Viral Marketing Initiatives: Science, Luck, or A Little of Both?

Have you ever wondered why some select marketing initiatives go viral, while many other otherwise successful initiatives seemingly fall by the wayside? Is it science, luck, or a little bit of both?

While I’m no expert on social media and marketing initiatives, one thing is for sure, there are definitely certain characteristics that are present in most, if not all, of the most wildly viral marketing initiatives. Below are five characteristics that stand out immediately.

Be Unique

In order to break through the clutter in social media, just as in traditional marketing, the initiative needs to be unique. A normal, mundane idea will never go viral. You need to think “outside-the-box” and create a new and exciting idea. Keep in mind, this idea doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, simplicity often brings better results. For instance, Evian’s “Baby and Me” campaign is a simple idea, but at the same time, very unique.

Be Visual

People remember 80% of what they see, 20% of what they read, and only 10% of what they hear. It should come as no surprise then, that in order to go viral, an initiative should be highly visual. This goes to show why most viral initiatives are in the form of pictures and videos. So, if you want your campaign to go viral, focus more on visual aspects, and less on copy and sound.

The Ram trucks “Farmer” initiative really focuses on visual elements in its campaign. The video utilizes beautiful images of farms and farmers to get their point across. Notice how the sound in the video takes a backseat to the visual elements.

Evoke Emotion

One of the best ways to create buzz around your initiative is to evoke a strong emotion amongst your audience. This can be done with a variety of emotions; however, it is best to use strong positive emotions, especially humor. Humor is one of the best ways to get your message across; however, it is important not to insult people in the process. Kmart’s “I Shipped My Pants” campaign was witty and humorous, and teetered just on the edge of offending. The shock and awe of a traditional business going so far out on a limb helped make it the success it was.

Be Shareable

One of the most important things to consider when creating an initiative is making it highly shareable. A campaign can’t go viral if it can’t be shared. Therefore, it’s very important to provide the audience with the ability to “spread the virus” via social media. You can create a Call to Action within your campaign to entice the audience to spread the message.

Be Engaging

Another characteristic of viral initiatives is that they are highly engaging. Not only must the campaign captivate the user, but it should also provide a way in which the audience can affect the campaign. Ikea had a very successful and engaging viral campaign in which they used Facebook’s Photo Tagging feature to promote a new store opening. Each time a photo was posted, the first person to tag themselves on an item in the photo, won the item. The engagement involved (along with the reward) helped the campaign go viral, very quickly.

So, is viral marketing science, luck, or a little of both? I would say, it’s definitely a science with a bit of luck. How about you? What other characteristics do you see in successful viral marketing campaigns?

Using Social Media for Brand Differentiation


In previous posts, I have mentioned the importance of using social media in the banking industry as a way for banks to better connect with their customers, offer an additional layer of customer service and support, and build trust amongst their customers by becoming more transparent. As more and more banks are beginning to utilize social media, however, the question becomes, “how can they create a presence that stands out from the crowd, in an industry that has very little product differentiation?”

Although banks generally offer the same types of products and services, it is still possible to differentiate the brand via the way social media is used and the choice of markets zeroed in on. For instance, some banks may focus more on consumer banking in their social media efforts, while others may focus more on small business, or commercial markets. In addition, some banks may focus more on informing customers about various products, while others may focus on customer service and support.

To get a better idea on how banks can use social media to differentiate their brand, let’s take a look at two of the largest banks in the United States, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank.


Wells Fargo currently has an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and numerous blogs. It is immediately clear by viewing their various accounts, Wells Fargo prefers to use their social media channels as a way to provide their customers information about financial products and matters in an effort to help them achieve their financial goals, and not as a form of customer service. In fact, they state directly on their Facebook page that it is not to be used as a customer service channel. Instead, according to their 2012 Social Media Fact Sheet, they are “committed to providing practical and comprehensive financial education to help individuals, families, and businesses on the path to financial success.”

While Wells Fargo maintains an active Facebook account with over half a million likes, and Twitter account with over 72K followers, the main meat of their social media presence is in the form of blogs. They currently have a blog dedicated to general market insights (AdvantageVoice), which focuses on breaking financial news, investment trends, and economic insights. In addition, they have a blog directed towards women (BeyondToday), business owners (Commercial Electronic Office), and students (Student LoanDown). Furthermore, Wells Fargo maintains blogs dedicated to their unique history (Guided By History), environmental issues (Wells Fargo Environmental Forum), and a general Wells Fargo blog dedicated to the company’s current events. Overall, Wells Fargo social media presence is about providing the customer information on a plethora of financial matters.


In comparison, U.S. Bank also has an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, with a limited blog presence. They currently have over 150K likes on their main Facebook page, over 7K followers on their main Twitter account and another 3K on their dedicated customer service Twitter account. They also offer numerous videos on YouTube pertaining to various banking products, as well as several (often humorous) videos educating customers on the importance of protecting their financial information. U.S. Bank also maintains an active blog, USBankConnect, which focuses on the small business owner.

So, what is U.S. Bank’s social media angle? According to their Facebook page, “we love to chat with our fans, friends, customers, and employees about all things banking (and occasionally about things not so related to banking).” Furthermore, they indicate that their social media channels are “intended to be a place for our customers and employees to connect with us and each other, and to share ideas on a wide range of products.”  As opposed to Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank actually welcomes customers to voice their concerns on their social media channels, as long as the communication remains respectful.

So, as you can see just with these two examples, there are different ways in which banks, who offer very similar products, can use social media to differentiate themselves. Wells Fargo uses social media to inform its customers about financial matters and products that may help them to achieve their financial goals. Their social media channels feel very formal and somewhat less social, ironically, as the communication appears to be more one-way in nature. On the flip side, U.S. Bank uses social media less often to inform (although they still do inform, to an extent) but more often to engage with their customers on a more friendly level. In other words, U.S. Bank uses social media to be – social. Their form of communication tends to be more two-way and more about focusing on customers as people and, thus, getting to know them on a more personal level.  Furthermore, they welcome customers to post their concerns and complaints right on their social channels, and then they offer their support (transparency), whereas Wells Fargo clearly expresses their social channels are not to be used in such a way.

So, how does your bank use social media to differentiate their brand? Would you prefer your bank to have a less social, more informative stance like Wells Fargo? Or, would you prefer a more social, less informative stance?

Making the Most of Your Tweets


As mentioned in previous posts, Twitter is an excellent way for those in banking to communicate and forge relationships with current and prospective customers. In order to do so effectively, however, it is necessary to make the most of your tweets. One excellent resource for learning the Twitter ropes is a book entitled The Tao of Twitter by Mark Schaefer. In his book, he notes that the best ways to make the most of your tweets is by focusing on the following four issues:

  1. Tweet Quality Versus Tweet Quantity
  2. The Critical First Words
  3. The Tweets Average Lifespan
  4. The Optimal Time Between Tweets

Tweet Quality Versus Tweet Quantity

Like with many things, the quality of your tweets is much more important than the quantity. You can tweet all day long, but if your tweets aren’t relevant and useful to your audience, you will begin to lose followers. It is much more important to spend extra time to formulate high-quality tweets that will speak to your followers, rather than bombard them with useless and irrelevant information. The key is to know your target market and offer them meaningful information in your tweets.

The Critical First Words

In formulating your message, it is important to remember that you are limited to 140 characters, which makes the first few words the most critical. It is important to create an eye-catching headline that contains keywords and/or statistics within the first 3-5 words. Doing so will make your tweet more noticeable as people are quickly scanning through numerous tweets.

The Tweets Average Lifespan

As you can probably imagine, the fast-pace of Twitter makes the average lifespan of a tweet rather short. On average, a tweet with a clickable link has the lifespan of 1 to 23 days, with the former being a rather unpopular tweet, and the latter being quite successful. Since tweets have a relatively short lifespan, it is all the more important to create quality tweets with eye-catching first words. Always formulate your tweets with the idea that its lifespan will be very short.

The Optimal Time Between Tweets

So, we’ve learned that the quality of tweets is more important than the quantity, but what is the optimal time between those quality tweets? According to Schaefer, “the optimal space between business tweets to attract the most clicks is either 31-60 minutes or 2-3 hours.” (Schaefer, 2012) Anything spaced closer together, or further apart, seem to attract less clicks. So, try to space your tweets accordingly for the best response rate.

By keeping these four topic areas in mind, you will be well on your way to formulating successful tweets that help you communicate with current and potential customers in the Twitterverse.

Schaefer, M. (2012). The Tao of Twitter. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Social Media and the Banking Industry: The Risks


In past posts, I touched upon some of the benefits of social media usage in the banking industry and highlighted some of the ways in which several of the leading banks are utilizing social media effectively to take banking to the next level. There seems to be many positive reasons why banks should jump on the social bandwagon, and jumping they are! Social media offers banks new and exciting ways in which to market to and communicate with their customers.  It breathes new life into a rather stuffy industry and allows banks to form more personal relationships with their customers. This personal communication has the ability to build trust and brand loyalty in an industry that is finding it increasingly more difficult to offer unique products not already offered by its competition. Although social media may seem like a godsend to many, it is extremely important that we not neglect the other side of the coin. We must always ask, are there also risks of using social media? And if so, what can be done to lessen the severity of the risks?

Well, it should come as no surprise that in banking, like with any business, there are risks involved. That will always be a given. Add to that the informal and largely insecure world of social media, and it sounds like a recipe for disaster. However, it should also come as no surprise that the banking industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States, and many times those existing regulations flow into the social landscape to help keep banks and customers safe.

So what risks are involved when banks enter the social arena?


Compliance and Legal Risks

Of course, since the banking industry is so heavily regulated, there is the risk of violating compliance standards, which could, of course, lead to legal risks. (Ouch! This social media stuff is getting heavy!) Thankfully, though, many of the compliance and legal risks are things that banks already deal with in the real world every day. So, they should already have a pretty good grasp on what should and should not be done.  For instance, depending on the nature of social media usage, banks need to still be aware of and follow guidelines pertaining to things such as:

The Truth in Lending Act, The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, The Bank Secrecy Act, Anti-Money Laundering policies, Regulation E – Electronic Funds Transfer Act, Regulation CC – Expedited Funds Availability Act, CAN-SPAM Act, Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Title V of the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act… just to name a few!

Reputational Risks

So, they’ve got their Act(s) together!  Well, banks still aren’t in the clear in regards to social media risks. Just as scary (if not, more scary) are the reputational risks that banks can endure when engaging in the social landscape. These risks can be in the form of consumer complaints, privacy concerns, fraud (phishing and other scams), and even employee usage issues.

Any one of the issues listed above could be severely detrimental to the brand’s image. Now, think if several risks occurred at once? That would be one hot mess that I wouldn’t want to clean up! And with the number of risks out there, it is quite possible to be dealing with several issues at once, all while trying to maintain the loyalty and trust of customers.

Operational Risks

As if compliance, legal, and reputational risks weren’t enough to scare banks away from using social media – there are also operational risks they must endure. Operational risks would be things such as inadequate or failed processes, systems, or people, which could result in very serious matters, such as a data breach or an account takeover. There is nothing that can kill the trust of a customer faster than leaking their personal and/or financial data. Operational risks are a very real and very scary risk for banks.

So yeah, there really is a lot that can go wrong when dealing with an industry that is in essence entrusted to secure our financial and personal information… and then having them mingle on social media. It really is a fine line they must walk in order to be secretive, yet social at the same time.

We’ve learned about the many risks associated with banks using social media – but what can be done to lessen said risks?

Well, enter the FFIEC! The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council recently constructed compliance policies and procedures that govern social media activities for the banking industry. Since social media is still in its infancy, the banking industry has kind of been engaging in somewhat of a Wild West manner, with no real guidelines pertaining to social media. Now, the FFIEC has given the industry guidance in effectively engaging in the social landscape while mitigating risks. So, yes, even more regulations for the already heavily regulated. But, what can you do?

Basically, banks are instructed to have a risk management program in place that allows them to identify, measure, monitor, and control various risks in regards to social media usage. Some of the features of the program include the overall governance structure for senior management, policies and procedures to monitor social media usage and to remain in compliance, a due diligence process for third party relationships (such as with Facebook, Twitter, etc), employee training for the proper (and improper) use of social media, audit and compliance measures, and reporting parameters to evaluate the effectiveness of social media usage in relationship to the bank’s overall goals.


So, overall, the idea is to plan ahead and make sure all the little duckies are all in row, much like they already do in the real world. By having a risk management program in place, banks are more likely to mitigate a risk in the early stages before it becomes a huge problem. Like I said, there will always be risks in banking and in social media. But, by being prepared, banks will be better equipped to effectively manage those risks – all the while building trust and brand loyalty amongst their customers.

All images courtesy of

Facebook Mobile Banking App! Are You a Skeptic?


Banking timeline: branch banking > ATM banking > online banking > mobile banking > Social Media banking?

Banking has come a long way over the years. In the not-so-distant past, you would go into a branch and spend what seemed like an eternity waiting in the teller line to conduct a transaction. This method worked just fine for many, many decades. However, as our lives became more hectic, we had less time to spend in those pesky lines.

Enter the ATM (Automated Teller Machine). Now, instead of standing in the teller line, you had options. You could stand in the ATM line! Although ATM banking was met with skepticism in the beginning, it eventually took off and became all the rage – until our lives became even more hectic, that even finding time to stop at an ATM was a major feat.

Enter online banking. Now instead of waiting in lines at all, we can conduct most banking transactions in the privacy of our own homes. Although online banking was met with skepticism in the beginning, it eventually took off and became all the rage – until our lives became even more hectic, that even banking online at home was a major feat.

Enter mobile banking. Now instead of doing our banking at home – we can now do our banking while out and about, say, at a red light! Although mobile banking was met with skepticism in the beginning, it eventually took off and became all the rage – until our lives became even more hectic, that even banking online randomly in public was a major feat.

Enter social media banking. Now, we can do our banking without even leaving Facebook. How convenient is that? Pretty dang convenient if you ask me. But, ahem, social media banking is currently being met with skepticism! Can you believe it? However, I’m sure, if history teaches us anything, it will eventually take off and be all the rage! Then, we’ll quickly be whisked away to the next new form of banking, which will also be met with skepticism. And will also become all the rage.

With that being said in oh so many words, I would like to introduce you to one of the fearless banks who is now offering some banking capabilities via a Facebook app. Ing Direct’s (Canada) Orange Snapshot application integrates mobile banking with Facebook and allows users to view their account balances, history, and pending transactions, as well as view current rates. Although the capabilities are currently limited, they plan to offer much more in the near future, such as the ability to conduct transfers, make bill payments, and email money transfers.

Their main reasoning behind establishing a Facebook banking app is the fact that so many people are regular Facebook users, thus, they are providing a service to their customers by meeting them on their turf. Furthermore, according to Zion Bank (check out the nifty infographic below), 60 million people use online banking, and, coincidentally, 60 million people also own a mobile phone. 83% of people have paid a bill online in the past year, 77% have viewed their balance, and 62% have transferred money. It’s obvious that with the amount of online bankers, combined with the amount of mobile phone users, combined with the amount of Facebook users – that there has to be a huge market for social media banking apps, even if the users are skeptical now.

While the main issue on everybody’s mind when discussing new banking trends is privacy and security, the Facebook app allows read-only capabilities and customer information is stored outside of Facebook. It is also interesting to note that Ing has been experimenting with voice recognition capabilities to ensure even higher standards of security for their mobile apps. Like with all previous forms of banking, there are strict methods that need to be in place first in order to provide privacy and security when dealing with personal and financial information. Ing is currently working with IBM to ensure all security methods are in place.

So, what do you think? Do you think social media banking is the next new thing? Or, is that pushing the envelope too far? Would you feel confident banking on Facebook? Or, are you part of the skeptical crowd?


(Infographic Source:

(Top Photo Source: (

Social Media and Banking? An Interesting Match!


Although many people may not automatically associate something usually considered “cool and hip,” like social media, with something oftentimes considered “stuffy and boring,” like banking – the truth of the matter is these two things can, and do, quite successfully go hand-in-hand. In fact, with the ever-increasing rise in online and mobile banking, much of the industry’s customer base is already actively online. Thus, social media provides an excellent avenue to reach out to customers and build truly unique relationships often not possible with traditional forms of marketing and communication. Like it or not, social media plays a large role in many, if not most, aspects of our lives – and banking is no exception.

Although some banks and credit unions have been a bit slower on the adoption of social media, it may be surprising that a vast majority is jumping on the bandwagon – and some are even taking social media by the horns and creating a completely integrated online presence amongst the many platforms.

You may be wondering what banks have to offer customers in regards to social media. I mean, they already have online banking, right? What more could customers need?

Well, the three most utilized social media platforms currently in use by banks are (1) Facebook, (2) Twitter, and (3) YouTube – with each offering their own benefits to customers.


Setting up a Facebook presence is probably one of the first things banks, or businesses in general, do when they first engage in social media. Facebook is a great platform for banks to provide information on, market, and promote various banking products – much as they would traditionally. But probably more important, Facebook is an excellent way to engage in community building and providing top notch and almost instantaneous customer service and support. In addition, Facebook provides the convenience of connecting to different segments of the population, so that information is relevant to the end user.  Furthermore, an online presence, such as Facebook, really adds to the transparency of the bank which may help to instill trust within the community and the bank.


While Twitter can offer many of the same benefits as Facebook, it is done in a much faster pace and within 140 characters. Twitter is most often used to provide corporate information, financial tips, and customer service in the form of Tweets. It’s a great way to reach a large amount of people in a short amount of time.

The great thing about Facebook and Twitter is that they can be used together to form a solid social media presence. Also, be on the lookout for future capabilities with both platforms such as conducting day-to-day banking activities via social media. For instance, JP Morgan Chase already has a Facebook page where college students can apply for credit cards, and Fiserv has a Facebook-based application, known as MyMoney, in which users can access and monitor their bank accounts. Although many people are still skeptical when it comes to actual banking via social media platforms due to security issues, this may be something that becomes more commonplace in the future as social media advances.


YouTube is an excellent way for banks to inform customers about various products or financial tips. For instance, U.S. Bank offers a handful of humorous videos to connect with customers and provide useful information pertaining to online and personal security. By using humor, U.S. Bank was able to provide important information that may otherwise be ignored due to the boring manner in which it is presented – such as disclosure booklets. The videos went viral and were a huge hit, and hopefully made customers think twice before sharing important banking information. Online videos also provide banks a way to showcase their traditional marketing commercials, as well as videos created specifically for the internet.

These are just three of the many social media platforms available today. As always, it is important for banks to first research their customer base to determine which platforms their market is currently utilizing, and then establish a presence on those particular platforms.

So, does your bank currently engage in social media? And if so, how do they stack up against the competition?

Well, luckily for you, Social Media Explorer recently teamed up with The Financial Brand and created an algorithm to determine the top 100 banks and credit unions on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The resulting list, called the Retail Banking Power 100, is an amazing testimony that social media really does add value to the banking industry.

See, now who says banking and social media don’t mix? There’s a list of 100 successful banking institutions who would probably beg to differ!


(Image Source:

Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest, Oh My!!!


It should come as no surprise that social media plays a huge role in our society today. We all know how entertaining it can be to catch up with an old classmate on Facebook, or spend hours planting crops on our virtual farms; how exciting it is to follow our favorite celebrity on Twitter, or keep up with breaking news on a heated national story; and, of course, we all know how exhilarating it is to spend hours upon hours pinning recipes and craft projects we know we will never get to in this lifetime, and possibly the next! The importance of social media in our personal lives is a given. We get that! But, do we fully understand the importance of social media in our professional lives? Whether you work for an up-and-coming small business, or a corporate entity – the answer is the same. In today’s world, the use (or lack thereof) of social media could mean the difference between success, and getting left in your competitor’s dust.

So how do you know which platform is the best one to use? Do you just jump in feet first and attack all social media with a vengeance, or do you timidly test the waters first? The answer is – well, it depends! It depends upon several factors, but the most important factor is… your customers. Where do your customers “hang” on the internet? Are they the Farmers, the Tweeters, or the Pinners, or some combination thereof?

The great thing about social media is it allows businesses to connect with current and potential customers in an effort to foster or strengthen a relationship. So, the best platform to use is the one your target market is already using. You can offer all the deals in the world on Facebook, but if your customers are hangin’ on Twitter, your deals are falling on deaf ears. To use social media successfully, you need hang where your customers hang! Got it? Good!

So, where is that exactly? Well, lucky for you there is a lot of data out there regarding the use of social media, often broken down by age, sex, income, education, shopping patterns, etc. For instance, glancing at the Infographic below, you can see that 29% of Pinterest users are between the ages of 25 and 34, and 79% of those users are women. Furthermore, their top interests include entertainment, home decorating, crafting, gardening, and fashion. So, if your business caters to that segment of the population, Pinterest would be your best bet for connecting with your customers. If, on the other hand, your business sells farm equipment, or bait and tackle, Pinterest would probably not be the most effective platform to utilize.

In a nutshell, know your customers! Where do your customers hang out on the internet? With a little bit of research, or some handy infographics (for the visually inclined), you should be able to determine, for the most part, where your customers spend their time online. Then, meet them there! If they are Tweeters, focus your campaigns on Twitter. If they are Farmers, make sure you have a strong Facebook presence. If they are Pinners, get creative and provide visually appealing photos with a “Pin It” button. But whatever you do, don’t waste your efforts on a platform your customers don’t support. Gone are the days when you build it; and the customers flock to you. You must flock to them!

Below is a very informative infographic describing the users of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest in regards to age, sex, income, education, etc, to get an idea of which platforms appease most to which types of people.

  • Interestingly, taking sex alone, women spend more time on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook, respectively, whereas men spend more time on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, respectively.
  • In respect to age, Pinterest and Twitter appeal to the younger crowd with 46% of Pinterest users and 46% of Twitter users being between the ages of 0 and 34. In contrast, only 34% of Facebook users fall within that age range.
  • In respect to education, Pinterest users are slightly more educated overall, with 66% holding a bachelor’s degree, and 16% a graduate degree. Twitter users come in a close second with 60% holding a bachelor’s degree, and 17% a graduate degree.
  • As for income, a majority in the 25k-49k bracket are Twitter users, the majority in the 50k-75k bracket are Facebook users, and the majority of 75k+ are Pinterest users.

So, where do your customers hang?



Welcome to my blog!


Banking on Social Media

The Banking Industry and Social Media

Lauren Kiser

Social Media and Digital Advertising Profressional

Crunchy Marketing Nuggets

Fresh Facts, Tasty Tid Bits, and Inspiring Ideas from the Marketing World, Packaged in Bite-Sized Bits