Golden Opportunity for Banks: Social Media as Powerful Leverage

This post was co-written by our CEO, Dennis Koutoudis together with Athanasios Psathas, CEO of ETVA Industrial Parks, General Manager of Piraeus Bank and former Deputy CEO of Piraeus Bank Romania.

So here we go:

The banking industry is changing rapidly – more than 60% of customers use their mobile devices to interact with their banks. It is estimated that by 2020, 1.9 million people will be banking on mobile. This is largely due to the Millennial & Gen Z influence, which are highly competent digitally and are able to greatly benefit from the wave of innovation that swept the industry.

The increasing use of digital banking, which reduces significant operational costs for the bank (rent, utilities, infrastructure costs, staff salaries and training) while at the same time it offers great convenience for customers (no waiting time, better service, round the clock access) is truly a win-win situation.

The same Millennials and Gen Zs who are such avid users of the new ways of interacting with their banks, are also hooked on their Social Media. For example, according to the most recent Pew survey, most Americans visit their Facebook accounts daily (74%) or even many times daily (51%) and live in a household which uses at least three Social Media platforms.

In this context, the use of Social Media is a powerful strategy to differentiate a bank from all others in a parity industry, disrupting the market and positioning it as an innovative and modern financial institution.

It is important to state that while there are obvious advantages to using Social Media – especially for marketing and community outreach – banking is largely a highly regulated and quite conservative industry.

Banking companies are understandably concerned about adhering to the rules and laws of their industry, as well as ensuring that the messages they send out are consistent with their philosophy and brand.

So, what are banks doing, and what should they be doing, to capitalize on this massive trend?

How can banks maximize their effectiveness and take advantage of this growing trend?

1. Marketing - Many banks are already utilizingSocial Media platforms (as well as regular e-mail) topromote brand awareness, publicize special offers,interest rates, mortgages, etc. to existing and potential customers.This can be most effective when messages are consistent, compelling, visually distinctive and alwaysoffer something new and different.

On certain - if not all - of the major Social Media platforms, you can target your posts and ads specifically based on location, age, gender, interests, allowing a bank to customize its messaging for increased effectiveness, while the very advanced capabilities offered by Social Media Analytics of each platform considerably help refine Social Media Activities accordingly. In addition, a consistent message across social media platforms creates a solid brand presence.

2. Customer Education and Engagement - In addition to regular business communication and offers, a great opportunity for banks is to position themselves as educators in personal and business finance. For example, live webinars on saving, investing, and financial planning can be offered, free of charge to customers or potential customers. Other topics can consist of useful market information and general investing principles and strategies.

3. Social Engagement - We are living in a world in which it is pivotal for a large company to give back to the society within which it operates. Community involvement and social development of young talent, as well as education of the senior members of the population, can not only help society, but also provide a win-win environment for the Bank willing to engage itself in such endeavors, by creating a committed population of future employees, and digitally enabled potential customers.

4. Cross promotions and joint ventures - There are many creative ways a local bank can partner with local businesses (restaurants, sports businesses, retail shops, malls) to create a local presence and ongoing community outreach. One example is hosting a free party at a participating local restaurant for bank customers. This creates positive PR for the bank, exposure for the restaurant, and a free benefit for attendees. A 3-ways win situation.

5. The Agora (marketplace) - It’s now a two-way street - Not only can banks now easily address and tailor the messages and information sent to their customers (and communities), there is also a great opportunity for banks to elicit feedback, suggestions and comments from the digital community. This can be a virtual and ongoing (and almost no-cost) focus group and a great way to add eyes and ears to the marketplace. Banks can have chat forums, encourage customers to communicate when things go right, and give feedback when things go wrong – often even more useful. Learning the desires, preferences, dislikes and suggestions from customers can yield valuable market information,which can be purposefully converted into improvements in products, branding, messaging, offers etc.

This “circle of communication” promises to be the new model for all businesses, but can have particular advantages for banks. The traditional “meeting points” of “brick & mortar” branches are now being replaced by a vast digital marketplace.

6. Employee Advocacy - This initiative has been gaining traction among some banks. These programsare designed to increase brand awareness and promote marketing efforts through the individual, socialand community networks of the company’s employees.

An employee advocacy program can create and enlarge the company’s brand presence, as well as drive traffic and engagement, with a good deal of reach and authenticity.

This strategy can provide a powerful army of loyal advocates, champions, salespeople for the bank, with an exponentially growing platform. Studies show that customers are much more likely to trust recommendations from those within their own network, people they know, like and trust.

If a bank does choose to launch this kind of strategy, some foundational steps must be taken:

- Starting from the top: Executives must lead by example.

- Opt-in: Employees should be given a choice about whether they wish to be part of these initiatives.

- Training and education: Carefully crafted training should be given to all employees who participate.

7. New Employee Recruitment - Some banks have begun using their Social Media platforms as a tool for recruiting new employees. A growing number of companies already use LinkedIn for this purpose while on YouTube, one company specifically has produced a short video series on“a day in the life of” depicting various jobs – i.e. Bank Teller, IT professional, etc.

In summary, Social Media in banking, as well in our daily lives, is here to stay; with all the advantages and opportunities being opened up in this great universe:

-       For customers: convenience, accessibility, knowledge, improved support.

-       For the bank: market targeting and efficiency, brand presence and enhancement, feedback loop, community engagement.

Now is the time to begin to cash-in on this 21st century opportunity!

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