SocialFlow sat down with Janet Reush, Social Media Community Manager at Bankrate, to discuss managing social media for a financial brand – from challenges and successes to the evolution of social’s place within the company. Our conversation covers the role, evolution, surprises, and challenges of Social Media within a financial publisher. Janet explains how Bankrate has been able to learn more about “what content is resonating with users — driving traffic, engagement and returning users,” allowing Bankrate’s social media channels to deliver interesting and informative content that engages their user base and drive quantifiable success.

    How did you personally get involved with social media?

    Before Bankrate, I was working as a copywriter, focused on managing my previous company’s print and online copy, with a side responsibility working on social media community management. I was then approached by Bankrate for a full-time social media position. As a copywriter, I was dabbling in social media. The skills I learned in my previous role were a great segue into community management – I still get to use a lot of my copywriting skills.

    How is social media used at Bankrate? Evolved?

    When I started at Bankrate, our first priority was getting as many followers as possible to promote our own content. Obviously, this is still important but it has certainly evolved into more than that. Now our primary goal is to serve members of the social community by adding value. Our priority is to be helpful to users by providing easy access to our proprietary rate data and advice. We hope to enable people at all levels to improve their lives by empowering them with the information and tools they need to make informed financial decisions. One of our priorities is still definitely to cultivate a new audience and allow for brand discovery. Social media is the first entry point for many of our first-time visitors. We are able to generate larger reach and monitor brand buzz through tracking our brand mentions on social media or other blogs. While our primary focus is growing our audience and increasing engagement, we do aim to monetize social media traffic through our ad-based platforms.

    What has your management team been most excited about with social media?

    I think it’s been exciting for everyone to see social media evolve from being a silo to becoming fully integrated across functional areas to support various business and departmental goals. Whether we’re discussing new sales opportunities or editorial content ideas, social media is now part of these conversations.

    What has been the most surprising thing you have found about social media?

    There is a perception that finance is boring and that it’s best kept private versus publically discussing it. But there’s a huge community doing just that in social media – discussing their personal financial goals and achievements. No matter where you come from, personal financial knowledge is the practical stuff that people are seeking out. With financial literacy becoming more of a focus, we want to make sure that Bankrate is at the forefront of the social conversation.

    What have your biggest challenges with social media been both internally and externally?

    Internally, our challenge is always going back and connecting the dots – who are our followers; who are the visitors on the site, and who downloads our apps? Where is the overlap and the opportunity to expand our audience across platforms? We are looking to build greater social integration internally to better understand who our visitors are and what they’re trying to accomplish at Bankrate. Making these connections and leveraging this data will help inform our content to provide a more personalized experience. Social is helping our brand awareness and reach; it’s a work in progress with many opportunities and room to grow. Internally, we are pushing for technology and integration.

    Externally, we are striving to have the best delivery of our offering. At the end of the day, we need to understand what content is resonating with users — driving traffic, engagement and returning users. This is what we are starting to dive into with SocialFlow. Our editorial team puts so much effort into developing content that it makes sense for us to understand how it resonates in social and beyond. With this data, we are challenging ourselves to improve our content so readers are more inclined to share it and engage with it.

    You talked about the challenges connecting the dots, i.e. understanding your followers and how they’re connecting with Bankrate on social, and understanding what content is resonating with them. How do you overcome these challenges?

    A lot of our challenges involve relying on social network data and third-party data. This is where SocialFlow comes into play. We are tracking our content with labels to understand which topics are resonating with our audience. One of the things I like about this technology is that I can see the total engagement per post or per topic. Since some topics are higher volume, boiling data down to averages per post enables apples-to-apples comparisons across topic types. Visibility into what people want to read about enables us to focus on developing more of that engaging content.

    Anecdotally, it’s easy to assume that lighter content is preferred on Social, but it turns out that our core topics (retirement, credit cards, etc.) perform better in terms of re-tweets, shares, and engagement. While it’s not surprising to me since people come to Bankrate for financial data and advice, having this supporting data to share internally makes for a much more effective case than simply saying, “People aren’t as into the celebrity stuff.” Using data to objectively inform our content strategy is a big win. Our PR, Social, and Editorial teams can all work on that content and promotion.

    Social media is just one element of the content creation process. We aren’t totally relying on social data for our entire content strategy – we want to enable and encourage editors to find interesting topics and still leave room for the traditional editorial process. However, compared to 4 years ago, social media data is now a critical input into the story creation process where it wasn’t even a consideration before.

    What are your goals for social media?

    Our main goals are to use social media as a brand discovery tool; once discovered, we’re striving to develop a “social stickiness” to give users a reason to join our community and keep coming back. Just as we want users to learn more about our brand, we as a brand want to know more about our users so we can improve the consumer experience. This involves using social data to help close the feedback loop. We want to find out what people like, need or may need, and then present the right tools and resources at the right time. Social media is also a tool to grow site traffic, so we are continually monitoring and optimizing quality and quantity of referral traffic that we can drive from social.

    How do you measure success?

    Our buzz and footprint in social media continues to grow.Right now we’re seeing a 53% year-over-year increase in brand mentions in social. Another critical measure of success is the extent to which we can leverage social media to expand collaboration with our partners and advertisers through such things as tweetchats, Google hangouts, and cross-promotion of content. With site analytics, we measure and benchmark traffic and revenue from social domains and campaigns.

    What have your biggest successes been?

    We’re always honored to be recognized in the industry for our social media efforts. This year, we were a finalist for a Best in Business social media award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), coming in second place only to the New York Times social media program.

    We also completed our #futureselfie scholarship program via social media. Current and incoming college students were encouraged to snap a “future selfie” depicting their goals and ambitions 10 years from now. During the campaign, we had about 30,000 unique visitors and more than 1,800 entrants competing for a scholarship. The hashtag reached more than 1.3 million people on Twitter alone, and of all those who used tweeted #futureselfie, the Bankrate handle achieving more than 10.5 million timeline deliveries. Successfully connecting with a younger demographic on such a large scale to inspire and encourage financial literacy was a huge win for us. Typically people first interact with our brand when they’re more established financially. This scholarship offer gave us a chance to connect with audiences earlier through positive interaction with our brand which should have a long-lasting impact. Given our success, we’ll likely roll out even more scholarship awards down the road.

    We also find success when partnering in social media with other brands or influencers who have synergies to our brand. Award-winning financial journalist Jean Chatzky is one example. Next week, we’re co-hosting a #mybudget chat on Twitter at 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 13. We’ll chat with participants about their financial goals and successes, and how people prefer to stay on track with their budgets. Jean will have plenty of tips to share, and we’ll reveal some proprietary survey data about Americans’ money habits. Prizes make these events even more fun, so participants will also have a chance to win an Amazon gift card. Just make sure to RSVP before jumping into the chat!

    What metrics do you show internally to prove your case?

    Our social media dashboard consists of everything from referrals from social domains and social posts to measuring the stickiness of social traffic with metrics like page views per visit, to engagement metrics such as brand reach and mentions. We also track unique hashtags to gauge how many people are participating in conversations we’re starting, and the ripple effect of how many others are being exposed to that conversation.

    What advice would you give other companies for their social media?

    Successful social media requires a solid strategy and most importantly investment — whether it’s in technology, talent or tools, it takes a resource commitment to move the needle.

For more information on Bankrate or the promotions discussed, check out their Twitter and Facebook.