Wall Street banks putting social media game into overdrive

Big banks have social media teams to rival newsrooms’ staffing abilities—and budgets.

Where else could one turn up Goldman Sachs' Gregg Lemkau talking Chinese M&A, right alongside David Benioff breaking down the logistical challenges of directing "Game of Thrones" in two different countries at the same time?

Try the bank's Twitter handle.

At a time when big banks are slashing expenses in traditional roles, one of the areas many Wall Street firms have staffed up in recent years is within social media divisions. Whether Wall Street firms focus on the consumer, or even if they only cater to elite clients, big banks have sought to fine-tune their real-time public image with a small army of social media staffers. They're multi-lingual and platform-agnostic, even targeting new consumers via SnapChat.

Some banks have growing media teams that would make even a seasoned newspaper executive envious. And that's to say nothing of the following big banks have earned in the years they've participated in the great social experiment.

Man on corner of Wall Street train stop on phone
Fuse | Getty Images
Man on corner of Wall Street train stop on phone

JPMorgan Chase has about two dozen staffers on its consumer social media team alone, although it doesn't break out full numbers for its entire social squad. Goldman Sachs, which has been particularly prolific on Twitter, employs a handful of full-time producers with network television experience.

After years of putting communications in the hands of others — like Business Wire, which has seen a spate of client departures in the wake of its premature dissemination of earnings data — big banks have increasingly taken control of their own narrative. Goldman, for example, still relies on Business Wire for some tasks. For others, including its earnings, the bank sends a link to its own site out at a scheduled time via Twitter, instead of outsourcing internal data for press releases. Consumer banks, too, look to integrate social media into their strategies.

"We've taken the approach of listen and learn," said Chris Smith, a Bank of America enterprise social media marketing executive.

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There's a lot of listening to be done; at BofA and other Wall Street banks, hundreds of customer service requests are being handled, at least at the outset, via direct messaging over various social media networks. But banks aren't only using social media to cater to existing customers, they're using it to target new ones.

Consumer banks aim to not just service existing clientele, but pick up new customers. Wells Fargo, for instance, has taken to Facebook and Twitter with campaigns aimed at students and millennials, focusing on topics including college preparedness and retirement planning.

Not every bank's transition into the real-time digital age has gone smoothly. Take JPMorgan Chase, which three years ago saw a well-meaning #AskJPM live-chat featuring the firm's star investment banker, the now-deceased Jimmy Lee, devolve into an onslaught of attacks from Twitter trolls. More recently, the bank hasn't side-stepped sensitive situations — it has taken some head-on.

When rumors flooded Twitter, that a shooting involving the infamous San Bernardino shooter had taken place at a Chase bank, JPMorgan representatives didn't stand idly by: they hopped on social media, and started correcting false rumors.

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Other times, they've had to shutter social media output entirely as staffers had to confront sensitive situations in real time.

This was the case when JPMorgan's social media team decamped to France as part of the bank's sponsorship of the Paris Photo Fair – only to find themselves threatened along with the rest of Paris in November 2015 as a terrorist attack unfolded in the city. This time, the bank's social media pros felt they were left with one option in a solemn moment.

"The city was on lockdown and Twitter became the way many people were getting news about what was going on outside," said vice president of communications Meg Farmer, who was in Paris. "We paused our campaign and went dark until the next morning to offer our condolences."