Regions Bank's social media initiative is less than a year old. Yet the Birmingham, Ala.-based bank has already been recognized for its digital marketing prowess in the banking sector in arecent report published by J.D. Power and Associates.

"We were very pleasantly surprised," Liliana Grip, vice president of social media, tells BTN. Regions Bank is a unit of Regions Financial Corp, with $121 billion in assets. The company operates 1,700 banking offices in 16 states.

The inaugural study, which drew from 23,200 U.S. online customers who have interacted with a company on its social media channels, named Capital One, Chase and Huntington as other brands performing particularly well in the marketing category for the banking industry.

The firm evaluated more than 30 banks and credit-card companies alongside other verticals. "Banking performed in the middle of the pack," says Jacqueline Anderson, director of social media and text analytics at J.D. Power.

Anderson heralds Regions Bank for creating engaging content on its Facebook page in a short time frame. "It's not all about them," she says. "Regions does a great job of creating content that their followers actually read and share. They are active on Facebook and have a variety of posts, ranging from product information to interactive posts soliciting feedback and pictures from followers. They also have many consumers who follow across multiple platforms."

Regions asks followers to fill in the blanks to questions posed. Two recent post examples include:

"In honor of National Women's History Month in March, we're profiling women who've made a difference. Nominate a great woman from history who has inspired you, and you might see her on our page. Tell us, who should we feature?"

"What U.S. President introduced paper currency on this day in history? Hint: He was also the tallest President at six feet, four inches."

The bank also weaves in imagery of its Big Green Bike, one of the bank's advertising symbols, to reflect its brand theme on its Facebook page, pointed out Anderson.

As of March 1, its page boasted 20,003 likes.

"We have found a lot of success with advice, guidance and educational content," says Regions's Grip. A recent tweet points to an example of that content theme: "Can you afford a nice dinner before your next payday? Check the Cashflow tracker for which bills are due and how much you can spend," reads the Tweet.

When Regions wanted to share a note on Facebook but lacked an image to accompany the post, the bank rounded up a couple of Regions-branded piggybanks for an outdoor photo shoot. "That post got the most engagement we've seen," says Grip. "We started to incorporate piggybanks in more posts. Any time they're present, we get more engagement."

The bank dressed up a piggybank as a superhero for a recent race it sponsored. On the race promoter's page, the organizers asked consumers to name it. "We got great suggestions," she says. Among them? Super Savings Swine. Regions plans to use some of those ideas in a forthcoming blog post as well as undertake a larger piggybank photo shoot in Grip's own backyard.

Regions' strategy points to a larger social media trend of companies trying to creatively find waysto get consumers more digitally engaged with their brands.

Among the other strong content Regions has created to date, Grip cites its YouTube videos with Bob Cabrera, who answers common mortgage questions.

In fact, the bank will expand its home-related content in more social media channels. To that end, Regions plans to include visually appealing home community-related content that will sit within its Facebook page in the coming weeks. Specific details aren't yet disclosed as Grip says the effort awaits an internal approval.

Regions doesn't disclose its number of mortgage customers.

Looking further ahead, Grip has her eye on Vine, a Twitter-owned mobile service that lets users capture and share short looping videos.

"We're trying to figure out how to leverage Vine. It has a lot of possibilities. One concern, and Twitter is addressing this, is there's a lot of [content] that isn't consistent with our brand. We need to get through some legal and compliance hurdles. I'm totally excited about Vine."

Meanwhile, small business customers have expressed an appetite to interact with Regions on social media, and the bank is readying ways to accommodate them. "There's more to come on that," Grip says. "We are in final strategy discussions about the business initiative.

"We want to make sure our growth is thoughtful so we can support the efforts. There's no point in being out there unless [you] can support it."

At Regions, the social team includes two community managers, four customer care reps and Grip. On average, they are able to address communications on Twitter in less than 30 minutes and respond to Facebook queries within about 45 minutes during business hours. Common customer queries relate to bill pay and branch hours — including whether Regions remains open on Mardi Gras, says Grip. (It does.)

Grip says her biggest challenges are competition from other banks and keeping up with social network software and policies.

"For me, it's like a marathon," says Grip. "You get to that 20-mile point and you think whew, and then realize — especially if you're running the Seattle marathon like I did — the miles ahead of you are uphill."

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