Banker shares social engagement strategies

Bell Bank introduced its Pay It Forward program long before social media took hold as the primary means to engage with customers. Now that social is everything, Bell Bank utilizes Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter to keep a human face tied to its brand. In a recent BankBeatGroups webinar, Ryan Schuster, social media manager for Bell Bank, talked about the bank’s approach to social media engagement.

“Technology has changed user expectations,” Schuster said. “Consumers are becoming more savvy and more skeptical, so those traditional routes we once used sometimes fail to reach the important niche audiences.”

The $5 billion Bell Bank, which is based in Fargo, N.D., uses social media to humanize its brand, “Happy Employees, Happy Customers.” It does this by deploying five content buckets: company culture, customer service, community activity, customer stories and being helpful. By keeping its content buckets filled with compelling stories, Schuster said the bank is able to engage its customers and the community, share what makes the institution unique, and encourage others to engage with it.

Through his presentation, “Creating Engagement Through Social Media,” Schuster, who has been at Bell Bank for two years and manages a dozen social media accounts for the bank while also helping 80 loan officers manage their company-branded Facebook pages, offered some social media best practices:

Be authentic. Don’t just try to be cool; be yourself. Use a meme only if it fits your strategy. Always use faces of real people, not stock photos.

Be positive. “We are known how we treat employees and content that shares our positive image helps us,” Schuster said.

Have conversations. Share positive stories and engage with customers to build goodwill. “Our customers get fresh cookies in our branches so we posted a story about how those cookies get made,” he said. The story got a lot of people talking, he said.

Highlight customers. When we celebrate customers, it shows how we are connected to them. Social media shows people that the message isn’t about sales. “It’s not just about us,” Schuster said.

Respond promptly. Social media provides the bank a way to demonstrate it listens. “We constantly monitor,” he said. When the bank needs to remedy a situation that has gone bad, it tries to move the conversation offline as quickly as possible. “Responding to complaints builds trust.” Not all problems can be resolved through social media, but sometimes it can be easy to provide a quick solution, he added.

The advantage and risk of social media is that it provides a continuous feedback loop. “It’s something like a 24/7 focus group,” Schuster said. “But we use it as a way to learn about our customers.”

Technology has changed banking — retail bank visits are forecasted to drop by 36 percent by 2022 while mobile transactions are expected to increase 121 percent — and it’s changed how customers interact with their banks. People trust family and friends more when seeking recommendations on products and services. “Social media helps with ‘word of mouth;’ it’s ‘word of mouth’ on steroids as it is able to amplify messages,” Schuster said.

To achieve your goals with social engagement, Schuster advised bankers to not only tell stories, but to tell memorable ones. “Don’t be afraid to show humor and personality,” he advised, adding it’s important to be tasteful.

“People don’t care about products. They care how your products make them feel,” Schuster said. Social media allows everyone to tell their own story without letting others dictate the narrative.