Trailblazer: Meet Avidia Bank’s brand ambassadors

The four original Avidia Smarties are also the program’s founders. From left: CarrieAnne Cormier, Katelin Cwieka, Erin Curry and Jessica Bonetti.

Avidia Bank in Massachusetts has a reputation for innovative products and services, and its employee-driven Smarties program is key to getting the word out.

By Cheryl Winokur Munk

When Avidia Bank, a $1.5 billion-asset community bank based in Hudson, Mass., began its Smarties employee ambassador initiative in 2015, bank executives had no idea how popular and successful it would become.

Since then, the Smarties team has grown more than five-fold to 22 members from all areas of the bank. Their goal is to “humanize” the Avidia brand, primarily through personal appearances at community events and in social media posts.

Through the program, “people recognize the bank better in the community, and they also recognize the Avidia Smarties,” says Katelin Cwieka, assistant vice president and social media and brand communications manager, who coordinates the Smarties program.

Name: Avidia Bank
Asset size: $1.5 billion
Location: Hudson, Mass.

Almost all of what the Smarties post on social media has nothing to do with the bank’s products and services. Instead, they post about life at the bank, corporate culture, community happenings and “feel-good moments” like getting a birthday cake from someone at work, she says.

Through all the Smarties’ efforts, they’ve gained so much of a following that they are sought-after guests at local community events. For example, two local school districts invited them to appear at school-run events.

The Smarties program started after Avidia bank executives were discussing ways for the bank to differentiate itself in its home market, which is saturated with two types of businesses: coffee shops and banks.

Avidia was extensively using the “Smart” brand to highlight its investment in technology, and the term “Smarties” was coined as an offshoot of that, Cwieka says.

At first, the team consisted of four employees representing several departments of the bank: marketing and branding, strategy, mobile and deposit operations. This team was charged with attending community events, handing out swag and holding Instagram contests. They also began doing what they call the “Smarties Swarm,” where team members would drop in on local businesses and promote them on social media, Cwieka says.

From there, the program grew, and as a result, the bank found it important to implement certain controls. For example, they set specific criteria for becoming a Smartie and more clearly defined what the role entails. So many employees began asking to join the initiative that the bank developed an application and interview process.

Smarties are expected to devote about an hour a week to the role, typically during the workday. However, sometimes the bank may ask Smarties to volunteer a few extra hours after work or on the weekend at a social event, Cwieka says.

While being a Smartie is not a huge time commitment, employees must be enthusiastic about work and their community. They also have to be outgoing and able to mingle easily with people of all stripes.

Social smarts
Social media savvy is also a prerequisite, since a good chunk of a Smartie’s job is to use social channels to garner positive attention for the bank. That means they must be informed about related compliance requirements and on how to use the technology platform that manages the bank’s social media efforts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

To help with this effort, Avidia created a series of webinars to teach employees about various social media platforms. Once an employee completes the training and passes an exam, he or she gets a Social Media Savvy certificate.

“It makes employees feel more comfortable using social media. It’s also helped with compliance, audits, risks and controls,” Cwieka says.

The Avidia Smarties Team at one of the newest Avidia Bank locations in Hudson, Mass., which opened in early 2017. From left: Brittney Zanghi, Amy Peterson, Jen Cardoso, (top row) Mike Allard, Todd Wood, Dereck Aguiar, CarrieAnne Cormier, and Sonia Mahnot. (bottom row) Katelin Cwieka, Jessica Bonetti, Erin Curry, Sandra Hamilton

The Smarties program continues to grow. Cwieka says she’d like the team to have 30 members by year end. She’d also love to see each of the Smarties gain 1,000 social followers, though she doesn’t have a timeframe for that. “We have some work to do, but I would say we’re about halfway there,” she says.

For other banks considering a brand ambassador initiative, Cwieka suggests they start small and choose representatives with a strong commitment to the bank and enthusiasm about telling its story.

“You want to make sure that they are able to share the energy behind the story,” Cwieka says.

“Marketing is everyone’s job, no matter what area you work in at the bank, and whether you’re on social media or speaking to someone in the community.”

Three things to do before you launch a social media campaign

  • Have a firm handle on the campaign’s goals. What is the message? What are the desired results?
  • Make sure everyone’s on the same page. If everyone’s doing his or her own thing, the initiative won’t be successful, says Katelin Cwieka of Avidia Bank.
  • Train employees to use social media effectively and appropriately. Establish a written policy concerning who can speak on the bank’s behalf on social media, and set expectations for how the bank should be represented, says Cwieka. Without such guidelines, there’s significant reputational risk.

Cheryl Winokur Munk is a writer in New Jersey.