Social Media Is Trending

It’s not just a fad: Connecting online is here to stay

By Ann Chen

Every trend has a tipping point before it becomes mainstream. Some fashion fads—like leisure suits, bell-bottom jeans and Ugg boots—come and go. But the consistent trend in fashion is that everything trendy comes back in style eventually.

When it comes to social media, the trend of Facebook, Twitter or Google+ may have a time and place for mainstream consumption, but the primary principle of connecting, socializing and sharing with those we care about is here to stay.

That’s why it’s so important to understand and use these networks to see the unique communication advantages and potential weaknesses of each one. With each new social media channel possibly becoming the next big thing (Vine, anyone?), it can be difficult to determine which ones to follow. But social media is not a fad and the movement toward digital connectivity and sharing is not going away.

That’s why ICBA has developed several resources and programs to help community banks be as successful as possible, as easily as possible, in engaging via social media.

“Don’t be afraid of social media,” says Chris Lorence, ICBA’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “Much like when Internet banking began to creep into everyday life in the early 2000s, we need to continue to move forward by embracing new ways of engaging our customers.”

Changing styles

Social media has now become mainstream. Much like mobile banking, it’s something to adapt to and evolve with as consumers become more savvy and more in tune with the digital extension of your community bank. “Our society is quickly evolving from the traditional business model of storefronts and word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals from happy customers,” Lorence says, “toward interactive Web portals and mobile connectivity, where customers expect 24/7 accessibility and rely heavily on what others in their social networks are saying.

“It’s no longer enough to have ‘knowing someone’s name’ as your special customer service niche. Customers want to know you’re engaged beyond your bank’s product or service.”

To fully understand the impact of social media, simply turn on the TV or open a magazine. Virtually every commercial or advertisement comes with social media icons or hashtags that link the consumer to the sponsor’s brand. Even regulators are writing guidance to ensure financial institutions are at least listening to what’s being said about them on social media channels to protect their reputational risk (see ICBA’s social media page, and read the FFIEC’s guidance under Resources).

If your community bank has yet to get its feet wet in social media, Lorence suggests taking four easy steps to get started on the right footing.

First, listen to what’s being said about your community bank in the social media environment. “Consider what kinds of things people are saying in general and about your bank in particular on social media,” Lorence says. This includes what people are saying about your competition, too.

Second, don’t try to sell anything over social media channels. But you can still mention your bank indirectly, Lorence says. “For example, don’t talk about a special auto loan rate; instead, ask your customers what kind of car they would purchase with a loan your bank can provide. Or ask people to send pictures of their new car for your bank’s Facebook page.”

Third, develop a plan for responding to complaints or negative feedback. Negative comments over social media channels are infrequent, but they’re bound to happen, Lorence says. “Some single, negative comments are better handled offline versus in the public spectrum,” he says. “Know when and how to respond without causing a chain reaction.

“Most importantly, understand that you can’t change anyone’s perspective; if someone sees your bank’s service as slow, for example, thank him for his observation and then share with everyone what customers can do to help speed up the banking process.”

Fourth, begin connecting with people on a fun, personal and genuine level. The average person on Facebook has 141 friends, so that means the more favorable contact you have with your customers, the more their friends hear about you and your community bank.

“Social media allows your community bank to reach further, faster and deeper,” Lorence says.

Whether your community bank is a beginner or a novice in social media, this communication medium is still a new enough phenomenon that sharing almost any ideas, opinions or informative content is welcome and encouraged. The opportunity to promote your business to customers or to help people seeking answers to their financial questions is a huge opportunity. You and your community bank can quickly become a positive virtual presence on social media.

For the foreseeable future, the powerfully personalized, highly collaborative communication advantages of social media are not going away. The idea of independent, real-time customer reviews will continue to build steam and become exponentially influential in informing where consumers take their business.

That’s why it’s so important to at least have a presence on social networks—so that you can ensure a positive connection and brand affiliation with a consumer right off the bat. Look for ICBA’s social media resources to help your bank connect in this new and powerful way.

Ann Chen is ICBA’s senior social media specialist.