Stories about social media generating phenomenal commercial success are persuasive and awe-inspiring. When you read about a lady from Wichita Falls making a million dollars a month selling hand-knitted tea cozies on Facebook, the urge to replicate that quick and easy success is strong. It appears all you have to do is create a page, set up a Twitter account, do a little cross-promotion and you’ve nailed it.
For a professional communicator, the guidelines for using social media sound fun. Start a conversation! Build a community! Write like a human, not a corporation! What creative person doesn’t succumb to that siren song? How nice it would be to ban industry jargon from our copy, use the first and second persons plural and singular with abandon. Start a sentence with “And.”
See also: Social media: Look, we’re doing it!
Reality sets in quickly for financial services communicators. Our industry cannot use social media the way consumer product retailers do. In our world, social media is “advertising,” and generally all of the usual Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) requirements apply. The federal and state regulations that govern what we can say about our products and services are very clear and not very flexible.
As a result, many financial companies strictly limit business use of social media. They also require the copy to be reviewed and approved by legal and compliance departments before it can be posted. If all those reviews and approvals happen quickly, you can post your message — which now includes additional disclosures — in a week or two. That delay violates the sacred social media commandment that says you must respond to your followers’ posts quickly, nanoseconds preferred.
If we can’t use social media in the instantaneous way other industries do, where does that leave us? It leaves us with the business communicator’s most important role of all: building the brand. We may not generate the same level of response on social media as retailers, but we can widen our audience to some extent.
That’s where we were last fall when we undertook Securian’s first social media campaign. Rather than chafe under restrictions, we looked at the available options, set reasonable expectations and created a plan. We picked a theme that plays off of our tag line, “Financial security for the long run,” hired an actor and a video crew, walked a block to a park near our national headquarters in downtown St. Paul, Minn., and randomly asked people about their long-term goals. The responses fell into four categories: general financial goals, savings strategies, financial strategies and retirement strategies.
We edited the responses into four videos and posted one a week on our YouTube channel throughout the month of November. Though our budget was small, the soft costs were high because it took many hours spent by several people to complete the project.
We promoted the videos on Facebook, Twitter, our corporate website and our employee and advisor intranets. In mid-November we added some inexpensive Facebook advertising. Our measurable goals were modest: raise Facebook likes 25 percent and Twitter followers 15 percent. Additional goals were to build brand recognition and promote Securian’s resolve to help people reach their long-term financial goals.
It worked. Facebook likes rose 27 percent to 571. Twitter followers went up 19 percent to 191. The videos on YouTube were viewed more than 4,000 times. A bonus result was that financial services trade publications are very interested in this subject and have given us opportunities to share our experience.
Here’s what we learned:
- Make a plan, state objectives and set achievable goals.
- Facebook advertising works. Our “likes” rose as soon as we started placing ads.
- You do have to maintain an ongoing “voice” or your numbers will stagnate quickly.
- Others in our industry are eagerly (if not desperately) searching for social media strategies that don’t require huge staffs, budgets and expectations.
- You may not set the world on fire, but you will widen your audience.
Given these lessons, our advice to fellow financial services communicators is to learn from Securian’s experiment with social media and just try it.
For more on social media, see: