How Community Banks Are Winning Social Media


Erinn Steffen

Executive Vice President, Operations

Improving customer experience is a top priority for most financial institutions lately — and social media is an often-overlooked opportunity for community banks to do just that. The best part? It’s easy. The most effective social media campaigns don’t use fancy new platforms or complex algorithms to win followers. In fact, social media can be a relatively simple and inexpensive way to enhance your community bank’s brand, build a community presence and seamlessly improve customer service.

We’ve found some thought-leading community banks that continue to tap into social media in effective, engaging ways. Their use of social media isn’t fancy, but it is smart. Their successes show us how a few tried-and-true best practices have stood the test of time across the big social media platforms.

Here’s what some of these leaders are doing:

Storytelling, plain and simple

A successful social media campaign will do more than post pictures, share information or promote deals. It will tell a story. An even better campaign will allow followers to share their own stories, too. Busey Bank, a community bank serving the Midwest and headquartered in Champaign, Illinois, uses a winning combination of storytelling, incentive and engagement to execute social media campaigns that bring in followers and spread organically throughout the community.

To celebrate National Volunteer Month in April, Busey Bank’s Hometown Heroes contest asked followers to share a story to its social media channels of a local community member who is committed to service. The bank shared select stories throughout the month, choosing one winner whose cause received $1,000 from the bank.

This storytelling contest builds on Busey Bank’s successful campaign, which has been celebrating National Volunteer Month for the past four years. In a past contest, Busey Bank donated 30 meals to a local food bank for every new follower it received on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (and donating 20 meals for shares and retweets and 10 meals for every comment). That particular contest earned 431 new followers, more than 1,000 shares and retweets and hundreds of comments on its social media channels, according to Independent Banker Magazine, which named Busey a Social Media Leader in 2016.

Attracting attention through a show of community support

Community banks have a vested interest in the overall well-being of the communities they serve. So it makes plenty of sense that many have ramped up their social media followings by engaging audiences in community-focused activities. Busey Bank’s storytelling contest taps into community-minded charitable giving. We’ve also been seeing savvy banks use local events and social justice to promote community through social media in exciting ways.

Bank of Ann Arbor hosts an outdoor concert series called Sonic Lunch every summer. The popular, free concert features lawn seating, food and national touring bands as well as local favorites. The bank cross promotes Sonic Lunch and its brand through Twitter and Facebook, where it picks up countless Millennial followers, earning the bank a spot in IB’s 2016 Social Media Leaders alongside Busey Bank.

Boston’s Eastern Bank has never been shy about its social justice causes, recently unveiling a billboard that made headlines as it rebranded under the slogan, “Join Us for Good.” Along with this rebranding, the bank launched the social media initiative “Selfies for Good,” which promises to give away $200 to 500 winners who post a selfie tagged #selfiesforgood to Twitter or Instagram. The $200 amount is a nod to the bank’s 200th anniversary in 2018. The most winning thing about Eastern Bank’s social media initiative is how seamlessly it integrates with the bank’s rebranding, allowing followers to identify with its message (and share their support).

Finding unique ways to engage audiences and sell banking at the same time

Community-oriented social media initiatives do a fantastic job of attracting audiences and spreading good feelings, but they don’t assertively sell banking services. Which is fine. In many cases, building awareness and positive sentiment are the right objectives for a community bank making a foray into social media.

What’s more challenging is to use social media to drive use of banking products. People use social media to hang out, catch up with friends, share experiences, etc. It’s not a place they go to learn about banking (something many community banks have learned after seeing a tepid response to product-focused social media content).

A few years ago, one community bank created a true social media win-win: a piece of content that engaged users, was inherently shareable and also drove utilization of a bank product. Colorado-based FirstBank’s “FirstBank Reminders” promotion allowed customers to ring in the new year by reminding friends who owe them money to pay up, in a very funny way. Users could choose from a selection of cheeky reminders to share with friends via social media, then use FirstBank’s person-to-person feature to collect. It was fun, easy, entertaining, and it sold banking. This initiative was only available for a short time, but today the bank continues to share content about banking and finances that is timely, share-worthy and engaging through its social media channels, along with contests and community-minded initiatives, too. It’s the perfect balance of entertaining, engaging and educational content that softly sells banking products and services.

Creating visual interest

Social media is inherently visual, and smart community banks are finding unique ways to make their brands worth looking at. A fascinating (if somewhat out-there) example of this is Northwest-based Umpqua Bank’s traveling interactive art experience, Exhibit:Growth, a geodesic dome where visitors create “tree portraits” of themselves, to be shared via the hashtag #exhibitgrowth.

“How is this relevant to Umpqua’s business?” you might ask. Well, according to Umpqua, the goal of the exhibit is all about relationships — getting people talking to and about Umpqua, which can blossom into customer acquisition. At the exhibit, Umpqua staff is on hand to ask questions and gather prospects’ information. And, of course, the campaign is designed to generate a groundswell of social media sharing as people post their portraits.

A rule to live by

In our study of social best practices for community banks, we’ve seen two clear common threads:

1. Trial and error. The strongest social media players experimented with different approaches, seeing what worked and what didn’t along the pathway to success.

2. Clear objectives. Social media is a tool, not a strategy, and the community banks that are having the most success with it have a clear sense of their objectives and how it fits into the bigger marketing picture.

Hey! Our name is pronounced Mōw-rrr, like this thing I’m pushing.

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