Leading community bankers talk social media

(June 25, 2012)

Does your community bank utilize social media?

In this day and age, not having a social media presence is a missed opportunity. From communicating with customers about services, to highlighting positive aspects of your brand, to even expanding your bank’s overall reach, social media offers an enormous amount of potential!

Here are representatives from three leading community banks in Michigan offering some advice when it comes to social media and how to harness its power.

1. What strategies do you employ for your social media channels?

Michelle Shangraw, Senior Vice President and Retail Banking Director at Mercantile Bank:
Social media has been a great way for us to engage the community with fun contests and to showcase our community involvement. Our most recent campaigns include “MercMob” and “Make a Difference.”

“MercMob” is a social flash mob of Mercantile Bank employees, customers and people from the community who volunteer to spend their lunch at a designated local restaurant. The hope is that we will generate buzz and start conversations while supporting local businesses in our communities.

“Make a Difference” is a video campaign that features employees giving back by volunteering in the community.

Sarah Pew, Human Resources Manager, The State Bank:

One of the strategies we’ve used with our Facebook page is to become the go-to location for community events and updates. We try to post upcoming community events, photos from events that our staff has volunteered for, local athletes of the week, local co-op students of the week, business spotlights, community fundraisers, etc. This helps to drive traffic to our page but it also shares useful information that will make customers glad that they chose to “like” our page.

Additionally, we try to ask questions to encourage interaction (and occasionally reward this feedback with a gift card give-away, etc.), we post links to helpful financial articles, and share our Employees of the Month photos (customers love to see their favorite personal banker on our page)! We also try to use photos/graphics as often as possible.

We never post about products or make a sales pitch – in our opinion, that is not what Facebook is for. Customers don’t want to be sold a banking product while perusing their Facebook page. Our bottom line strategy is to reinforce that we are a COMMUNITY bank and we’re rooted in the events and people right here in our neighborhoods.

Norman Plumstead, First Vice President and Traverse City Marketplace Branch Manager, Honor Bank:

Our goals are to increase customer engagement, drive fans to other Honor Bank online content, and increase our amount of “likes.” Regular posting (at least three times per week) is very important. We focus our posts on timely financial information, news and announcements, and customer news and highlights. We try to keep the tone of the posts conversational and attempt to create a two-way dialog by posing questions.

2. What benefits have come from having a social presence?

Michelle Shangraw – Mercantile Bank: Social media has given us a voice to show our more personal side, a window into our culture. We recently held an internal video concept contest where employees submitted ideas for videos to promote some aspect of the bank. The winning concept, “Cattle Banking” was produced in house and uploaded to our YouTube channel. It has received over 500 views. YouTube has also been a place for us to share valuable customer testimonials.

Sarah Pew –
The State Bank:
Potential new customers have reached out to us to ask “Why should we bank with you?” This is a line of communication we might never have been able to establish if it weren’t for Facebook. Business customers ask how they can be featured on our Facebook page and, in turn, they tell their customers about their spotlight which further spreads our “reach.” We’ve developed close relationships with the local school districts so we can feature Athletes of the Week on our page and this has opened up access to the younger customer that may not have known we were established on Facebook. Overall, we’ve simply established another way to interact and serve our customers and it has served us well.

Norman Plumstead – Honor Bank:
Although we’ve had a page since mid-2010, we just re-launched our Facebook page almost two months ago. Since the re-launch, we’ve doubled the amount of our reach. If we stay consistent in our approach, I’m sure we’ll attain our goals.

3. What goals do you have for using this medium?

Michelle Shangraw – Mercantile Bank: It’s important to stay on top of what is happening in the social arena. We want to be wherever people go to find us. Our new Pinterest page is in the early stages and we are just starting to add boards and include things that are in line with our brand. We’d also like to incorporate the use of more video for educational topics such as teaching financial responsibility to children in a fun way.

Sarah Pew – The State Bank
: We hope to continue to expand our presence (increase our “likes”) while also increasing the interaction on the page. We want our customers to feel comfortable commenting on a post or sharing their thoughts. Additionally we want to continue to express our commitment to the communities we serve by highlighting local events/people as often as possible.

Norman Plumstead –
Honor Bank: We plan on creating a competition in which customers will determine which local charities to whom Honor Bank will donate money. We also want to create some fun events like local trivia nights and a rock-paper-scissors tournament.

4. What would you tell other banks that are thinking about using social media?

Michelle Shangraw – Mercantile Bank: Don’t try to sell products on your Facebook page or via any social media. It is a social platform and if people feel you are trying to sell them something they will tune out. Use lots of video (keep them short, less than two minutes whenever possible) and photos. Try to talk in a conversational tone.  Keep things fresh and don’t go “offline” for long periods, but don’t overload people with posts either. It’s a fine line between staying in the conversation and taking it over.

Sarah Pew – The State Bank
Take the time to develop a social media policy and work with senior management, the board of directors and the compliance officer to get buy-in.  Be sure the staff understands who can post on behalf of the bank, but also encourage their interaction with the page and their customers. Define every aspect of the process: which employee(s) will be responsible for posting, how often they will add new content, how you will handle upset customers, how will you advertise your presence, etc. Most importantly, ask yourself what the purpose of the page is and let that be a driver for post topics, etc.

Norman Plumstead – Honor Bank
: Start with a social media policy. In our case, we included it in a regular update of our employee manual. The next step is to create a social media marketing plan. Just like your traditional marketing plan, it helps you define what you goals and strategies. Before the re-launch, we did not have a sound strategy and that was reflected on our page. Once the plan is in place, create a posting database in which you plot out possible post topics. The final piece of advice is to partner with a marketing company that knows how to use Facebook and other social media to its best potential.

Thanks for reading! Connect with these banks at the links below: