By PAUL KAISER
Instagramming a picture-perfect meal to your family. Live tweeting a travel experience to your followers. Snapchatting your dog with a funny filter to your best friend. None of these may seem relevant to promoting your services. However, in a business where contact and connections are critical, any financial or professional services firm still debating the need for strategically leveraging social media in their marketing mix has likely found themselves growing more slowly – and may soon be trailing their competitors.
That’s because, as Hootsuite’s 2019 Social Trends for Financial Services and Insurance report states, “from awareness to advocacy, social is now integral at every step of the customer journey.” Major brands in the industry have long been aware – according to a 2018 study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, every financial services organization in the Fortune 500 maintained a social presence. And it isn’t just big firms. Adobe’s 2018 Digital Trends in Financial Services report provides evidence of the industry’s widespread embrace as the proportion of financial services companies that viewed themselves as “advanced” in terms of digital maturity, nearly triple from the previous year.
But where do you start and how do you maximize the impact of social media when you don’t have the resources of a Fortune 500?
Digital marketing agencies are perpetually prepared to sell you their latest social media solution. Unfortunately these groups’ experience often skews to consumer products, retail, hospitality, etc. Without a clear understanding of this industry and your business, the “solution” they sell often turns out to cause friction, frustration, and ultimately dissatisfaction.
The following four steps will help provide a strong foundation to shape the right social media strategy for you and your firm, regardless of your eventual investment.
Understand What Social Media Will And Won’t Do, And Determine Your Purpose For A Social Media Strategy.
Social media is not a wholesale short cut to the hard work of relationship-building and sales. In fact, seeing its impact often takes considerable time and effort and is best utilized in tandem with traditional business development efforts. (You should not expect prospects to come beating down your door the moment you post a status update or create a firm profile.) On the other hand, social media can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your marketing and communications efforts. The shift “from search to social” is real, and prospects have been vetting your organization and your professionals on the social channels they use for some time.
Once you broadly recognize the opportunities and challenges it is time to define what you are trying to accomplish. Some examples of how firms use social media include:
- Brand awareness/audience growth
- Promotion of a new service or offering
- Expressing organization culture or community support
- Increased loyalty from existing clients
- Recruiting talent
Each of these, or any other objective that might be selected, will impact how to approach a social media strategy and what is considered success. Eventually, measurable social media goals that support the stated purpose must be selected.
Find Out What Channels Make Sense And What Is Required For Your Business And Industry.
Before launching a social media strategy, it is important to understand who your audience is, what channels they are active on, and how they use these tools. LinkedIn may be best for connecting with professional clients, but Instagram may be better at targeting millennials. Facebook, while managing a number of regulatory, security, and cultural issues, is betting big on mobile video and its redesigned Groups feature. Each tool has a different function and intent.
This insight can be gathered first-hand, by having conversations with clients, peers, recruiting targets, etc., or from existing secondary research. Pew, Adobe, and many marketing and industry organizations offer a plethora of research on social media trends based on extensive consumer surveys. It is also critically important to fully explore and understand applicable data and privacy security issues. These may include actions or restrictions required by GDPR, FINRA, the SEC, etc.
Recognize The Resources Required Based On The Purpose, Goals, And Channels Selected.
The third step in this education process is understanding what is required to achieve desired success. This is impacted by many factors including the channels selected. Note that each application has content and design considerations (text length, image versus video, file formats, etc.) The scale of your program will also impact resources: Gaining 100,000 followers in one year is going to require more than 1 hour per week of your receptionist’s time.
This all comes down to allocating budget for content creation. Without a variety of engaging and powerful posts, tailored to the specific channel’s requirements and responding to the needs and interests of prospects throughout the buyer’s journey, having a distribution tool alone will have negligible impact.
Furthermore, once the content is created, whether it will be shared organically or by paid promotion is another important budgetary question. (One recent Umetric study of Social Media Trends in American Banking found that paid/promoted posts received 21x the interactions as an organic post.) Organic is a good place to get your feet wet, but applications hoping to monetize their platforms have made paid promotion the real opportunity.
Pilot A Program And Adjust Strategy Quickly.
Whether you’ve explored the topics above with your internal marketing staff or an external agency, it is only now time to launch a pilot program. This limited, initial effort should help keep costs within reason and will be invaluable in educating marketing and leadership on what is and isn’t possible. Consider focusing on a new channel for a discrete amount of time (ex: three months) and measure results against your goal.
If you don’t get the outcomes you want, consider whether the channel, goal, or entire strategy needs to be adjusted (and leave the photos of your latest culinary creation out!)
Paul Kaiser has nearly 10 years of experience marketing for leading financial services firms and is the founder of Trailhead Marketing Communications. Based in Denver, CO, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn