Having just begun using social media in 2012, Safe Credit Union is relatively new to content marketing. But it hasn’t taken long for the company to discover the benefits of engaging online with its customers and potential consumers. By providing original, valuable, web-based content, Safe has been able to increase its interaction with current and potential members. It’s a scenario that is playing out across the financial services sector as banks learn how to leverage modern marketing strategies to grow brand awareness.
“It’s obviously very important to try to be relevant to your membership,” says Paul Hersek, vice president of marketing at the $2 billion community credit union, which serves 170,000 members across the greater Sacramento region. That membership is comprised mainly of an older demographic, and “credit unions have had a very difficult job through the years of being relevant to a younger audience.”
The credit union hired a full-time social media staffer in late 2012 and launched a Facebook page, and last year it joined Twitter. Now, Safe uses its website and social media accounts to provide relevant, branded content to people of all ages, including advice about car buying or how to review your homeowner’s insurance.
“Our goal,” he says, “is to follow the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of our messaging going forward will be social, not a hard sell.”
And that’s really what content marketing is all about: communicating with customers and prospects without selling. Instead of advertising products and services in the traditional sense, content marketing provides blogs, articles and videos that are engaging and informative. The strategy assumes that if businesses deliver consistently valuable information, customers will become loyal brand fans.
Providing thought leadership
While every business can benefit from deploying content-marketing strategies, it is especially beneficial to local banks, which are generally recognized as trustworthy and therefore sought out for topical expertise. Observers say social media can play a significant role in positioning a bank as a leader within the business industry it targets. It can also personalize the banking experience, driving consumer loyalty.
“Beyond the traditional marketing channels, social media allows businesses to touch people regularly,” says Josh Morgan, a vice president in the digital practice at Edelman, a global public relations agency with a variety of West Coast business and banking clients.
Many banks in the Sacramento Valley have customers who work in agriculture, for example. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry driven by the seasons and government regulations. The banks that know these regulations are at an advantage. They can use their knowledge to provide informative and up-to-date blog posts for their ag clients, keeping them apprised of important dates and happenings. That creates real value for consumers.
“Being active and getting your response out there is fodder for communication other people will use,” explains Christi Black-Davis, an executive vice president at Edelman. “It also positions that bank as a thought leader. If they’re out in front, it elevates their reputation as a business expert in a certain area — even if all they’re doing is commenting on something.”
Expanding the conversation
Five Star Bank has about $570 million in assets and markets itself as a relationship-based, community-business bank serving the Capital Region. About five years ago, the bank decided “it would be a good idea to get into social media and be part of the conversation, so we jumped in head first,” by joining Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, says Erica Taylor, vice president of communications and community relations.
Taylor’s team tries to provide “meaningful information,” whether sharing fresh content or re-tweets. Some of the most valuable content comes straight from the clients.
Marrone Bio Innovations, for example, is a Five Star customer that develops natural pest control with organic herbicides and pesticides. It recently had a very successful IPO, “and we wanted to share that success,” Taylor says. The bank blogged about the $57 million public offering, shared the press Marrone received and congratulated the company on its social media channels.
“We wanted to make sure people knew we were proud of them,” says Taylor. “It was a big deal for this region and a big deal that we were part of it.”
The results were positive. Five Star tracks metrics on how many shares, likes and unique opens it receives through its social media efforts, and Taylor says the Marrone Bio messages garnered heavy traffic. Most importantly, adds CEO James Beckwith, “We heard from the customer that they appreciated it.”
River City Bank has taken to YouTube with three-minute “Ask Steve” videos by President and CEO Steve Fleming on topics ranging from the 2008 financial crisis to the rise of cyber fraud. River City has been active on social media for a while and is creating more digital content than five years ago, Fleming says. Bank officials also blog and have been active on LinkedIn and Facebook, activities he views as strategies for attracting a mass-market, consumer audience.
Strategies for building digital content marketing
Still, building engagement and creating quality content online can be challenging. And for bankers, there is an added challenge of communicating without face-to-face contact, says Morgan. But content marketing provides an opportunity for banks “to become their own media company,” since the strategy doesn’t require ads to be designed or press releases to be written.
All companies, banks included, are sitting on ample content. The trick is being able to identify the types of information your consumers find valuable and then offering it to them in accessible, digestible ways. “What keeps banks from going on social media with their content is a lack of awareness that what they have is going to work,” Morgan says. “Rarely is it due to lack of things to talk about.”
Like Five Star has found, quality fodder for content exists within the customer base. “That customer shares that blog with their staff and gets the bank [name] out to a whole world someone may not have known about, and it reinforces that this bank knows us and our industry,” Morgan says.
If a bank doesn’t blog original content or tweet or create videos, it probably won’t decrease business. But, “In today’s world, if they’re not doing it, it opens up an opportunity to a competitor,” says Black-Davis. Social media, she says, “is a communication tool, and you should use all tools available to you to help your business.”
Banks can also build good will by developing robust social media followings. That’s critical if there is a change in leadership or a crisis; the bank can hit communication channels immediately with its side of the story, says Morgan. “But if you don’t have social media tools available to you, you’re a little hamstrung. Instant news is king.”
While larger banks may have more resources available for digital content marketing, Taylor says bigger budgets don’t necessarily make it easier for their messages to resonate with people. “Community banks have an easier go of it because the messages we send out are to people we know, whereas bigger banks may not have those deep, personal relationships.”
Calling to mind the oft-quoted phrase that “all politics is local,” Beckwith says the same can be said about business banking. “All things are local. And how you create relationships at a local level and how you maintain them will really determine the success of your financial institution.”
Hersek says Safe Credit Union’s focus is on relevancy to its members and the community and being “a good steward of the region.”
“Most people on social media don’t want to be hard sold, so my goal is [to] save people money and give them some great ideas,” he says. In the end, his hope is that a member learns something useful — like how to negotiate the price of a car — and then calls the credit union for a loan.
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