If you're only thinking about social media as an avenue to promote products, and to say, ‘Hey, sign up today to get an introductory rate on your next checking account,’ then you're no different than anyone else.” -Doug Wilber

Thought leadership isn’t something you can fake. You have to earn it by adding to the knowledge of your field and showing why you have something new to say. Producing the right kind of content can help you cultivate connections with your audience.

Doug Wilber, CEO at Denim Social, and is a powerful voice in thought leadership.

Why Social Content is More Important Now Ever

“When COVID happened and branches shut down,” Doug says, “mortgage lenders couldn't take somebody out for a cup of coffee, or your financial advisor couldn't meet you for lunch. Your next best and, frankly, only alternative for staying connected to the community that you serve was through social.”

This created a wealth of new stories that customers were sharing about the value of social media in connecting with people. Doug’s company saw that customers and employees were advocating for their brand, almost evangelizing. This helped them stay fully connected with their customers and the communities they serve.

Banks have always been about the human experience, but it’s been the human experience that happens in person, in the physical space of bank branches. Social media introduces the opportunities to have human experiences online, digitally instead of physically.

Doug explains that the human experience matters even more now that COVID has pushed people apart. “In our industry, financial services, and probably more so than any other industry on the planet, people buy from people, or like we like to say, people bank with people.”

This is why insurance agents, mortgage lenders, and wealth advisors are always eager to meet in person and help people make complicated decisions. The individual relationship makes a difference and helps people feel comfortable deciding what to do next in a chaotic world.

Doug continues, “And now in a digital environment, it matters even more. Where are you going to interact with these individuals to make sure that you are, as a consumer, making sound financial decisions?”

An Opportunity to Engage in a Meaningful Way

This is where opportunity is found for financial brands. Banks have historically spent a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money to build a following, but they lack meaningful connections on social media. 

When it comes to social media, there’s a temptation to focus on what is known as “vanity metrics.” This is the number of likes or follows you have, but it’s not a meaningful number. At the end of the day, it doesn't tell you how connected your customers are to your messages.

“What really matters is your ability to tell a story and to share content that's relevant and actionable for the audiences that you're trying to serve,” Doug says. “And so, this is why a lot of coaching happens.”

When Doug’s company gets a new customer, they coach them on how to build organic traffic, use social advertising, try promoted content solutions, and improve landing page conversions. Each of these is an example of something that draws people deeper into your content and makes them feel more connected to your company.

Regardless of where or when a customer begins their journey, you want to ensure your social messages are sending the right kind of information. There’s a big difference between outright saying, “Sign up today to get an introductory rate!” and sharing a social post that gives people the feeling, “Hey, this loan officer is hyper-connected to the community and wants to foster a dialogue.”

Doug’s goal is to arm his clients with interesting, relevant, and actionable content that allows them to build connections with their customers. He helps them consider, "What content do you stop on when you're endlessly thumbing through your feed? You stop on content that comes from people you know, and you tend to gloss over the content that comes from brands. And that's that, and then you see the light bulb go off. It's like, ‘All right, now I get it.’”

What is a Thought Leader?

Doug also reminds his clients that thought leadership isn’t automatic. The title of “thought leaders” isn’t something you’re owed simply because you’re engaging with people. 

“Thought leadership is something that you don't just decide to be,” he says. “You don't decide to be a thought leader. Thought leadership is earned.”

It’s about becoming a contributor to the larger dialogue surrounding a topic because you have a relevant voice. You’re saying something new, innovative, and meaningful to people’s lives. Plus, you’re engaging in a two-way conversation with your audience.

Doug relates the story of working with a mortgage client who got through the contracting and onboarding phases, had their mortgage lenders all trained and ready to do social media, and then everyone turned to him and said, “Cool. What do we say?”

When it came right down to it, they didn’t know how to engage with their audience on social media quite yet. So Doug’s team coached them on talking about newly-released products, discussing new developments in the business, and so forth.

Deciding what content to share is a key part of the puzzle that shouldn’t be left to chance. Doug helps his clients create libraries of content their people can share, discuss, and use as jumping-off points for customer interactions. 

This takes social media beyond the thumbs-up, beyond the “like” and into new territory with sincere two-way dialogue. It’s the secret to a financial brand’s social selling success.

Nurturing Social Media Connections

For the average financial CEO, it’s unsettling to think about unleashing their employees on social media to interact with customers. Doug shares that one of his financial clients has 26,000 employees and he encouraged the CEO to think about what would happen if each of those 26,000 employees engaged with 100 followers on social media.

That’s a big number! But the CEO said, “We would never give them the control to do that.” Doug questioned that logic, saying, “So you're telling me you trust them to deal with people's money, but you don't trust them to do the right thing in social?" 

Fear is an enormous barrier. But it must be addressed or it will hold companies back from building genuine connections with their customers. 

Consider this. LinkedIn has done research that shows employees on average have about 10 times the following than the brands they work for. And every time they post on social, they're going to get about twice the engagement that the brand would get if they posted the same content. 

Why? It’s just like Doug said earlier: People buy from people. When someone they know says, "Hey, this is what we do and why it's valuable," they listen. Whether they agree or not, they tend to appreciate the information provided on social channels.

In the banking and financial world, some people aren’t comfortable interacting this way on social media. They built a career before social media existed and they’re not willing to take a risk with online interactions. Doug has had people speak to him privately and say things like, “I’m just not big on social media.”

Doug’s answer? “If you’re not willing to do it, your competitor is.” Today you might have a customer that isn’t interested in interacting with you because you’re not on social media. Tomorrow, that customer is talking to your competitor.

This is borne out in the client experiences and case studies Doug sees in his daily work. 

Banks tell him that when lenders go dark on social media, they see a measurable decrease in referral business from real estate agents, house flippers, contractors, and all of the contributors who drive referrals.

Social media is a huge driver of referral business and keeps connections alive that would otherwise die in the darkness. This is why it’s so important to continue nurturing online connections even though it takes time and effort. Your business might not be open 24/7 but social media is always open!

Social Media Roadblocks for Financial Brands

So, what are some of the roadblocks financial brands typically encounter that keep them from using social media effectively?

  • Compliance and control
  • Sourcing and sharing relevant content
  • Giving the marketing team the resources they need
  • Data management
  • Outdated referral programs
  • Giving time for social posting
  • Tracking the right metrics
  • Having the right CRM

Doug also finds that it’s sometimes hard to prove the value of social media when everything is anecdotal. It’s good to hear that when loan officers are on social media, they close an average of an extra loan per month. But make sure you’re tracking that number and attributing it to the right source. Make sure you’re allotting the resources to keep this trend positive.

Doug emphasizes that financial brands need to remember that the average person is dealing with a lot of fear and uncertainty in their lives. These feelings have close connections to financial brands.

  • Can I handle a 30-year fixed-rate loan?
  • Do I really need a second mortgage?
  • What happens when we have our third child?
  • Do we need a bigger house?
  • Is there enough money in my retirement fund?
  • Should I create a college savings plan for my children?

At every stage in life, there are decisions and there is fear. Financial brands must understand where customers are in their journey and appreciate the emotions that come with that. 

Finally, Doug says, remember that your brand can do something important: take away fears and give people hope. That might seem small, but it can make a huge difference in people’s lives.