Bankers have new reason to brush up on social skills

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By  Rebecca Tonn

A growing number of banks have realized it’s time they Tweet, Friend and blog or risk losing younger generations.

They have good reason to join the social media revolution.

Embracing it can increase retail banking revenue up to 10 percent, according to a report by Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group.

Locally, one of the banking industry’s earliest adopters is Ent Federal Credit Union, which began its foray into social media with monthly podcasts of a financial education topic in the summer of 2008.

Syndicated through iTunes and RSS feeds, the podcasts were successful, with 3,600 downloads per month.

Ent added Facebook to its repertoire shortly thereafter, followed by Twitter, in March 2009, and then a weekly blog that debuted in the fall. The response: 700 Facebook fans and 895 Twitter followers.

“It has surprised us, because we made some assumptions that our Facebook audience would primarily be college students. But the demographic is very broad,” said Victoria Selfridge, Ent’s director of marketing.

Although social media as a platform for communication has been viable for about two years, financial institutions are by their nature fairly conservative. They’re not exactly what is known in the technology world as “early adopters.”

Joe Hodas, senior vice president of brand communications for Vladimir Jones, said banks eventually realized that they were losing out on the opportunity to build a relationship with their customers.

Not everyone’s jumping into social media with both feet.

Some institutions have deployed the more conservative aspects of social media such as blogs and LinkedIn.

KeyBank, for instance, launched a blog for women business owners during the second quarter of 2008, adding a LinkedIn group for Key4Women, which it started last year, said Jack Sparks, regional public relations director.

Central Bank & Trust and Central Bancorp also are on LinkedIn, said Jill Johnson, director of marketing for Central Bancorp.

“On a corporate level, I don’t feel Facebook or Twitter have value for our institution at this time,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t match our brand or our approach.”

Nonetheless, the wider trend isn’t expected to slow down.

Matt McNier, a Colorado Springs resident and member of Ent, joined Ent’s Facebook site to stay informed about what Ent is doing to improve its services and products.

A member of Ent for five years, he joined its Facebook page three months ago.

“There are not many brands that I want to be a fan of,” McNier said. “But I really believe in what a good bank Ent is. I definitely like their posting about weather (conditions) and which centers are open.”

Rules of the game

Joe Hodas, senior vice president of brand communications for Vladimir Jones, offers some advice to banks entering the social media realm:

Be true to who you are as a company. If you’re not a warm, touchy-feely institution, then don’t use an animated character as your Facebook mascot.

This is not mass marketing — it’s more of a one-to-one engagement, and it takes time and consistency to expand the relationship. Don’t expect 5,000 followers overnight.

“Don’t put it out there and not pay attention to it,” Hodas said. Social media is an unspoken contract with the consumer. If an institution establishes that contract and doesn’t fulfill it, it will do more damage than good. People expect to receive regular posts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.