Earlier this month, Citi announced the expansion of its popular "thankyou" program with a new Facebook app. If the number of likes (185,000 and counting) on Citi's page is any indication, it appears Citi has found a compelling way to engage its youngest and most fickle customers in the place they spend most of their digital time.

Even more clever, the app encourages customers to leverage established connections with friends to identify other Citi thankyou members, and then publicly promote their involvement in the program with their entire Facebook network.

Essentially, Citi has created more than 185,000 ambassadors to actively promote its brand on the most influential social network in the world. Members of the program earn points and have the potential to redeem rewards including a wide range of products such as a new watch, tropical vacation and even a mortgage payment.

One of the more ingenious parts of the program is allowing members to combine points for larger rewards, such as a week vacation for four, further incentivizing current members to actively recruit new "friends."

What does this mean for community banks? For starters, if your institution does not have a social media plan in place, you are behind the curve, and missing valuable opportunities to connect with current accountholders, and attract new customers. Social media is the preferred channel that many younger consumers rely on to connect with contacts, seek out information and find entertainment. Social media has also expanded beyond this demographic and now includes many age groups as avid users.

Most institutions by now have at least a Facebook page — but this isn’t enough. Your Facebook page should be interactive and should offer another way for your institution to actively engage with existing and future accountholders. Engagement through social media is really about two key things: customer acquisition and brand promotion. The value of a "like" to your institution is debatable; but the value to a user liking your Facebook page when your bank offers nothing of value is definitely zero.

A bank’s strategy needs to be about more than getting a large number of "likes." It needs to be about finding the intersection of customer engagement, brand promotion and something of value to your customers. What are your customers getting in return for liking your page? How does it benefit your institution? And, most importantly, is it part of a sustainable strategy that will build your banks's online network, help it aquire new customers, and bolster its reputation? Citi's customers gain the opportunity to build their network, combine reward points and potentially earn unique, larger prizes. The incentive is clear to Citi's growing base of Facebook members.

The cost to an institution of acquiring new customers is typically between $100 and $150. Being creative with social media channels gives institutions a way to acquire new customers for a lot less while simultaneously building excitement and brand loyalty among its customers.

Citi's strategy is as sophisticated as it is simple. It is easy to participate, but it builds a spider-web that will certainly result in new customer growth — all based on a simple Facebook app. Community banks can learn a valuable lesson from Citi's recently launched Facebook app, and turn this channel into more than a place to find out the hours of operation and branch locations, but instead make a channel to engage and excite customers — converting them from accountholders into brand ambassadors.

Andrew Tilbury is the chief marketing officer for Bluepoint Solutions, which provides remote deposit capture, item processing, content management and other mobile and social media solutions.