How Western Union’s Social Media Marketing Upstaged Bank Industry Peers

Money By Western Union Global Social June 24, 2016

In early 2013, Western Union’s social media channels had minimal engagement and were an untapped source of business intelligence. The company’s struggle was one that many brands face: How does a brand develop a unique voice and engagement strategy that speaks to and resonates with its global, diverse audiences?

Since that time and under the leadership of Karen O’Brien, Western Union’s Vice President of Global Social Media, Brand and Engagement, the company has found its recipe for success:

  1. Take a global approach and go culturally deep. Western Union has invested in developing deep community relationships with specific targeting. For example, the company’s India, Philippines and Mexico pages have engagement and brand advocacy rates between 12-20 percent. Read more about the carabao conundrum (below), to see how Western Union dives deep into culture and builds community.
  2. Balance engagement content with promotional content. At Western Union, the sweet spot fluctuates between a 60-40 and 70-30 split.
  3. Talk about what consumers want to talk about, in the context of the brand. For Western Union, the topics at the intersection of what consumers care about and where the brand has a point of view are travel, family, holidays and education, to name a few.
  4. Respond quickly. Western Union has a 20-minute response protocol, 24/7.

O’Brien began her tenure in July 2013, and since then, the company has organically captured well over eight million followers across its social channels. “Western Union is one of the most engaged financial services brands online, with page engagement rates similar to popular household brands like Starbucks and Coca-Cola,” said O’Brien.

Today, Western Union social media platforms see an average engagement rate between 7 and 9 percent, compared to the low average of other financial services firms.

“We’ve gone back to the fundamentals of social,” said O’Brien. Based out of San Francisco, O’Brien leads a team of seven social marketers who oversee Western Union’s online social presence. “To build brand affinity on social, we take an audience-centric, two-way engagement approach. We can use our channels to tell consumers about Western Union, but we also need to listen to customers to better understand them and engage them in meaningful dialogue.”

For Western Union, social media is a powerful and insightful tool into their consumer base. But it’s also a vital marketing tool for the firm. According to eMarketer, nearly two-thirds of millennials have a form of ad blocking software, and brands are struggling to gain visibility and build affinity with this generation. Given Western Union’s record engagement rates, social media is a leading avenue to build resonance with millennials as well as other tech-savvy individuals.

“Consumers enthusiastically engage with brands on social that listen and are willing to talk about what they care about,” said O’Brien.

The carabao conundrum

With a presence in over 200 countries and territories, Western Union faces a corridor marketing challenge online. People in different places in the world with varying backgrounds have different interests. To that effect, Western Union has built a global social media engagement strategy, segmenting its audiences to account for major customer groups, and the individuals who comprise its consumer base.

Today, Western Union customers come from all walks of life, ranging from PhD holding engineers at some of the biggest tech firms in Silicon Valley to overseas foreign workers.

Solving this global challenge hasn’t been easy. The brand’s social marketers work to create content that is both culturally deep and relevant to Western Union’s audiences.

One of the best performing posts, geared toward Filipinos, involved a photo of a carabao, an iconic water buffalo widely considered the national animal of the Philippines. Posted in Tagalog, the local language, it spawned a lighthearted debate that raged for days, with hundreds of predominately Filipino consumers providing their own perspective – or even a photo to add comedy to this raging debate.

Blog Carabao


Western Union’s success on social media stems from its nimble attitude and robust social listening program that tunes into to conversations among the various population segments. “Ultimately, the people that engage provide the best feedback,” said Karen.

Leveraging emotion to connect with customers

In 2015, consumers moved $80 billion across more than 16,000 corridors using Western Union’s omni-channel infrastructure. This $80 billion represents the collective dreams, hopes, and aspirations of Western Union’s millions of senders and receivers.

Whether consumers send or receive the money though the network of nearly 500,000 retail agent locations around the world, or through digital channels, such as a mobile money wallet, via a chat services on the WU® ConnectSM platform, or through the Western Union website, the money likely represents a connection with a loved one.

“When people talk about why they send money, it boils down to sending love and support,” said O’Brien. “People equate our brand with the reasons they send money, and our success has come because we inspire these same emotions on social media.”