Natalie Bartholomew's pet project is on its way to becoming a social media phenomenon.
Bartholomew, chief marketing officer at Grand Savings Bank in Grove, Okla., created a blog called The Girl Banker last year to tout the accomplishments of women across her industry. Her Twitter feed is slowly gaining momentum, with more than 1,600 followers.
For Bartholomew, the long-term vision is to build a brand that sparks important conversations about women in a historically male-dominated business. She hopes to give a voice to professional women who are navigating their careers, and maybe even inspire the next generation of female bankers.
“It was the right time," said Bartholomew, who posted her first blog in October. "I couldn’t be happier with how it’s worked out."
The project comes at a time when more business leaders are turning to social media to express personal opinions and offer social commentary. Her effort also took shape just months after last March's debut of The Fearless Girl statue, which now sits opposite the Charging Bull on Wall Street and serves as a rallying cry for female bankers.
A blog could be a strong branding tool, for both individuals and their causes, if executed correctly, industry experts said.
It is important for bankers who want to appeal to younger customers and employees to share their personal views through social media, said Ann Chen, the digital marketing officer for the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley and a former senior marketing officer at Citizens Bank of Edmond in Oklahoma. While bankers tend to be risk-averse, she said showing one’s true colors and talking about social movements could pay off.
Bartholomew "is doing a great job of finding her niche — she knows exactly what she stands for,” said Chen, adding that The Girl Banker is an example of a blog staying on message and positively approaching a mission. “I believe more women should stand up and tell what that experience actually looks like. When younger women see more role models who can balance family and great careers in banking, it encourages them.”
It’s important for a blogger to cultivate a reputation as a thought leader in the niche being targeted, said David Hagenbuch, a marketing professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Understanding the audience is also critical to creating longstanding connections that can gain traction.
“In any field, people are often interested in knowing who are the go-to people or who are the individuals that would be helpful for me to be aware of,” Hagenbuch said.
Bartholomew said reception has been positive so far. Her blog posts, on average, receive 300 to 500 page views, while each link she shares on Facebook typically garners 6,000 to 7,000 views.
The Girl Banker features a different woman in banking each week, highlighting that executive's career path. Bartholomew aims to publish one blog every week, in addition to several daily social media posts. For now, most of the featured bankers work in Arkansas and Oklahoma, though Bartholomew hopes to expand her reach over time.
Bartholomew first started thinking about boosting her social media presence in 2015, around the time she was named the Young Woman of the Year by The Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas and was honored as part of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
“I realized I had a voice in terms of being a woman in banking or a woman in business,” Bartholomew said.
She was also inspired by the social media presence of Jill Castilla, CEO of the $267 million-asset Citizens Bank, who has about 13,000 Twitter followers. Castilla, whom Bartholomew has gotten to know in recent years, mostly through social media, has become a mentor to Bartholomew.
“It’s incredible to see a driven, young woman who is excited about her banking career and willing to share that excitement, and some of the challenges it brings, with her peers,” Castilla said of Bartholomew. “The Girl Banker blog is highly personal, yet relevant to the scores of women in financial services. Natalie’s voice is the future of banking — her engagement, intellect, transparency and candor will be a great asset to our industry for many years to come.”
Bartholomew is adding her voice to a growing list of female bankers on social media. Sallie Krawcheck, a former executive at Citigroup and Bank of America, has more than 54,000 followers on Twitter, while Scarlett Sieber, who recently became the head of business development for USAA Labs, has about 33,200 followers.
“Natalie has such a passion for banking and a real passion for wanting to bring people into the banking industry and help them grow,” said Allyson Dyer, owner of a digital marketing firm called The Twiggs Group, which has worked with Bartholomew over the years. “I had a real passion for personal branding, so I said: ‘Natalie, I want you to put this voice out there. I think this is a story that needs to be told, not only for women, but men in banking, too.' "
Bartholomew said she hopes to eventually tackle important conversations including the pressure many women face to choose between their careers and families, as well as the lack of young women entering the banking industry. While she never thought about monetizing the blog when it launched, she said she is now consider speaking engagements, partnerships or sponsorships tied to the website.
“A fun, random idea has blossomed into something that is taking off,” she said.