The way we see it, community and regional banks are uniquely positioned to benefit from social influencer campaigns. These locally focused institutions that often do so much to give back to their communities have a personal story to tell. The right social influencer can make sure the right people hear that story, and feel engaged by it, too. The key to making the most of a partnership lies in identifying the right influencers, telling the right stories, and following the right regulations.

What Is a Social Influencer?

Let’s take a step back to consider the definition of an “influencer.” This is a hot term that gets thrown around a lot in PR and advertising circles. But what does it mean? In any community, there are influential people who tend to steer community conversations and focus. When that community is social media, a person who has built a loyal audience and is open to sharing stories that feature brands is called a social influencer. Influencers can use any social media channel, but for community and regional banks, we see promise in sticking with YouTube and Instagram.

Social influencers may enter into different forms of partnerships with brands:

  1. Organic partnerships: Some influencers will talk about a brand organically, because they really believe in that brand, and no money will be exchanged for mentions of products. Sometimes the partnership will be based on a barter system. While less costly (free), these partnerships also afford fewer controls for the brand partner.
  2. Paid partnerships: There are also paid partnerships, where social influencers will accept a fee in exchange for mentioning a brand. This becomes like a paid advertising contract, and the brand will be able to provide guidelines and have approval privileges.

Social influencers come in all different sizes. “Social influencer” generally refers to personalities who have more than 100,000 followers. “Micro-influencer” refers to personalities with less than 100,000 followers, and the nano-influencers have closer to 10,000 or 15,000 followers. The more followers a social influencer has does not necessarily mean the more coveted a partnership would be. Especially when considering community or regional bank brands, we like to look at nano-influencers, who might have a higher rate of engagement as a surer channel for storytelling that will translate into actions, rather than simply “likes.”

Best Practices for Social Influencer Partnerships

Get help navigating the regulations: When social influencing really took off as a marketing tool, it was the Wild West when it came to regulation. Now, the FTC is cracking down on paid partnerships between brands and social influencers that do not comply with disclosure rules. For example, many Instagram influencers have found sneaky ways to work around disclosing that their content is part of a paid partnership. The FTC is onto these influencers now. Best practices will mean not burying a diminutive “#ad” down among a sea of hashtags, but rather making a clear and conspicuous disclosure statement within the first three lines of an Instagram post. When you take the financial service industry into account, with all of the regulatory bodies governing the way we talk about services, it becomes incredibly important to partner with an organization that has experience navigating regulations as they translate into the social influence space.

Find the right influencer: The audiences who are most likely to be engaged by social influencers are the savviest consumers on the planet. Millennials and their nieces and nephews, generation Z, will be turned off if a product or brand does not feel organic to the spokesperson’s larger story. They’re highly skeptical of being sold to, and want to feel engaged by good content and personal opinions rather than told what to do. Community and regional banks must think creatively to find the right influencers and stories to make sure they do not alienate audiences right off the bat. A nutritionist Instagrammer is going to be a big leap for a story about banking. But a home decor and design influencer could actually be the right fit, because they can use aspirational storytelling to talk about saving for a home project, for example. Other outside-the-box influencer types who would be well positioned to talk about savings include wedding planning (save for the big day), parenting (save for college) and travel influencers (save for a bucket-list trip).

Metrics matter: The payment scale for social influencer partnerships is something we’re all still trying to wrap our heads around. Influencers can charge whatever they like; everything is open to negotiation. But the right influencer will have the metrics and analytics to back up what they are charging. They can show the actionable engagements they have generated, and put a price on them. We often decide a nano-influencer with 10,000 followers will be more impactful than someone with a wider reach when we look at metrics that show us how actionable their engagement results are. For example, if they tell a story about saving for a vacation, how many people will click on that link to explore the bank’s website, and what will they do when they are on that website? Chat with a customer representative? Read about savings accounts? This information is invaluable when you’re searching for a social influencer to partner with. At Mower, we have countless tools to help us identify the right influencers and provide these metric insights, too.

Dig into your options: Nothing beats the human touch. After you’ve analyzed your metrics and narrowed your search down to 10 or 20 influencers, you’ll want to closely read their feeds and see their engagement styles yourself. You’ll want to look at the way they write, the colors they use, and what their audience is saying. If you notice audiences are supportive and happy to see their influencer partnering with brands, you can feel optimistic about partnering with them yourself. However, if you see a lot of negative pushback from the audience when a new brand partnership is revealed, you may not want to take the risk of facing that negativity.

Use word of mouth: It sounds funny, but it’s true: influencers influence influencers. The influencer community is tightly knit. At Mower, when we are doing hyper-local campaigns, we find the highest rate of engagement among other influencers who may want in on our campaign. This is an opportunity for your bank’s story to grow organically. If you continue with the idea to use a home decor Instagrammer to write a story about saving for a big renovation product, you may find new and unique ways for a circle of local home decor influencers to write their own takes on the same savings story. And, an audience who follows one home decor influencer will likely be following others in the same interest bucket, so your story will reverberate throughout the community in new and engaging ways.

Social influencers serve both an advertising and a PR purpose. Just like the editorial board is a trusted third party that deems a brand worthy of being featured in a newspaper, a social influencer becomes a trusted third party, too. That spokesperson lends credibility to the brand not only from a PR perspective but also from an advertising angle, because they are motivated to feature your brand in engaging and creative ways to stay relevant. We see this channel as the perfect partnership for community and regional banks, where personal stories and word of mouth always win.