Become a thought leader on social media

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Becoming a social media thought leader isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time, consistency and authenticity—but the benefits can be worth the effort.

By Julie Kendrick


Tim Martinson still remembers what happened a decade ago at a marketing job he held outside of the banking industry. “The company’s leadership told me, ‘Make us a thought leader—right away,’” says Martinson, who’s now marketing manager at $1 billion-asset North American Banking Company in Roseville, Minn. He gently told his bosses that’s not how thought leadership works. It happens slowly, if at all, and there are no guarantees of success.

First, what does “thought leadership” actually mean? In a nutshell, it means establishing a reputation for expertise in a particular subject area and producing content that showcases a unique perspective and knowledge—something most community bankers have in spades.

“Bringing insights and expertise to the industry is important to help educate and provide thought-provoking insights to followers.”
—Autumn Jose, Civista Bank

Importantly, building a reputation for thought leadership requires knowledge, curiosity and a willingness to be authentic. And, as Martinson’s bosses learned back then, it takes time.

“To me, a thought leader is someone who’s been there, done that, and is willing to tell others about it,” he says. “Especially these days, people are drawn to authenticity and are turned off by experiences that don’t seem worthy of their time.”

Reasons to become a thought leader

If it takes so long to be considered a thought leader, why bother? Well, the benefits can be real and long-lasting. Once your community bank has an established social media presence and is producing consistently helpful, intelligent content, you’ll build not only brand recognition but also brand credibility.

“Being a thought leader is important, because it humanizes your brand,” says Autumn Jose, social media and marketing coordinator at $3.3 billion-asset Civista Bank in Sandusky, Ohio. “Bringing insights and expertise to the industry is important to help educate and provide thought-provoking insights to followers.”

It can be a powerful tool in terms of advocacy, too. Last September, a new IRS policy was proposed in pending legislation that would have required financial institutions to report all customer transactions over $600. Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, Ala., posted educational and advocacy messages that outlined the details of the proposed requirement to its social media accounts, urging customers to contact their members of Congress through a link in the post.

The post gained traction and eventually reached more than two million people. The $185 million-asset community bank was asked to make a presentation at a nearby senior center, and calls continued to come in from people all over the United States seeking more information.

“We answered everyone’s questions, supplying them with resources and providing unbiased information, whether they were a Community Spirit Bank customer or not,” says Emily Mays, vice president, chief administrative officer and marketing director for the community bank. “We believe we’re protecting our franchise whenever we’re advocating for our industry as a whole. You can’t just look out for one; you need to look out for the whole team.”

Keys to success

For Mays, good thought leadership is all about consistency. “Everything you produce doesn’t have to be a mile-long thesis,” she says, “but you must have a consistent voice in the spaces where your bank has a presence.”

Another important factor is focusing your expertise. “Pick a few topics and build from those,” Jose says. “You don’t want to be all over the place with content.” And, if you want that fresh, insightful brand of thought leadership, you’ll need to keep up with this ever-changing industry. “You may not be a leader in the industry in new trends, but as you introduce them to your customer base, they’ll learn to look to you for future resources,” she adds.

And once you post it, share it, says Jennifer Wheeler, marketing and social media specialist at $612 million-asset Stillman Bank in Stillman Valley, Ill. “Don’t forget to share blog posts and other thought leadership on your already-established social media pages,” she says. “And encourage your employees to share with their network, too. The more shares, the more visibility your post will have.”


Looking to the leaders

One important step in getting started with thought leadership is to learn from community banks and industry experts who consistently deliver authentic and useful content through their social media presence. We asked the community bankers quoted in this article to tell us about thought leaders they follow. Here’s a list, in alphabetical order:

  • Avidia Bank, Hudson, Mass.
  • Natalie Bartholomew, The Girl Banker
  • Brad M. Bolton, chairman, ICBA
  • Community Spirit Bank, Red Bay, Ala.
  • Citizens Bank of Edmond, Edmond, Okla.
  • First National Bank, Hamiltown, Ala.
  • FNB Community Bank, Midwest City, Okla.
  • Ben Pankonin, Social Assurance
  • #SocialBankers group, socialbankers.squarespace.com

Julie Kendrick is a writer in Minnesota.