Avoiding the Blog Bog

Article excerpt

With the rise in popularity of social media, a bank blog--an online commentary on financial topics--would seem to be an inexpensive and effective new way to communicate with customers. But many financial institutions have been scared off by the challenges. We looked for best practices by talking with two community banks that have been blogging successfully.

THE IDEA OF A BANK BLOG IS DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE. It is supposed to be an online commentary about current financial topics of interest to bank customers. Ideally, the subject matter should be timely and engaging enough to stimulate interactivity in the form of reader comment and response.

The interplay between readable topics and customer comments is supposed to bolster interest in the bank's website, drawing in new viewers--especially young customers who are hip to social media--and helping to promote the bank as an authoritative, relevant, up-to-date source of financial information.

The concept sounds nice, but to date community banks have struggled in their efforts to create effective, workable blogs. Most institutions have seemed intimidated by the demands of a blog and only a small minority have attempted even to experiment with one. Some of those who have gone the route have had problems generating suitable content and updating it consistently. In other cases, the blog has fallen into a quagmire of disuse because of a perceived lack of viewer interest.

In an effort to get a handle on the challenges as well as the successes of bank blogs, ABA Bank Marketing magazine profiled the efforts of two sample community bank blogs that had been operational for at. least two years. We also asked a bank marketing consultant (who writes his own company blog) for some practical tips on how to get a bank blog started. (See page 26.)

Michigan Bank Uses a Blog to Enhance Its Visibility

Self-interest was one of the reasons that United Bank & Trust (assets: $906 million), Ann Arbor, Mich., started a blog.

There are lots of banks in Ann Arbor, including branches of large national and regional banks and big credit unions. There are also four community banks, of which United Bank is one.

In the summer of 2009, Jamie Guise, the executive vice president/chief client delivery officer, googled "community bank" and "Michigan" and found United Bank--on page three. "Our website was not well optimized," she notes.

Guise sat down with the bank's ad agency and asked for suggestions as to how the institution, which has 16 branches, could improve its search engine optimization. The agency suggested changing the website content more frequently. It mentioned a number of ways to do this. One idea was to create a blog.

The blog made sense, Guise says. One of the most valuable things that a community bank has to offer is the expertise of its employees. "It seemed like a great way to showcase our people."

On the other hand, Guise could see potential obstacles. It's one thing to ask bank experts to write the blog, but what if they did not follow through? Would the marketing department, which consisted of three people, end up doing all the heavy lifting? "There are not enough hours in the day now," Guise remembers saying to herself.

Guise organized a meeting with various bank departments--including wealth management, mortgages, business development, small-business lending and investment management. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways that the bank could take advantage of social media, including blogging.

The response to the blog idea varied widely, Guise says. Some people were enthusiastic, and others were not. At the end of the meeting, about a dozen people volunteered to contribute to a proposed blog.

The next step was to develop an editorial schedule. The hope was to post a new blog item about once every two or three weeks. Thus, each volunteer would contribute no more than about two or three articles annually. …