Banks turn employees into social media envoys

Regina DeMars received four pints of ice cream with snappy nicknames like Currency & Cream when she first started working at First National Bank of Omaha — a surprise treat she posted to social media right away.

The welcome gift gave her an idea: to create a social media program in which FNBO employees would share their love of the company with their followers.

A number of banks, including FNBO in Nebraska, turn to social media influencers to build buzz around their products and appeal to younger demographics. But some financial institutions find it easier to communicate sincerity and stay compliant with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and other disclosure rules by handing this role to employees. Truist Financial in Charlotte, N.C., Peoples Bank in Bellingham, Wash., and FNBO demonstrate ways banks can amplify their employees’ voices on social media.

By posting a mix of articles, advice and personal updates to sites such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, bankers can keep themselves and their institutions top of mind among their customers. In recruiting employees for this effort, banks have to be mindful of compliance concerns, including activity that could be perceived as improper recommendations or endorsements. Some use third-party firms or software to help monitor employees’ posts, but not all; FNBO handles this task in-house.

“Unlike traditional influencer programs, which can appear promotional and have less company control, employee ambassador programs may offer more authenticity and added value,” said Erinn Newman, head of the financial specialty group at Mower, a marketing communications agency. “While an employee’s following may be smaller than that of a traditional influencer, their followers are typically more connected and credible.”

Regina Mars, director of content marketing and social media at FNBO, distributed holiday-themed gift boxes to employees so they could share their items and their love for FNBO on social media.

Chris Nellis

Mike Boese, CEO of Hearsay Systems, a company that helps bankers and financial advisers create compliant online content, notes that Hearsay traditionally deals with private bankers, wealth managers, insurance agents and mortgage officers, but its work with commercial and retail banking has accelerated over the past year.

“If you’re a commercial banker who wants to get new prospects, that often takes face-to-face interactions, and that’s not possible now,” said Boese. “Now you have to over-weight on the digital engagement and make sure when that corporate prospect goes to a commercial banker’s profile on LinkedIn, it has the right message, picture, branding and content.”

Truist: Shaping a new brand

The $509 billion-asset Truist, formed in late 2019 from the merger of SunTrust Banks and BB&T, hopes to get employees across the organization involved in building its new brand.

SunTrust started working with Hearsay Systems in 2014. The San Francisco-based Hearsay provides an array of content, including articles, infographics and videos, that licensed and registered employees can draw from without worrying about running afoul of compliance rules set by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or the Securities and Exchange Commission, such as those against guaranteeing rates of return.

Content could include homebuying or renovation tips, retirement planning guidelines or corporate reports. Employees can also submit their own posts for approval, and may use their profiles to send out holiday wishes or broadcast their media appearances.

Oversight is a big reason Truist relies on a third party for help. “Our teammates sometimes hit a roadblock,” said Sheri Malmgren, senior vice president of marketing director for enterprise social media and influencer marketing. “Some teammates are comfortable, while others want to access content that is already approved and easy to share.”

For now, Truist’s licensed and registered financial advisers post on LinkedIn and mortgage loan officers share content on Facebook.

“When browsing Facebook, people are more likely to be thinking about homeownership or that dream kitchen, so more likely they will want to read information shared by a loan officer with inspiration to help them move to their first or next home,” said Malmgren. “On LinkedIn, the mindset tends to be more around investing, retirement and planning for the future.”

As the Truist brand continues to evolve, the bank will broaden this program to other employees in 2021 and consider using other social media sites, such as Twitter.

“We are building the Truist brand at a time when we have a pandemic and a social justice movement and people are working remotely,” Malmgren said. “Social media has become a more powerful tool than ever before for people to stay connected and be relevant.”

Peoples Bank: Raising its profile

Peoples Bank started working with Denim Social (then-Gremlin Social) several years ago after its mortgage loan officers pushed for social media access as a way to stay competitive in their markets.

“We want to have Peoples’ name out there as a bank that does mortgages,” said Jennifer Evans Thompson, director of mortgage lending at the $2.3 billion-asset bank. “We want to make sure we’re not lost in the mix.”

Evans Thompson reports that some officers have gained repeat business by strengthening relationships on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Unlike, say, a traditional advertisement on the side of a city bus, “social media is right there in your face, 24/7,” she said. “People are picking up their phones and looking at it all the time.”

Like Truist, Peoples outsources some of its compliance and content needs to a third party. Denim Social, which is based in St. Louis, works with more than 250 financial services institutions to create social media strategies.

“We don’t have any way of internally monitoring all these platforms in one nice system,” said Evans Thompson. For example, Peoples needs to ensure that its officers are not continually posting a real estate agent’s listings, giving kudos to a particular insurance agent or contractor, or giving the impression that they have received something of value for a referral. By running content through Denim’s tools, banks can catch problematic words or phrases before they become public.

Doug Wilber, Denim Social’s CEO, recommends that mortgage lenders, wealth advisers and other employees who regularly interact with customers post online six times per week, including four relevant “thought leadership” pieces, one product or brand update and one personal touch. Peoples aims for a mix where 20% of a loan officer’s posts are about selling products and 80% are more personal thoughts with a home tie-in, such as tips on how to decorate one’s entryway for the holidays.

Anecdotally, Evans Thompson has observed that a strong social media presence brings in business. Before starting its relationship with Denim, Peoples had experimented with creating Facebook pages for employees, but had taken them away because of difficulties monitoring them without outside help, at which point a number of loan officers reported a loss in business. More recently, one loan officer noticed that fewer people were contacting her when she stopped posting temporarily.

“As soon as she started posting again, she saw those messages come back,” she said.

FNBO: Building goodwill

Distributing boxes of vibrantly colored goodies that photograph well and bear an FNBO logo is one way DeMars is raising the bank’s profile online.

DeMars, director of content marketing and social media at the $24.1 billion-asset FNBO, started an employee brand ambassador program nearly three years ago. She encouraged employees who were already actively sharing their love for the company online to join and winnowed down the candidates to 25 employees in diverse roles. Currently, she oversees 50 colleagues who receive a box of swag every three months and are asked to post at least once on at least one channel per week, although most share content more often. They are encouraged to re-share content FNBO is already posting on its social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, as well as their own perspectives.

“Having them talk about why they love to work for the company builds trust in who the company is,” DeMars said.

In December, she distributed “Joy” themed boxes among her crew that contained a red thermos, fuzzy socks, an evergreen-scented candle and more. “My job brings me so much JOY … even on maternity leave! Thanks FNBO for the amazing box of goodies,” wrote one employee who donned a floppy green FNBO hat and held up her box for the camera.

DeMars is experimenting with video as well. In 2020, FNBO launched a series of peppy videos about personal finance, starring three women who work at the bank and dub themselves the Dollar Belles. DeMars hopes to launch a Dollar Bills series in 2021.

Unlike Peoples and Truist, she didn’t see a need to outsource some of the content creation and regulatory oversight. FNBO lays out compliance rules for its employees to follow and covers social media do’s and don’ts in its employee handbook.

“While it does take more of our team’s time to run our brand ambassador program, we really enjoy running the program,” she said. “We prefer to save the money we would spend with a third-party company and use it to purchase cool swag for our brand ambassadors to post about.”

When recruiting outside influencers, DeMars hopes to increase the number of followers by 10% on the channel of focus for each campaign. The metrics for her employee program are less concrete.

“Our goal is more focused on humanizing our brand, building trust and being authentic,” she said.


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