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.