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How community banks can win at social media: An interview with Jill Castilla

We talked to Jill Castilla, president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond, about social media strategy at financial institutions. As is clear from this interview, Citizens Bank is setting the standard for community banks on the digital front. They’ve sold their branches, created an interactive ATM experience, and regularly draw 20,000 people to their customer appreciation days. In short, there’s a lot for community banks to learn here.

You can listen to the interview here or read the transcript below.

When it comes to investing in social media efforts, many bank executives worry about ROI. How do you address these concerns?

Being active on social media is like answering the phone. So I’d ask, what's the ROI of answering your customer’s phone call or a potential customer’s phone call? It’s really difficult to measure. There’s not a hard return associated with it. However, if you’re not answering the phone you’re likely missing out on opportunities to learn of complaints or challenges for your business. Likewise, if you ignore social media, there’s an opportunity cost even if it’s difficult to measure.

In my experience, social media is an extremely effective marketing solution with little to no cost associated with it. It’s also very time efficient. Posting something takes seconds, unlike traditional marketing efforts, which may take hours. In our case we use social media as our main marketing source, and we’ve been able to dramatically reduce advertising dollars because it’s resulted in so much earned media for us. I suspect that our advertising dollars are just a small fraction of what a typical bank our size might be spending on newspaper ads, billboards, radio and tv. It’s a very low cost structure.

Also, when you look at how much time traditional bankers have to spend networking, going to Chamber events, Kiwanis events, having to be physically present in so many different places, the ROI of social media is even clearer. Social media allows you to be in many places at once. You’re able to really leverage yourself, which for me has had a huge increase in the ROI and in what I’m able to do as an individual.

“Social media allows you to be in many places at once.”

What platforms have you found most valuable and why?

I found that Facebook was a way to rapidly gain professional and personal relationships, to quickly go from acquaintance to friend. Facebook gives someone a depth of understanding about who you are. The first time you meet someone in person, you’re an acquaintance. Then you friend them on Facebook and the next time you meet you’re like old friends. I saw the power of Facebook right when it entered the market.

For me now though, Twitter is where it’s at. I’m able to have conversations with business owners who are typically inaccessible, build advocates for our brand, find like-minded business professionals, and develop relationships with prospects. I like Twitter because posts are brief and I can interact with people immediately. That has developed rewards for me and Citizens Bank.

We’re also on Instagram and we’ve used Periscope. In addition, I use LinkedIn like crazy. Almost every person I’ve hired over the last 2 or 3 years was because I sought them out through LinkedIn.

“I’m able to have conversations with business owners who are typically inaccessible.”

Does your entire team pitch in on social media?

It’s evolved to that point, though they’re certainly not required to.

Because social media is what we’ve built our marketing platform on and because we’ve reduced our traditional advertising dollars, we use social media for a variety of activities. We also have a strong social media policy so employees understand the limits if they’re going to participate. As a result we’ve had this really organic increase in usage of social media from our team. That allows us to amplify our messaging even more than if it was just the bank providing the messaging. The individual has greater credibility than the organization tweeting something out.

“The individual has greater credibility than the organization tweeting something out.”

We also run social media campaigns. For instance, I’ll give our team members a gift certificate to use at a particular business on a certain day. We wear our Citizens Bank T-shirts, and the only requirement to participate is a willingness to take a picture wherever you use your gift certificate. These campaigns have dramatically increased the amount of social media usage and the reach of the brand itself.

We also exclusively promote our customer appreciation days via social media. We hold a monthly event March through October to celebrate, and our staff are just wonderful at lifting those events up. We’d typically expect just a couple hundred people to come to an appreciation day event at the bank in the past. Instead, we have over 20,000 attendees at ours, and they buy their own food. So you can really see how social media works.

20,000 attendees?

Yes, and we hold it 8x a year so it’s not just a one time event.

That’s amazing.

We have three dozen food trucks, and we provide three local bands as well as the venue. It is an investment for our bank but we’ve gotten so much back in return, it’s amazing. For our bank celebration to draw that kind of crowd, build credibility, be a community builder, it drives that message home.

I like the idea of figuring out ways that online presence can complement physical presence.

We’re firm believers in that. It’s a multilayered program to get the earned media, to get the in-person interaction. Social media is not about putting a message out there and leaving it. It’s a conversation. If you interacted with someone face to face to help them build their business, you wouldn’t just leave and not follow up. You’d want to schedule a lunch. Social media is the same way. It opens a door. It’s a conversation, that’s what social media is.

How does social media fit in with the central mission of Citizens Bank?

Citizens Bank started 115 years ago. It’s locally owned, and it’s right in the heart and center of downtown Edmond. It’s the bank that loves you back, it’s the bank you grew up with, it’s your grandparents’ bank from when you were a little kid. It’s that very nostalgic experience.

But it’s also very forward thinking. In 2013 we sold all our branch locations except for our headquarters and decided to really focus on being progressive from a technological standpoint. We developed our own interactive teller at the ATM, and we now sell that technology to others.

So for us, social media is about relevancy and the accessibility that you expect from your hometown community bank. It’s a tangible way that our community can see we’re living up to be the community bank you used to think about. That’s what social media allows us to achieve.

As the president and CEO, I’m frequently jumping on Twitter to see if there are any complaints about our bank. One time I did it on a Sunday afternoon and someone had tweeted that they were upset with Citizens Bank because they couldn’t find the banking app. There are many Citizens Banks, so I first drilled down and found they were tweeting from Edmonds, Oklahoma. I then reached out to them over social media and wrote that I would like to talk to them further. They responded that they couldn’t download the app on the iPad, so I was able to respond that they needed to look in the iPhone store and not the iPad store to find it. That one interaction resulted in about 40 additional interactions around the nation, and people thought this is the most amazing example of customer service.

That just showcases that when we say there’s a difference with a community bank providing great customer service, social media allows us to do it even better.