U.S. Bank Rewards Small Business Owners on Facebook

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- U.S. Bank (Stock Quote: USB) is one of the few banks seeing some positive reviews from customers, a rarity in today’s banking environment, and a closer look at its customer relations tactics may explain the phenomenon.

The bank’s high rank by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) centers on the key customer service areas of “quality and value,” and it seems to want to keep the mojo going. One way U.S. Bank is doing so is by reaching out to small business owners (a highly coveted demographic for banks) via social networking technologies like Twitter and Facebook.

On Oct. 18, the bank rolled out a new campaign to connect with small business owners called “Look Up With Us.” The idea was to use Facebook to enable business owners to network with one another, with the bank giving $15,000 to the small business owner who offers the best story on why his or her business is “looking up.”

The “challenge” was open to any U.S.-based business with less than $10 million in assets, and the voting ended on Nov. 15, with the $15,000 ultimately split among three winners. One winner (Ozzie’s Cake Designs) earned the popular vote, another (Adkins Auto Salvage) got the most votes from a panel of small business experts, and the third victor (Willowroot Wands) was chosen at random. Overall, the “Look Up” campaign earned 476 entries.

Aislinn Barnes, owner of Ozzie's Cake Designs in Bountiful, Utah, was a popular pick, opening a new business after some family financial troubles began to mount. She told an audience at the $5,000 check ceremony that her husband was out of work, but that she was “looking up” just the same with the holiday season approaching.

As far as social media campaigns go, it wasn’t perfect, as a good number of the respondents just asked for the money rather than tell an inspiring story. But the contest did draw the attention of about 10,000 small business owners, who presumably now know more about U.S. Bank’s small business services than they did before (the bank liberally sprinkled advertisements for its business reward credit cards on the Facebook page).

Above all, Barnes’ story was a compelling one that resonated with other business owners who visited the contest Facebook page. That seems to be what U.S. Bank was after, and in a unique pubic relations campaign, that’s exactly what the bank received.

Not a bad story going into the holiday season – a big bank gives a struggling business owner a much-needed financial boost and the bank walks away with 10,000 new business contacts. In business school circles, that one’s called a “win-win” for both parties.

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