Three Bankers Who Tackled Social Media with Fun and Flair

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Second of two parts. Part one is here.

Let go of your fear and start tweeting, liking and pinning.

That's the message (or, perhaps better put, the post) from community bankers who have embraced social media while many of their peers groan about it.

Bankers who resist using social media sites risk losing an important way to connect with customers, bankers and experts say. The hardest part may be starting.

"The problem with social media for banks is that they are unsure of what to say," says A. Stewart Rose, president and chief executive of Truebridge, which provides marketing services for financial institutions. "It's another medium that you have to figure out what to put in it. Banks are trying to build a personality with it."

Social media is simply an extension of what many community bankers already do -- chat with customers and get involved in the community, says Chris Lorence, the chief marketing officer at the Independent Community Bankers of America.

"We say to banks, 'Don't overthink it,'" Lorence says. "It's just another communication tool that extends beyond the teller line where bankers know their customers by name."

Gallup research shows that consumers who use to social media to find information about a bank product are more likely to become customers. Plus, it's a commonsense measure to post, say, financial educational content on social media sites, Rose says.

"If Home Depot teaches you how to build a fence, where are you likely to buy the lumber?" Rose asks. "If you put yourself in front of people as an expert, you are establishing yourself as an answer to life events" like buying a house or planning for retirement.

Executives from three community banks recognized by the ICBA as leaders in social media offer tips below and warn about pitfalls. They were among 50 banks that the trade group recently highlighted based on nominations, level of social media engagement and number of followers.

What's Banking Got to Do With It?
Paducah Bank in Kentucky

Paducah Bank has learned that a little creativity can go a long way in raising its profile.

The Kentucky bank, which has $545 million of assets, uploads silly videos, photos of friends and neighbors, and invitations to events hosted by the bank. This has resulted in 5,000 followers on Facebook (FB), 900 on Twitter and 100 on Pinterest. Its YouTube videos also have attracted thousands of views.

"Fun stuff," says Susan Guess, senior vice president of marketing at Paducah. "What does it have to do with being a bank? Nothing."

Paducah's Facebook posts include "Office Olympics" videos that show banking interns racing to put papers into envelopes and pushing each other down hallways in rolling chairs.

The Facebook page also features photos from a cookout, outdoor movie showing and college reception. All events were promoted only through social media, and both customers and non-customers were invited to attend.

"Make it more about other people than [you]," Guess says. "Celebrate the good that people are doing in the community."

One of Paducah's most successful Facebook statuses was congratulating a local barbecue restaurant for winning an award. The post received 400 likes.

"[Social media] lets people know where you put energy, time, and resources," Guess says. "We put them back in our community."

Smile for the Camera
Bank of American Fork in Utah

Bank of American Fork may not be ready to storm Hollywood just yet, but its YouTube videos can hold their own.

Once a year, the bank, a unit of People's Utah Bancorp, works with an agency to produce roughly half a dozen videos over three days. Inspiration for the videos largely comes from customer feedback collected throughout the year to determine what is important to its audience, says Christopher Liechty, vice president of communications at the Utah bank.

The videos are unscripted and frequently feature commercial customers discussing why they do business with Bank of American Fork, which has $949 million of assets. They also include a touch of levity with the host at times joking around with the owners of the businesses.

"We constantly have our ear to the ground," Liechty says. "We always wish there is a viral video in there, but the response is very positive."

Bank of American Fork also relies heavily on its blog, which Liechty calls the "cornerstone" of the bank's social media efforts. The blog includes two articles a week, one directed at consumers and the other at businesses, written by the bank's staff. Though the posts are not sales oriented, some do highlight technology and services at the bank.

This content then can be promoted through Bank of American Fork's other outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. Finding efficiencies like these in social media is important for smaller banks with limited staffing and resources, Liechty says.

It is also a good idea to find a bank employee who likes using social media to head up efforts, Liechty says. Executives need to ensure that person is properly trained on compliance matters, but once they know the boundaries they should be able to post without having everything vetted, he says.

"I would suggest trying to build a system where each channel supports the others," Liechty adds. "Our content all works together. The efficiencies in there make it work with a small staff."

Taking Baby Steps
Bell State Bank & Trust in Fargo, N.D.

Bell State Bank & Trust is busy conquering the social media world one site at a time.

The $2.6 billion-asset bank began diving into the medium about two years ago as a way to better connect with customers, says Karen Stensrud, vice president of marketing and communications at Bell State. It started out on just one outlet - Facebook - and eventually added others as it gained more confidence.

It now has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Retailers use social media to offer discounts and coupons, but the banking industry has had to figure out other ways to use these outlets, Stensrud says.

"Customers want to connect with businesses," she adds. "They are using social media as another channel to look for information, and they sometimes even ask questions. Banks need to be there and they need to respond."

Executives at the bank tailor their goals to each social media platform, since each site has a distinct audience and is suited for a different type of information or interactions, Stensrud says.

For example, the bank uses its Twitter account as way to provide educational content, such as links to stories about interest rates, buying a home or financial planning. It also posts information about the bank's services, such as no fees on certain ATM withdrawals. Additionally, the bank avoids bombarding followers with too much information by only tweeting about once a week, Stensrud says.

In contrast, Bell State, a unit of State Bankshares, uses its Facebook page, which is updated daily, to highlight its local involvement. This includes posting pictures and other information about fundraising and social events. LinkedIn is reserved for advertising employment opportunities at the bank.

"Social media is exploding and evolving," Stensrud says. "It continues to be a challenge, especially for smaller banks. We are still figuring it out even."

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