Want to see what corporate communications looks like at its
best? Then check out what U.S. Bank is doing.
The financial services firm avoids the traditional, impersonal, buttoned-up
approach that so many businesses take with their corporate content. Instead,
U.S. Bank focuses on creating pieces that tell stories, feel human, and spark
Recently we chatted with Pat Swanson Assistant Vice
President, Corporate Communications, U.S. Bank, to find out more about how the
company develops and creates this exceptional content.
Check out the Q&A below:
Q: What role does
digital content play for U.S. Bank? Why are you creating it?
A: We want our
content to help our customers take steps to achieve their goals, whether those
goals are big or small.
That can take the form of practical advice about managing
your money or it can be more inspirational storytelling about anything from
getting involved in your community to taking the next step in your career.
The latter, the inspirational element, is where our Common Cents stories come in.
Q: Speaking of Common Cents, we’re big
fans of that content. How did the area
A: Common Cents
came to be just about a year ago. It was a natural evolution of our
storytelling and content efforts at the bank, and also an acknowledgement of
the changing world around us.
In the past it was natural to write up a release to announce
whatever news we had, push it out on a wire service, and just let that do all
the work. But over the years – with the rise of social media and other
channels – that became less effective. Reporters today rely less on the wire
services to get their news about companies.
Also, news releases often feel a little stuffy. They’re
“corporate speak.” They don’t perform
particularly well with consumers on networks like Facebook, Twitter, and
LinkedIn. It’s not what audiences tend to engage with.
Because of all of that we shifted to finding a way to tell
our stories in a people-centric way. We wanted our content to read more like
magazine pieces rather than old-school news releases.
The ultimate goal of Common Cents is to tell stories that
demonstrate how we live our brand and our core values; and
do that in a relatable, human way.
Q: How is the content
A: We do it all
in-house. The content is created by a combination of our corporate
communications and social media teams; there are also bankers who have a
passion for writing and great stories to tell.
Structurally, we hold a weekly content planning meeting that
brings together our various teams to brainstorm and plan pieces. We talk about
everything going on in our business lines. We also talk about which format is
the best fit for each story.
Q: How do you ensure
your content reaches the right audiences?
A: It starts with
that content planning meeting. Instead of creating a story and then just
getting in touch with the people who manage different channels to distribute
it, we bring all our experts together – social media, traditional media,
internal communications – from the beginning. That way everyone is thinking
about angles and positioning from the start.
In terms of specific content channels, the majority of what
we do right now is organic rather than paid. We share organically on social
media, and we pitch to traditional media if applicable. So, a
story about one of our 90-year old bankers celebrating her birthday in
Denver will get pitched to, and
picked up by, local media.
Q: How do you measure
the success of a piece? Which metrics do you pay close attention to?
A: To start, we
measure a range of things, including page views and unique visitors. We closely
watch time spent on the site. So we’ll look at a story which in theory would
take three minutes to read and check to see if visitors to that story spending
around three minutes there. If they are, then it’s a good sign.
The next step is working closely with our social media and internal
communications teams to measure engagement on particular platforms. So, if we
share something on Facebook, is it generating higher than average likes, shares,
We also look at things like comments. It matters to us a lot
to see if people are inspired by a piece, or brought to tears by it. That’s
what makes us proud of our work, and it is how we can judge the quality of our
Q: Do you have any
favorite pieces of U.S. Bank content? What showcases what you’re doing well?
A: One example
that shows how we’ve shifted our content is a
piece on the Common Cents blog by Greg Cunningham, our head of diversity
In the past we would have publicized his hire by just
sending out a news release with his bio and a quote from the company. But at
the end of the day, a release won’t perform particularly well on social media
and it may still leave the reader with questions like: “What does the head
of diversity and inclusion do? And why is Greg right for the role?”
So, to supplement our release, Greg wrote a
by-lined piece talking about his background and how it evolved into this
role. The piece covered his experiences growing up in Pittsburgh, in a
segregated neighborhood, and how that made him less confident to bring his
full, authentic self to work. He also wrote
about how he overcame that fear. It was engaging and effective.
Another example is how we approached being named one of the
best places to work for LGBT equality by the Human Rights Campaign. We had been
named to that list for 10 years running, and in the previous nine years we’d
produced essentially the same news release.
Last year, we took a different approach and published a
story called “Coming
Out and Living on the Other Side of Fear.” One of our employees talked
about her experience coming out at work and how that differed from coming out
to friends and family. We published her story instead of a news release – and mentioned being named a best place to work for
LGBT equality in the post – then shared it across social as well as internally.
It performed well above average on those channels, and was even one of the most-engaging
pieces by financial services posted on LinkedIn that month.
favorite piece that I personally wrote was about a $50,000 grant we made to
a workplace development non-profit in Cincinnati.
On its own a grant like that coming from a bank may not seem
like a big deal, but we showed how it would affect the lives of the 10 people that
it’ll put through an extensive workforce training program.
We told the
story from the perspective of someone that the non-profit had already helped.
This was a guy, Larry Groves, who had come out of incarceration and was looking
for a job. He got a break from this non-profit and was working in their soup
kitchen. A few months later, he was running the soup kitchen and, not long
after that, he was helping them open other soup kitchens.
Two decades later, Larry is working hand-in-hand with the
founder every day and creating opportunities for others like him to turn their
lives around. So we told his story, and weaved in how our $50,000 grant was
going to hopefully create ten more Larry Groves; ten more experiences like
that. That was so much more powerful than a news release with a quote and some