the bank is doing in the community, she says.

Other ICBA social media industry leaders such as Farmers & Merchants Bank in Archbold, Ohio, were drawn to social media in part due to its appeal as a customer service tool. “What we would like to do, is make Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter another one of our branches,” says Marty Filogamo, senior vice president and marketing director at the $940 million-asset community bank, which serves customers in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

Farmers & Merchants Bank is hoping to have a formal Twitter strategy in place by the end of the year.

Community banks also need to tailor strategies to fit different channels. There are specific plug-ins and tools that hook different social media platforms together. For example, if a community banker puts a post on Facebook, a plug-in can automatically send the same post out to a Twitter feed. But Schlichting cautions against blindly doing so: “That is a big mistake and really defeats the purpose of social media. I believe 100 percent you have to have a different strategy for each social channel.”

It is important to remember that different social media sites cater to different audiences and rely on different content. While LinkedIn has a distinct business-to-business focus, Facebook relies on photos and content that is more customer and community focused. In addition, while Facebook continues to appeal to an older demographic, YouTube strikes a chord with a younger generation of teens and twentysomethings.

Engaging your audience

Farmers & Merchants Bank launched its Facebook page about two years ago and added a LinkedIn account 18 months ago. “Many of our customers were using that platform, and we wanted to be part of their conversation,” Filogamo says. “We knew that we could either jump in or get left in the dust.”

The bank uses its Facebook page to post content ranging from local bank promotions to its activities and local community events.

One of the bank’s most popular Facebook campaigns is its annual “12 Days of Christmas” promotion. First introduced in 2011, the Farmers & Merchants Bank campaign had a daily prize drawing for 12 days. Those who “liked” the bank Facebook page were entered into a drawing to win prizes ranging from a flat screen TV to gift cards. That first year, the bank went from about 400 likes to 1,900 likes. The next year the bank offered a similar promotion, but it also added an entry form that gathered additional information. In total, the bank captured more than 3,000 names with email addresses, which it’s been able to use in subsequent promotions.

The contest also helped to boost Farmers & Merchants Bank’s Facebook likes from nearly 2,000 up to 4,100. And people did not just “like” the bank, they said why they did, posting very positive comments about the bank, says Filogamo. “The response was just phenomenal,” he adds.

The number of Facebook fans an account boasts is a good benchmark, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Other metrics that Bank of Missouri uses to gauge its engagement with Facebook followers is its “weekly reach.” The reach number includes the total number of people that could see a post—direct through fans as well as their friend networks that see that activity when someone clicks to “like,” comment or share a post.

During the first quarter of this year, the Bank of Missouri had an average reach per week of 30,871 people just on Facebook. So, that is a much bigger number compared with just its roughly 5,800 fans.

As social media networks continue to expand, the big question for community banks is not if they want to be involved, but how to go about doing it successfully.

“If you are not on that media and customers can’t communicate with you in that way, that is sending a message to your customers as well,” Marsili says. “It is probably sending a message that you don’t want to send—that your bank isn’t progressive, it’s not thinking about the future, and it doesn’t know how to interact in additional channels.”

Beth Mattson-Teig is a writer in Delano, Minn.