Michelle Smyth shares how Royal Bank of Canada launched their Instagram initiative

Since she began working at Royal Bank of Canada in 2016, Michelle Smyth has helped build two of the brand’s Instagram channels (@RBC and @RBCAvion) from the ground up.

When Michelle started at RBC, she found that a lot of internal stakeholders saw Instagram as an opportunity for the brand.

Yes, we're a bank. But we're also about people's lives and enabling their goals, hopes, dreams, and ambitions -- almost all of which involve money. Michelle Smyth
Many of their competitors were already using the platform, and there was a growing desire to take advantage of the new advertising placement opportunities it offered. “There was no debate whether or not we should be on Instagram; not being here would be a massive miss,” she said.

“Being a passionate Instagram user, I wanted to make sure we were going in a thoughtful, strategic direction that wasn’t just being there for the sake of being there,” Michelle said.

At the same time, the brand had recently launched a new brand campaign called “Someday.”

RBC’s new campaign was built around the tagline, “Let’s Make Someday Happen.”

We made the decision that this would be a stock-free zone. We wanted something that was custom to us and as authentic as possible. Michelle Smyth
“Yes, we’re a bank. But we’re also about people’s lives and enabling their goals, hopes, dreams, and ambitions — almost all of which involve money,” Michelle said. The theme of their new initiative suited the inspirational nature and lean-back aesthetic of Instagram.

“It seemed obvious,” Michelle said. “If we’re going to launch Instagram, why don’t we launch it as our ‘Someday channel,’ where all the benefits, emotions, and journeys that people go on to reach their Somedays are celebrated?”

After defining the channel’s purpose, the next step was to choose its pillars of content.

Michelle’s team determined the channel’s role in their overall go-to-market strategy. Then, they crafted a content plan based on five content pillars.

Someday is the main focus of the channel, but it’s not the only focus. It accounts for three of their content pillars, which highlight the stages of reaching your Someday: the starting point, the middle, and the end result.

The fourth pillar is all about #TeamRBC, highlighting the brand’s own story and employees. “A large portion of our followers are RBC employees. They’re the most invested in our brand and they are our strongest brand ambassadors,” Michelle said.

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"#NationalComingOutDay is a day to celebrate the courage of those who have come out and learn from their experiences so we can create a safe and accepting environment for those who have not yet come out. People spend a lot of time at work and having an inclusive environment is extremely important for people to bring their whole self to work. With the support I receive at RBC, I was able to create the Social Awareness Committee because the main way to #SpeakUpForInclusion is being open, out, and having conversations about it at workplace." – Ash H., RBC . How do you #SpeakUpForInclusion? At RBC we embrace diversity for innovation & growth. RBCers believe in the power of inclusion and we’re committed to making a difference in the communities we serve.

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The last pillar is focused on RBC’s sponsorships — which includes the Toronto International Film Festival and the Olympics. “That content is usually very visual, exciting, and in-the-moment, so Instagram is a great place to showcase it,” she said.

Having distinct pillars allows Michelle and her team to approach the content in a purposeful way to bring the channel to life.

Once they had their pillars, Michelle’s team focused on sourcing content and images.

“We made the decision that this would be a stock-free zone,” said Michelle. “We wanted something that was custom to us and as authentic as possible.”

Find someone who really loves Instagram. It's a beautiful space and requires somebody with finesse who appreciates that it's different than the other social platforms out there. Michelle Smyth
But her team didn’t have the resources to do elaborate photoshoots — so they found a collection of partners.

One of those partners is a custom crowdsourcing photography solution called Snapwire. “They have a whole network of photographers to reach out to. You can get custom images created from scratch or you can tap into their library of personal images,” Michelle said.

That partnership accounts for about 50% of the imagery Michelle’s team uses, and the other half comes from their other content pillars: #TeamRBC and their sponsorships.

Most of the #TeamRBC content is sourced from employees, and RBC’s sponsorships also provide images from red carpets and Olympic athletes. “Part of our partnership deal is to share their imagery,” said Michelle. She added that the team also works with a variety of influencers based in Canada for original images as well.

“We don’t want to be super-polished and slick; we’re trying to be quite genuine and approachable,” Michelle said.

And when it comes to metrics, Michelle’s team’s main focus is on one number.

Because they’re still in the early days of their Instagram initiative, her team considers the follower count to be the most important metric.

We don't want to be super-polished and slick; we're trying to be quite genuine and approachable. Michelle Smyth
“We have to trust that we’re putting out a good product and if we see a nice uptick in our followers then we’ve done something right. Or vice versa, if we’re getting a noticeable dip in our followers, that’s a pretty good indication that we’ve done something wrong.”

Her team chooses to avoid analyzing every post’s reach, likes, and engagement. Instead, they focus on growing the page and keeping the feed populated with cohesive posts and stories.

However, when it comes to ads on Instagram, Michelle and her team apply to same amount of rigor and resources as they do for Facebook ads.

Michelle’s team is one of multiple social media teams at RBC, so their internal processes have to be as efficient as possible.

While Michelle’s team publishes the vast majority of content on the RBC social channels, they do have multiple owners. So, to avoid planning errors, the teams utilize Sprinklr.

Her team pre-plans most of their content — especially for holidays — and uses placeholders for days that will have more time-sensitive posts. “We always know when someone is planning to publish something on a given day. It helps us avoid tripping over each other,” Michelle said.

Michelle and her team have just finished launching their second Instagram channel, @RBCAvion, for RBC’s Avion credit card.

According to Michelle, the @RBCAvion launch replicated the same process as the original @RBC channel launch in 2016.

“We were quite thoughtful about how we could get the word out about this channel,” Michelle said. While running Avion-branded ads on Instagram are helpful during a launch, they can’t build a following alone. So, her team decided to leverage their other Avion communication channels like email, as well as have @RBCAvion Instagram photo props at events, and create signage announcing the Avion channel at their branches to help grow their following.

For Michelle and her team, growing an organic follower base is essential. “Because followers are our main KPI, we want to obtain them in the most authentic way we can,” she said.

The team also banked plenty of content prior to the Avion launch. “On day one, we had 21 posts go live. Now we publish three to four a week,” Michelle said.

Not every big brand needs to go all-in on their Instagram presence, but Michelle said the platform should always be treated like a true marketing vehicle.

“Don’t just look at it in terms of creating an organic channel. Start with your advertising and decide if it’s just a matter of extending ad placement to Instagram through your Facebook buy,” Michelle said.

“But if launching a channel is appropriate and your brand has the resources available, don’t do it halfway,” she added. It’s important to consider who on your team will be working with the platform. “Find someone who really loves Instagram. It’s a beautiful space and requires somebody with finesse who appreciates that it’s different than the other social platforms out there.”

Lastly, since Instagram Stories are still somewhat uncluttered, Michelle said they should be an essential part of your efforts and could help get buy-in from stakeholders. “When your key decision makers see you publishing Stories, they realize that it’s the real deal, not some little side project you’re doing,” she said.

Michelle Smyth has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2016 . You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.