So, you’ve decided to pursue a digital community strategy for your bank or financial services brand.
Fantastic. Now you need members.
Let’s assume you’ve already rifled through your list of existing customers and invited them to follow you on Twitter, like your Facebook page and sign up for your forum. Let’s go a step further and say you’ve incentivized them to invite their friends.
Now what? You need to grow your community. But where should you go to recruit more members for your financial community, outside of your established customers?
From other communities, of course! But… where? Which social medium should you choose?
By and large, banks have answered that question with a single word: Twitter. It’s free. It’s easy. It lets financial brands show their customers they’re “hip”, yet saves them from devoting serious resources to a brand new digital marketing strategy.
But clearly, a simplistic half-commitment to Twitter isn’t going to cut it. If you’re serious about growing your online community, you need to engage in a targeted recruiting campaign tailored to find new members where they already are.
To do that, you need to find out which social media channels your ideal community members frequent and how best to engage them there. This 5-step guide will show you the way. But, first…
A Quick Word About Platforms
Notice that I didn’t say this post would be a guide to deciding where to host your online community. While the two conversations aren't unrelated and there are significant ways in which your platform can/should coincide with the channels you use, there’s much to consider when choosing where to host your online community.
For financial brands in particular, there are significant compliance issues to consider. Specifically, strict record-keeping rules require that your institution retains certain communications. Since platforms like Facebook and Twitter store their own their data, you’ll likely need a self-hosted solution like Vanilla.
Now, back to the guide…
Step 1: Figure Out Who You Want to be Online
The banking industry is slowly transitioning towards its place in a service-centered, experience-based economy. Part of this transition includes branding and rebranding to capture the energy of our current economic moment.
Branding never stops, and the who behind your organization will make an immense difference in deciding which channels to pursue and how you should tailor your efforts with each one.
Therefore, the first step is to figure out who you are as a brand and what sort of image you'd like to portray online.
For example, take a look at Allianz.
A leader in the insurance and financial sector, Allianz has actively positioned itself as a global authority. Their brand image is straightforward, their content is tight and didactic and their appeal is clearly targeted towards higher-scale corporate and retail clients.
With that in mind, the last thing you’d expect is a smart-mouthed hotshot manning the @Allianz Twitter account and roasting other financial brands a la Wendy’s. No, you’d expect a strong, steady LinkedIn presence with a feed full of industry data and market research.
Long story short, the types of people Allianz wants in its online community aren’t on Twitter. At least – they aren’t on Twitter to find businesses like Allianz.
Figure out who you are, and let that set the terms for which channels you will and won’t go after.
Step 2: Define Your Strategic Goals
Once you’ve decided who you are, it’s time to define what it is you’re hoping to get out of your online community efforts.
Here are a few benefits:
- Brand Awareness – A thriving online community will effectively represent your brand to the world as your content branches out over the individual social networks of each of your members.
- Lead Generation – Brand awareness on its own, of course, doesn’t pay the bills. The intent of your community program should include a process by which you capture the interest of leads.
- Product Promotion – There is evidence to suggest social media is a useful sales tool — when used right. According to a study performed by LinkedIn, 63% of “mass affluent” customers found social media advertising compelling enough to motivate action on financial products and services.
- Reputation Building/Management – In the wake of the global financial crisis, public confidence in financial institutions declined precipitously. Morgan Stanley, hoping to regain public trust, launched their Capital Creates Change campaign in 2015. According to CMO Lauren Boyman, the campaign successfully netted the bank a 6% increase in brand favorability. Their strategy, in part, depended on the strength of their online community.
In reality, your strategy will should contain some combination of each of these goal categories. It’s up to you to prioritize which goals to set before others.
Moreover, the channels you choose will vary depending on the goal. Facebook may be a great place to raise brand awareness; you may have less luck using it for explicit product promotion. Conversely, LinkedIn could be a fantastic place to huck your financial wares, but a terrible platform for enhancing your reputation with non-business customers.
Step 3: Look at What the Other Guys are Doing
Competitor analysis is a perfectly acceptable means of carving out your own slice of the marketplace. In fact, I’m willing to bet your financial brand has done extensive research on the other players in its space. It’s ok. You can admit it.
Now, it’s time to extend that competitive research to the realm of online community.
Find out which of your competitors have taken their communities online and learn everything about what they’re doing:
- Community platform
- Targeted channels
- Content types
- Brand image
- …seriously, everything.
Since the majority of banks are lagging in this arena, it's entirely possible that none of your competitors will have taken any sort of meaningful action to build an online community. Hard to believe, I know. But it’s true.
If that’s the case, then you’ll need to expand your search beyond your immediate market. Even if you’ve got the market cornered, there’s much to be learned from observing how other brands like yours have capitalized on digital community.
A few examples:
Step 4: Develop a Community Member Persona (or Two)
As important as it is for you to define yourself as a brand (step 1), it’s equally important that you come up with a clear image of your target community member.
This is important because the ideal community member doesn’t always look exactly like your ideal customer.
Whereas a customer (or buyer) persona gets built around the specific motivators and pain points that drive purchasing behavior, a community member persona needs to be built around the specific activities that drive online engagement.
Here’s what I mean…
Let’s say you want to market a home loan product directly to young mothers of growing families. Your buyer persona might look something like this:
- Name: Sally Personus
- Age: 32
- Occupation: Stay-at-home mother
- Children at Home: 2
- # of Years in Current Home: 5
- Current Mortgage Term and Balance: 25 years, $145,000
- Pain points: Her family has outgrown their home.
- Daydreams about: Owning a bigger home.
You get the picture.
A community member persona, on the other hand, takes this a bit further…
- Preferred Social Media Platform: Pinterest
- Posting Habits: Several times a day
- Device of preference: Mobile
- Network Size: 255
In the first persona, you’ve asked yourself the question: who’s going to want one of these loans? In the second, you’re taking it a step further: who wants one of our loans and is likely to talk about it online?
Step 5: Listen
According to the eMarketer, less than half of businesses are using social media listening tools to understand their market prospects. Instead, they pick a channel that seems right and go with the Field of Dreams approach to content strategy: “If you post it they will come.”
I'm sorry to say they won't.
I can't stress this enough—you need to listen to the marketplace to find out where your ideal community members are spending their time online.
To do that, grab one of the personas you created in step 4 and do the following:
- Fill Your Toolbox – Social listening is essentially a strategic form of running and re-running searches based on contextual keyword phrases. To do that well, you’ll need a little help. Tools like SocialMention, Tagboard, Google Alerts and Board Reader can help you develop a systematic way to search the full spectrum of online conversations and find people who are talking about your industry.
- Find Conversation Terms & Keywords – For that specific persona, dig around the web to see what sort of conversations they’re having that relate to your industry, brand or specific product offering. Cast a wide net at first; you’ll have an opportunity to narrow things down shortly.
- Create Search Streams/Keyword Alerts – Identify the key terms your prospective community members use in conversation online. Again, you want terms that meaningfully relate to your industry or product offering. Using our example from step #4, that would include obvious phrases like “get a new mortgage”, but it’d also include contextual terms like “walls are closing in” and “need a bigger house”.
- Refine Your Search – At first you’ll end up with a lot of noise. Whittle down the terms until your searches show only the most relevant conversations to your corner of the market. Employ negative keywords to filter out extraneous, unrelated conversation.
It won’t take long for you to discover that the bulk of relevant conversation takes place on a specific channel or two. With that information in hand, you’re in position to make an educated choice on which social channel to target for new community members.
And with your listening strategy in place, you’ll be primed to learn about your audience and discern the best approach for engaging them on that specific channel.
You’ve made a shrewd decision by creating an online community that supports your financial brand. Now’s the time to intentionally build up that community so you can organically spread the word about your products and services.
The five steps I’ve just shared will help you decide where to find those customers:
- Figure out who you want to be online.
- Define your strategic goals.
- Look at what the other guys are doing.
- Develop a community member persona or two.