Almost two years ago, our company began the process of integrating social media into our marketing and communication plans. As the Chief Marketing Officer of the largest national trade association for community banks, I heard daily from the membership that we over communicated and sent too much email. Many reported they were deleting without reading the material after the third or fourth email of the day.
Our staff on the other hand was irritated that responses were low; coming to the conclusion that our members were not getting the message. Surely with all the important stuff we’ve got to say, they were missing the message; turn up the volume and send it again. Stuck in the middle I came to only one conclusion: Let people come and get what they want, save emails for the really important stuff and open a two way dialogue with our membership so we could hear their thoughts. One problem, this meant change.
After attending several conferences on social media, reading countless articles, books, blogs and connecting with many thought leaders on introducing a communication shift that included social media, I introduced the subject to the organization. To say I heard crickets is an understatement. The subject referred to as “that stuff the young people do” by my peers and superiors sounded trendy and fun but would have no traction with our membership. Our members were traditional they explained, they didn’t get into all the fancy Internet driven hype. They conducted their business face-to-face with customers who weren’t using these things called Twitter or Facebook, much less Yelp and FourSquare. Umm, yeah, I had my work cut out for me that’s for sure.
We started by first developing a social media policy for our organization and staff. We slowly began to evaluate the opportunities and determine how social media outlets would enhance and augment our existing communication strategy. The trick was to not get too far ahead of our membership, who were definitely not looking for more ways to communicate with us in their already over burdened and as bankers, over regulated lives.
Our process was calculated and deliberately slow but we were moving forward, leading by example. Consistency and persistence were keys to our success. At every executive staff meeting when asked to give a marketing update I mentioned the increasing numbers of Twitter followers to our corporate account and the multiple “likes” we were seeing from our members on our Facebook page. After months of reporting I took the next bold step: strategizing the reduction of emails via a new push/pull communication strategy. We would now encourage our members to subscribe to things they wanted via social media channels and specialized websites with RSS feed subscriptions instead of forcing anyone with an email address to get everything when we decided.
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Over time our members have begun to become more engaged and see social media as something they can no longer ignore. A poll taken in July 2010 indicated that 74% of respondents interacted with a social media outlet in their personal or professional lives. Proof positive that while traditional, our members were not unlike the rest of the world’s citizens. Sadly, a subsequent poll in December 2010 indicated that while social media was making inroads, it still had no place in the business of community banking. A full 87% of respondents used firewalls to prevent employee from gaining access to social media websites.
The ice is however starting to thaw as community banks realize that their reputation risk is fully affected by the very outlet they choose to block in their bank. Fear of the unknown and a propensity to focus on the potential for negative feedback from a disgruntled customer weigh heavy on the minds of the community banker. With millions accessed at a moments notice via a mobile device through social media channels, who wouldn’t be fearful. Glass half empty? Only if you’re the one who’s being complained about we tell our members. Dissatisfied customers make the best advocates and evangelists when they find a new bank that meets their needs. I think they’re starting to get it after all this Occupy Wall Street, Move Your Money business….now what to do about my own organization?
Look for the next installment in this series to learn more about how an organization and an industry are taking steps to ensure that they are not left behind as the world of marketing, and business in general, becomes more digital while still maintaining connections to those methods that have worked in the past and still work today.
About the author
Chris Lorence is Executive Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer for the Independent Community Bankers of America, headquartered in Washington, DC. His duties include oversight and management of the organizations marketing & communications department, which includes political advocacy, social media integration, press relations, and brand management. Chris is also responsible for the organizations flagship award winning national magazine, Independent Banker® and 4 other strategically aligned membership and industry publications. As a member of the senior executive team, Chris works with management and staff to both create and bring to life the organizations strategic vision and initiatives. The ICBA enterprise consists of both a non-profit trade association with nearly 5000 members and five for-profit subsidiaries, one of which is a national bank. Before coming to ICBA, Chris was Chief Operating Officer of a community based financial organization and has over 15 years of senior management experience within the financial community