Retail companies can have an easy time on Facebook. Companies like Walmart and J C Penney are able to fill their timelines with pictures of their products, reward followers with special offers and show pictures of happy employees. But for service companies, the challenge is much greater. Loans and life insurance policies aren’t physical products that can be photographed and shown in a timeline. Financial advice isn’t easy to communicate in a short post and the self-identity that leads followers to like and share is missing in a picture of a credit card or a photo of banker. And yet financial firms are using Facebook to promote their brands and win customers. Some are doing better than others. In this post, we look at the Facebook content strategies of four financial firms in the Fortune 500 and the different results that their strategies are producing.
Visa Shows Life As It Should Be Lived
With nearly 14 million likes, Visa’s Facebook timeline is both one of the largest commercial page on the platform and one of the most effective. Its strategy is also among the simplest.
The company posts a regular stream of photos showing the products that people can buy with the Visa card. The card itself doesn’t appear in any of the pictures. At best, we see a customer hand over what could be a credit card to a checkout clerk. Only recently have the images even started carrying the company’s logo.
Those pictures might show a pile of mangos in a market, a meal in a restaurant, a round on a golf course, or a destination for a vacation. Sometimes, we aren’t even shown a product. Among the pictures of salads, surfboards and shopping bags are inspirational pictures of people in parks, enjoying a view or of the open road. Descriptions tell followers to “Enjoy a new perspective” or “Live without boundaries.” Neither the image nor the description appear to have anything to do with payment processes. Certainly nowhere on Visa’s Facebook page are we told about annual premium rates or urged to sign up. But it is clear that all of the activities shown on the page, from eating in a restaurant to flying a microlight at dusk would involve the use of a credit card.
The overall message the page portrays is that Visa allows you to enjoy your life.
That’s a strong branding message on any platform and its effectiveness can be seen in the engagement those posts receive. A pile of mangos gets nearly a thousand likes, more than 200 comments and 43 shares. A shot of a cruise ship earns 846 likes, 46 comments and 98 shares. A patio meal in Europe has more than 800 likes, 75 comments and 77 shares. For a page with nearly 14 million likes, the numbers aren’t huge but they are positive and they show that people are willing to share and like inspiring, professional photographs with little variety and no obvious branding.
Citibank US Both Tells And Shows
The approach taken by Citibank US on Facebook is very similar to that used by Visa. Again, we see pictures that have little directly in common with the banking and financial services provided by the company although hashtags reveal why images have been posted and what they’re intended to do. The posts also say more.
#MondayMotivation posts might show the opening day of the Mets or a scenic route through a forest. A #WorldHealthDay post depicts regular exercise, handwashing and fruit and vegetables. The most commonly used hashtag, #SmartIsSimple, is intended to show that finance and banking are straightforward. The images that accompany those posts are fairly oblique. We see a bowler send a ball down a lane to illustrate a post with that begins: “Nailing a split in bowling: Challenging. Splitting your tax refund: Simple.” A post that informs followers that they can bank from anywhere is illustrated with picture of a restaurant with a sea view. Advice for saving money by packing a lunch once a week comes with a picture of a salad with the words “Eat Greens, Save Green” overlaid.
In general, the posts that accompany the images are longer than the brief descriptions provided by Visa. The credit card company will typically say something like: “Set sail at sunset.” A Citibank US post might say: “Did you know that your passwords should follow these guidelines? Get more tips to protect your information here:http://citi.us/1llsSg7 #SmartIsSimple” Citibank’s posts might also aim to generate direct sales. Followers are told they can buy workout gear or are offered a limited place at a baseball camp.
The posts resonate to degrees that can vary tremendously. Most pick up around a hundred likes, particularly when the image is a stock photo used to illustrate an item or service that customers can purchase. Occasionally, though, engagement will be much higher, especially when the posts are made as part of a promotion with a particular retailer. A question about whether followers prefer to indulge their sense of hearing or their sense of taste, and made in conjunction with a radio disc jockey, picked up over 8,000 likes and nearly 200 shares. A recommendation to use ThankYou Points at Amazon to buy new linen, and accompanied by a picture of a dog lying on a bed, earned more than 13,500 likes and more than 500 shares.
It’s also noticeable that Citibank US works hard on its page to put out fires in comments and to manage customer relationships. Complaints placed under posts are replied to with a public apology and a request for more information delivered in private.
Citibank US’s Facebook page might have fewer followers than that of Visa but its broader range of topics, its longer descriptions and its occasional forays into direct sales are bringing it bursts of additional success.
Prudential Brings A Challenge
The approach taken by Prudential Financial is very different. The company has a limited and localized presence on Facebook but it does have a page dedicated to its Bring Your Challenges campaign, an attempt to encourage people to face the challenge of planning their financial future.
Rather than offer a stream of inspiring images, the page focuses on a theme. It also runs a contest, pitching different states against each other as the best place to retire. In the first two rounds, nearly 10,000 people voted, leading to a final matchup between Kentucky and Michigan.
That competition was a clever way to engage followers who were able to vote for their favorite state while also spreading a message about the importance of retirement planning.
Other posts show the ascent of Everest by a retired Marine Staff Sergeant who lost a foot in Afghanistan, as well links to articles about the growing population of retired people, and experiments that show how people react when faced with peer pressure or temptation.
The page shows a much broader range of content than those of either Visa or Citibank US. It also has a smaller audience: about 130,500. But its posts can win engagement figures that range from a couple of hundred to over 8,000 for Charlie Linville’s Everest ascent.
Prudential has brought a different strategy to its Facebook campaign, one that has a goal of inspiring people to do something about their financial planning and which uses competition, inspiration and interesting content to drive engagement.
Charles Schwab Gets It Wrong
With just over 125,000 followers, Charles Schwab’s Facebook page is the smallest of the four in this study. It’s also the least effective. Posts are often made without images or with just thumbnail pictures attached to URL links. Where images are used, they tend to be of corporate executives. Links placed each week to a feature on the company website in which Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, a Senior Vice President, answers finance questions is illustrated with her executive portrait. A post that carries the description: “Old 401(k)? We can help you understand your options. Consider your options. Call 866-232-9884 to have a Rollover Consultant assist you” uses a cheap stock image of a man wearing a headset.
Alongside him, a man in a suit asks whether you currently have an estate plan.
All of the pictures used so far in 2014 have been either executive portraits or stock photos. None of the pictures in the timeline show the benefits of using Charles Schwab’s services and none is particularly inviting or shareable.
It’s no surprise that engagement levels often amount to likes in single figures and the most popular post, with 47 likes, seven comments (and no shares) was an announcement in January that the Indy service center will be closed because of severe weather.
For Financial Services On Social Media, Inspiration And Creativity Count
That financial companies are struggling on social media shouldn’t come as a surprise. Facebook thrives on images, and banks and credit companies produce little that is worth photographing. Some companies though have found that when they focus on the inspiring benefits of using their services rather than the services themselves, when they team up with retail partners or launch competitions, they can win engagement and reach new customers.
When they focus on themselves, they lose.