Customers make banking decisions based on peer experiences shared via social networks. This means banks today must swiftly ascertain what works and what doesn’t in social media to manage the customer’s online experience. 

According to the Pew Research Center's massive five-year study, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 93% of adults in the U.S., aged 18-29, go online several times per day, as do 77% of all adults and 94% of college graduates.  For all age groups, educations levels, income brackets and ethnicities, Internet and social media use continues to grow, approaching total population saturation with remarkable speed. In the U.S., 80% of those in the 18 to 29 age range now use social networking, according to Pew.

The preliminary goals of a social media campaign often include building brand awareness, increasing sales, promoting an upcoming event or some combination of all of these. However, knowing who the bank wants to communicate with is the very first step to take when developing a social media campaign. Then and only then is the time right to discuss specific strategies, such as what products or services to promote and which social network to use.

Opening communication channels between the bank's departments is the key to success. Robust internal discussions and consensus across departments will help create ongoing rich and meaningful social media content that will build the bank's reputation in a lasting and positive way.  

Often people will be in the market for a loan during the time periods surrounding major life events, such as college, marriage, car or home purchases or a business launch. Students, newlyweds, homeowners and small business owners are examples of target audiences who can be reached via social media, with customized, content-driven communication tailored to their needs.

Knowing where this target audience goes for information and social interaction online is the next step. If it's Facebook, that will be a crucial part of the overall social media strategy. However, based on the demographics of the bank's chosen audience, there may be other social media tools that are more effective. If the audience is a little older, college-educated and more affluent, LinkedIn may be a better tool. Fifty-eight percent of U.S. Internet users who earn at least $50,000 per year use this professional social media site, according to Pew. 

Banks must experiment to discover what works. The platforms, technologies and strategies vary considerably from bank-to-bank based on the audience.  

Diving into social media can be daunting with countless channels to consider. The big three for banks right now are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but Pinterest and CafeMom are growing by leaps and bounds and the message board Yelp is also to be reckoned with. YouTube video content is something to consider in the big scheme of things, as well, but this can be a "down the line" plan for those who are just getting on board the social media train.

Three reliable sources to find free demographic information about Internet and social media usage online are www.gallup.com, www.census.gov and www.pewtrusts.org.

Banks, like all businesses, have limited resources, and this will determine to what extent social media will be used and the frequency of posts that can be managed. It's crucial to have continuous, daily content to grow and engage the audience. It's also better to have just two social media channels that are well-supported than five left unattended.

Casey Boggs is president of LT Public Relations and can be reached at cboggs@ltpublicrelations.com.