Costs of dipping into podcasting, social media sites, and blogs are minimal. The buzz can be priceless.
By Steve Cocheo, executive editor, is 52, and does not yet consider himself to be over the hill. (He’s still trying to make it up the hill.)
Whether your bank goes for podcasts, social media sites, or blogs, it doesn’t cost much to dip your toes, and the exposure can be rewarding
If you want to meet a community banker with an unusual title—“New Media Editor”—you needn’t fly to a marketing conference or sign up for a e-banking seminar. You can open a free Twitter account, and, if you search for “bank,” you just may come across Sterling Bank’s Christine Pechayco.
Twitter is where ABA Banking Journal first “met” Pechayco, whose $5.1 billion-assets company is headquartered in Houston, and also met Jason Kincy of Arvest Bank Group. (We’ve been on Twitter at ABABankingJourn since mid-March. In the world of Twitter, that can make one a veteran.) In the future, the social media and new media channels may be how your bank may be meeting some of its own customers and prospects.
Time for pioneers
The bankers we talked to for this article work on the leading edge, according to our own online survey of more than 100 banks of all sizes. Our research, conducted using SurveyMonkey and pushed out to our readers through our own weekly “ABA Banking Journal Report” e-letter, found that 62% of banks responding don’t use social media or new media for marketing, and have no immediate plans to, while 22% say that they are planning to move into social and new media marketing in 2009. But 16% of the sample has been at least experimenting with something, with Facebook (52%), Twitter and Linkedin (both 43%) the leading methodologies. (See p.16. For complete results of our research, please go to www.ababj.com.)
“Everyone hears the same message today, ‘Get in there and try it’,” says Diana Walery, 29, vice-president and corporate communications director at $562 million-assets American River Bancshares. “Marketers in every industry are being tasked with doing more with less.”
You will notice in the course of this article that we mention bankers’ ages, not our usual. Why? First, social media and new media have been seen as something “the kids” want to try. Second, they’ve often been spoken of as something you need to have to reach the “younger” generation. Interestingly, our survey asked those who use these new media which age groups they hoped to reach; you may be surprised at the targets: 30s (90%); 40s (80%); 20s (70%); 50s (60%); teens and 60s (20%); and 70s (15%).
Sterling Bancshares, Inc.: Linking business women online and off
There are other ways to define “community” than a geographic market, and Sterling Bank has targeted women in business. About a year ago, the bank expanded a live community it had developed into an online community based on Linkedin, a business-oriented social site. The Sterling Bank Women’s Business Initiative, started in 2001, is a series of quarterly luncheons hosted by the bank in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio to facilitate networking and education.
“We were looking for a way to extend this relationship online, to create a community for this group,” explains Christine Pechayco, 34, new media editor.
As of mid-April, the bank’s Linkedin site has more than 100 members, ranging across the spectrum of industries and including people with posts from president and down.
The bank’s role is kept low-key. Pechayco serves as the page’s editor, and writes updates for it periodically, but any member can open online discussions, or post comments. Requests for information and assistance can also be posted.
Pechayco, brought aboard the bank specifically to handle new media, says social media is a challenge. “It’s kind of a full-time job, and you have to learn while you’re doing,” she says. Features evolve and expand, so the social media user’s activities become more involved as time goes on. “Everything’s a work in progress,” says Pechayco.
Sterling Bank also uses additional electronic methods to serve customers and keep the bank’s name out front. One example: Business Confidential, an e-letter that grew out of a print newsletter the bank put together for small business owners and operators.
Pechayco has been tweeting for a little while, as a way to listen to what customers might be saying about the bank on Twitter. She feels it’s important to monitor key channels to hear what customers are saying about Sterling, “because they are going to be everywhere.”
Arvest Bank Group, Inc.: Blogging in the heartland, to build community
Jason Kincy is vice-president and marketing manager, Alternative Delivery, of the $10.2 billion holding company. His duties include marketing for Arvest cards, ATMs, kiosks, and anything done through social media.
“All things nontraditional,” in other words, says the 36-year-old marketer.
Indeed, Kincy says a year ago he wasn’t even personally involved in any social media, let alone using it for marketing. But he ramped up fast. He began tweeting personally, and made contact with a marketer at another area firm. The two wound up meeting for coffee, and, one idea leading to another, two became a group, and the group became an official social media organization, Social Media Club of Northwest Arkansas, tweeted into existence.
“There a literally hundreds of social media and networking websites, and there are more coming online every day,” says Kincy. “I want to focus on those with the most impact. We’ll see how those go, for now.”
What drives Arvest’s interest in social media is its niche in customer service.
“All of our technological services are a support structure for our branch network,” says Kincy. “We are not using new media to attract customers who are not interested in that local relationship, since we are not positioning ourselves as an online bank, nor as something for customers outside our market area.”
Kincy says he believes banks venturing into new media should decide, beforehand, what their goals are, to avoid distraction from their core missions. Arvest can take mortgage applications online and will soon launch online account openings, he notes, but again, it’s to support Arvest’s banking network with added convenience. Arvest’s geographic footprint covers Arkansas (where it is headquartered in Bentonville), Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
It’s important to understand this viewpoint, because it drives the major social media thrust at Arvest—blogging. Arvest launched its blog, www.arvestblog.com, in June 2008. The launch followed a major update of the company’s localized websites. (They hadn’t been revamped since 2001.) While Arvest’s former multibank structure was replaced by a single-charter model, the company continues to play to local markets.
The Arvest blog represents a combination of information counter, community news hub, and FYI service. Indeed, Kincy says the operative word is “community,” because Arvest wants its blog to be an electronic extension of the community role that a local bank plays. Community events are highlighted, donations made by Arvest are posted.
Kincy tracks the blog’s readership and usage patterns with Google Analytics, free measurement tools offered by the web company. He also uses tools made available as part of other services, such as Facebook. But Kincy’s goals aren’t primarily numerical, given Arvest’s intended online mission. “A friend of mine told me, ‘Social media is not like normal media’,” says Kincy. “‘You want the numbers to be good, but it’s really about engagement’.”
The blog, meant as a supportive function, isn’t about hitting traffic targets. “If you were going to put out a blog on, say, a Facebook page, you’d have to have a daily commitment,” says Kincy, just to be sure repeat visitors had fresh material to read. “We made the decision early on that we were not going to be managing a forum.”
As it is, he warns fellow bankers, “keeping your content fresh is critical, and that’s something you should consider before you get involved with one of these.”
As a result, Kincy especially values questions from real customers. “We get all types of questions,” he says. “They really run the gamut.” While Kincy oversees and frequently writes the blog—he calls himself the bank’s social media “command and control center”—customer service issues are routed to the local Arvest branch, based on the customer’s location, once they go beyond a general question. (A critical piece of advice: Remind customers often and directly not to divulge personal financial information on the public blog, says Kincy.)
Beyond the blog, Kincy has been working a bit with Twitter since early April, in an official bank capacity (www.twitter.com/ arvestbank), and started a Facebook page for the bank in late February of this year. As of mid-April, Arvest was nearing 1,000 Facebook fans, but for Kincy, “so far, we’ve seen the most success with the blog. That’s been our most important tool.”
American River Bankshares: Podcasting spreads the word, and pleases beancounters too
The genesis of one of American River’s most successful new media efforts—podcasting—was the company’s faith-based banking program, subject of this column in August 2006.
Business-oriented American River doesn’t do much traditional advertising. Instead, it markets with e-letters, pay-per-click ads, and other methods. “This keeps our brand top of mind,” explains Walery. In recent years, the bank has been reaching out to customers and prospects with live seminars, initially for the religious community, later for small business owners.
Walery says that the bank began to realize that its events had more appeal than live attendance indicated, especially for business audiences.
“Business owners are hard to get out of their offices,” says Walery. “We realized that 20 may be able to make it to a live seminar, but we can maybe get 100 people to come to it online.” Thus came the bank’s podcasting effort.
Walery says podcasting is much cheaper and simpler than you’d think. The bank bought a digital recording device for about $200 that does an excellent job capturing its live events.
Getting the recorded message out there doesn’t cost that much more. Rather than pay a web expert to reinvent the wheel, the bank pays $300 a year for a deluxe membership to www.podbean.com, a site dedicated to podcasting (both audio and video). A deluxe membership to the site gives the bank tools for editing and honing its audio presentations.
“Now we’re able to get in front of people that we might not have been able to reach before,” says Walery. Generally listeners can choose between podcasts of key points or full presentations.
Keeping the online podcasts audio-only has two advantages. “It’s really inexpensive for us,” says Walery, “and it’s less frightening for speakers who aren’t comfortable with video.”
Another advantage of Podbean, says Walery, is its ability to push out the availability of new podcasts through an RSS feed, essentially an online subscription system. The bank has about 150 regulars who subscribe to the feed.
“That’s not a lot,” says Walery, “but for us, that’s successful. It only takes one new client to come out of an event for us to call it successful.”
New frontiers are already being explored. The bank is considering a LinkedIn page for the second quarter. And Walery says Facebook has some attraction. She cites a grandmother who’s a business owner as proof that Facebook represents more than a means of reaching younger prospects. That grandmother-owner, she says, told the bank she loves Facebook because it helps her stay in touch with her grandkids.
Bank of the Southwest: Looking for “natural buzz”
When the alternative rock band Jimmy Eat World recently staged a “viral” marketing event through Twitter, you couldn’t blame Josh Ragsdale of Bank of the Southwest for noticing it a little wistfully. Ragsdale, marketing officer at the $143.7 million-assets Roswell, N.M., bank, worked in record marketing prior to arriving at the bank two years ago. Viral events, tour marketing, and much atypical promotion was a staple of his business life. So, when Jimmy Eat World used Twitter to tell fans to check out a phone booth at the intersection of Massachusetts and Essex in Boston, the first to arrive to claim a free video game featuring the band, it caught 25-year-old Ragsdale’s eye.
He’s still got his eyes open and antennae up, because he sees part of his job as a bank marketer to be finding ways to locate customers who are “natural brand cheerleaders, to help them talk about us and generate some natural buzz.”
Banking can be a little more challenging, he says. One challenge is compliance—you have to be careful what you say, even in a maximum 140 character Twitter message.
Another challenge is practicality, and public safety.“We can’t place a bag of money on top of a phone booth,” and tweet the location, he says.
All the same, Bank of the Southwest has been dabbling in social and new media. The target demographic: 18-35.
“It connects to them and speaks to them,” says Ragsdale. Unlike his parents’ generation, “my generation doesn’t call customer service,” he says. Instead, it looks to places like the web.
So far, the most significant effort has been a series of podcasts, featuring Ron Wiser, president and CEO. The podcast series, which ran from early November 2008 to March 2009, generally focused on the bank’s views of economic and financial issues. Each instalment played first as a radio program on a local station. After broadcast, the instalment would be posted on the bank’s website for on-demand replay. Costs were minimal, comprising mostly time on the local station, with recording being done right in Wiser’s office.
The bank also runs a blog about bank and community events that resides on www.blogger.com, and which is linked to the bank’s website (http://bankofthesouthwest.blogspot.com). The podcast was downloaded hundreds of times, says Ragsdale, and the blog has seen thousands of hits.
As sold as Ragsdale is on new media, he says he’s “on the fence” about using Facebook and MySpace for marketing his bank. Reflecting the incredibly short half-life new media can have, Ragsdale says, “they’ve both been over-exploited for promotion.” BJ
The electronic version of this article available at: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/sb/ababj0509/index.php?startid=14