You know your firm should be doing more in social media. But what?

Here are five financial companies that are making their mark in social. They prove that your company could be relevant in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and other channels, as well.

1. American Express

If you think of American Express as a stodgy credit card company, it's probably because you're not connected with them in social media. If you were, you'd see they're a powerhouse that uses Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to build deep relationships with consumers.

American Express got into social media way back in 2009. The company's first efforts — and this continues today — focused on serving customer needs. They used social media to:
•    Answer common customer questions
•    Provide service-related information
•    Connect with the merchants that accept their cards. 

Later, the company expanded into providing original value-added content to their key audiences. One prominent example is the American Express Open Forum, which offers merchants that accept and use Amex cards high-quality information to help them grow their businesses. Amex also leverages social media to share special promotions and offers. All these things have helped build affinity with and loyalty to American Express, and the added-value programs have helped AmEx overcome the perception that their cards are expensive to use and accept. 

The takeaway: Many financial companies are concerned about getting into social media in a small way. Take an example from American Express and think big. Figure out how you can use it to do more expansive things like improving customer service and becoming an integral part of your customers’ lives. It could take your company's marketing efforts to the next level.

2. Progressive

Who would have thought that a fictional character could sell a lot of insurance through social media?

Progressive has figured out how to do this with Flo. Flo has more than five million people who like her on Facebook. And according to some reports, each of her posts gets — on average — more than one thousand comments. Who would have thought that so many people would want to get into a conversation with a fictional person about car insurance?

The takeaway: Have you considered giving your financial brand a human voice to help it connect with customers in social media? Thinking about Flo's success, would it be a big stretch to create:
•    Sue the Registered Rep
•    Sam the Chief Economist
•    Bob the Banker?

A spokesperson — real or fictional — could become the engaging persona that speaks for your company in social.

3. The Hartford

Can you imagine anything less sexy than small business insurance? Neither could The Hartford. Yet it is one of the company's biggest product lines. So they created a blog and evergreen content website that offer information small business owners find interesting on topics like marketing, leadership and increasing sales. The Hartford promotes the information to business owners every day using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which gives them a way to enter into conversations with business owners. They then use that opportunity to evolve the dialogue into the less-sexy topic of business insurance.

Full disclosure: Carpenter Group helped develop The Hartford's social strategy.

The takeaway: If your consumer base doesn't find your product particularly interesting or sexy, then use social to engage them on topics they do care about. Then evolve the conversation to talk about what you sell. This can be a very effective way to use social media to connect with prospective customers.

4. Vanguard

Vanguard is one of the few investment companies that has figured out how to push out smart investment information in social and get a lot of people to engage with it. What do they do that's so special? Nothing out of the ordinary:
•    They're intelligent. 
•    They're consistent. 
•    They're engaging.

And when they get customer complaints on their social media sites, they respond to them quickly, consistently and honestly — which only helps Vanguard build trust with customers.

The takeaway: It's not impossible to engage with sophisticated customers in social. Use the feedback you get in social to learn how to speak their language more effectively. Working with an agency with decades of experience developing engaging content for the financial services industry could help, as well.

5. Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab has an active social media program, pushing out a broad range of content in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. The content — everything from helpful health and retirement tips to deeper information on investing strategies — resonates with consumers. 

Different types of content are packaged together on sites designed for different audiences —including:
•    Schwab Moneywise: Helpful money management tips and information
•    Intelligent Portfolios: White papers and deeper insights on investing strategies
•    Insights: Broad-based investing information.

Schwab proves that a big financial company can use social to be smart — and accessible — to different audiences at the same time.

The takeaway: Schwab does a great job of using social to reflect all aspects of their brand. They demonstrate that they're smart, friendly, accessible and helpful all at the same time. Have you taken time to refresh your brand so it can be reflected effectively in social media? Many companies have not. But this should be high on your list of priorities because more people interact with it in social every day than anywhere else. An agency experienced in contemporary financial branding could help. 

What's next?

These five companies prove that financial firms can use social media to engage with customers and drive business. And you can too. Not sure how to get started? Then contact an agency that understands social media and the financial services business better than any other. It can be a great opportunity to discuss the challenges you face using social media and come up with fresh ideas on how you can optimize your digital marketing efforts.

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