Banking, by its very nature, is not an open industry. Customer information is private, transactions are confidential and secure data is vigilantly protected. On top of that, our industry is highly regulated, leaving little room (and legal risk) for missteps. No wonder most bank executives shy away from engaging in social media. The very nature of social media requires people to step into the public fray, open themselves up to feedback (at best) and scathing criticism (at worst) and communicate directly with stakeholders.

But visibility and engagement in social media has become an imperative for all corporate leaders – individually and beyond company marketing departments. A report by global communications firm Weber Shandwick found that "social media is not only an efficient and engaging way to relay information, but is also linked in executives' minds with being a better leader."

Social media is now seen as an essential tool in leadership communications and business knowledge, as vital as more traditional skills and experience. The benefits of social media to an organization also help senior bank executives meet their leadership goals and improve their company overall, particularly in these key areas:

Transparency: By its very nature, social media enhances the accessibility and transparency of organizations and their leaders. The lines of communication are open and the opportunity to connect with stakeholders is available. Additionally, social media gives you tools to deliver news, opinions and information to your audiences – to be the most accurate and trusted source for your company's information. If you don't protect and enhance your reputation, who will?

Customer service: Engaging with customers in social media has several benefits. It happens in real time, it enables you to learn about your customers' needs and preferences (market research), and, above all, these channels provide the chance to turn a negative experience into a positive one. Empower your customers to interact with you and you will reinforce a valuable relationship. You can also gain insights that will help you adapt, evolve your products and services and increase business.

Brand building: Social media is a cost-effective way to deliver and reinforce your brand, to tell your story. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social media tools have shown us that storytelling is powerful and online "sharing" expands your audience and reach. Additionally, visibility in social media shows the world that your company is forward-thinking and innovative.

Relationships: Money is personal, and customers want to deal with people. Social media brings banking to life and gives a face and a personality to transactions. Banks have the opportunity to connect with an entirely new generation of stakeholders – both customers and employees who have grown up online and in social media. The Weber Shandwick research shows that employees at firms with CEOs who engage in social media report that "their leader's participation makes them feel inspired and technologically advanced."

It's more important now than ever to realize how social media can help bank leaders achieve their business and reputation objectives and position their organizations for future success.

Thomas X. Geisel is president and CEO of Sun Bancorp/Sun National Bank. Reach him on Twitter (@tomgeisel) or LinkedIn and the bank on Facebook, YouTube and sunnationalbank.com.