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The Four Phases of Social Networking Competency for Today’s Busy Banking Professional

The Four Phases of Social Networking Competency for Today’s Busy Banking Professional

Eric Cook by Eric Cook

Chief Digital Strategist

Contact author Full biography

Full biography

Eric considers himself a “recovering banker” of 15 years, who for the past eleven years has focused his efforts as a digital strategist, helping his clients (mostly community banks) better understand and leverage the power of the Internet as a strategic business tool. An award-winning web designer with WSI, the world’s largest digital agency network, Eric is a two-time contributing author to the best-selling book Digital Minds – 12 Things Every Business Needs to Know About Digital Marketing. Consistently rated in the top five digital marketing books on Amazon, the book is in its second edition and available in three languages.

A sought-after, nationally-recognized speaker in the financial services industry, Eric is a member of the National Speakers Association and loves sharing his knowledge to help educate and inspire others. He is the co-creator of a weekly webinar show called Free Webinar Wednesdays, founder of the Banker Education Series webinar series, and serves as a faculty member at several banking schools around the country where he teaches bankers about digital strategy, online marketing and social media. He is a WSI Certified LinkedIn Professional and holds undergraduate degrees in business administration and psychology. While working full-time as a community banker, Eric earned his MBA and completed the three-year Graduate School of Banking program in Madison, WI in 2003.

Professionally, Eric helps his clients in all areas of digital marketing, which includes mobile-responsive web development, search engine marketing and optimization, social media strategies, e-mail communication, and “big-picture” digital strategic planning. He’s the co-founder of, a service created to help businesses understand their risk when it comes to operating in today’s digital world. When he’s not helping his clients succeed online, he can typically be found on one of his many bicycles training for his next mountain bike/triathlon race or spending time with his wife and two (very spoiled) golden retrievers.



In the ever-growing world of social networking and digital engagement, learning new ways to spark conversations and build relationships may not come as second nature to most banking professionals. To avoid getting discouraged, it’s helpful to understand the stages of building this (or any) skillset.

Learning anything new is difficult. Especially for adults - and especially when it comes to the ever-changing world of online marketing & social networking. I’ve seen so many bankers feel conflicted about how to approach the digital space. On one hand, they feel like it’s too overwhelming, too difficult, and too easy to get lost and waste time. But on the other hand, they see how the world (and their target market) are using online tools more and more. And the trend isn’t slowing down. So, bankers see the potential but get stuck on the practical. 

To help overcome these hurdles and understand the process of learning and skill development, let’s dive into the practical side of developing competency in any area, and how it applies to digital marketing and social networking for bankers. 

4 Stages of Competency

Stage #1: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

When you start anything new, you begin with unconscious incompetence - meaning, you don't know what you don't know. You're not sure what questions you should ask. You don’t know what is possible. You don’t know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. And as it applies to social networking, you don’t know the capabilities of the various platforms or tools. And you don’t know which tools will fit your needs, and which are distractions.

This is the most overwhelming stage. And it’s the unavoidable starting point. Staying in this stage for too long is choosing ignorance and putting your head in the sand. Acknowledge this stage for what it is: the first steps. To move into the next stage, you have to ask questions and explore. 

If this feels like the stage you are in, I recommend checking out these resources:

Stage #2: I Know I Need Help

Once you realize you know that you don’t know things, you’ve now arrived at the conscious incompetence stage. At this point, you’ve come to the realization that LinkedIn presents a number of opportunities and you realize just how much you don't know. There's no shame in that, you’re learning! And like any student, you need a teacher - a guide. This is when you start your hunt for your most helpful resources. Who will be your Mr. Miaghi? Whose advice do you resonate with and trust? (Side note: Isn’t it interesting that this is the exact process your customers go through when searching for their financial questions and needs? Hmmmm…..).

Having someone to help guide you through the process and understand some of the elements is an added plus, so look around the office to see if there's anyone that is active on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. that you can ask some questions of or bounce ideas off of. Of course, I and the WSI team would also love to be your trusted guide as you build up your strategy and skills with online marketing.

Here are a few ways we can help:

Stage #3: Making an Effort to Make an Impact

The third phase is becoming consciously competent. This is where you know what you should be doing. You have clear goals and a step by step plan. You know what to do daily, weekly, and monthly. You know where to place your efforts.  

On LinkedIn, for example, this looks like checking your key contacts and looking for engagement opportunities daily, and sharing articles of interest to your network at least three times a week, and the other specific steps that match your goals. Your work at this phase is to stick to the process. Schedule the time to focus on the steps. 

When it comes to relationship building - especially on social media - the key is to be consistent. Showing up time and time again is how you build trust with your audience. 

Here are some helpful resources for if you’re in this phase: 

Stage #4: Finally I’m on Auto-Pilot

Leading up to the fourth phase--I'm not going to argue that there is a lot of work involved in getting comfortable with the process and the strategies that work best with your network and desired target audience. However, when interaction and engagement just naturally happens without needing to really think about it, that means you’ve got to the top of the mountain - the unconscious competence stage. And it is possible to reach this stage! Just like learning any new skill, it just takes clarity, determination, and effort. Next thing you know, it feels like second nature!

At this stage, your social network participation just becomes part of your normal routine. You've installed your preferred social networking apps on your mobile device, you're leveraging voice dictation to create your posts/updates, you're comfortable sending messages to your network connections to enhance relationships, and you've identified a consistent and steady stream of information to deliver to your audience and keep them engaged and interested in you as a banking professional. 

If you’re at this stage and would like to step up your game, I highly recommend:

As you evolve through these four stages of social media competency you’ll find yourself engaging online more frequently. Over time, you may even start to enjoy it (shocker, I know!). Then you’ll see returns from your actions in praise, gratitude, and… yes, new business for your bank. The more you do it, the more efficient you’ll become and that’s when it starts feeling like a natural extension of all the other ways that you’re communicating with others. Remember, online marketing and communication isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So, better make your way through these stages sooner rather than later! 


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