"It's pretty clear to me that it is something a credit union can't afford not to do," said EverythingCU.com Chief Experience Officer Morriss Partee. "Eventually, being on Twitter is going to be as common as having a telephone or e-mail-it is that powerful a communication medium."
He added that the reason why it's particularly powerful is that much like the old party-line phone, it provides credit unions a way to listen in on other people's conversations while engaging members and potential members.
A recent William Mills study entitled, "The Bank and Credit Union Twittersphere" found that financial institutions using tweets generally fall into six categories.
Problem solvers. This is when Twitter pages are used as online customer service centers. Consumers can directly contact them with questions or concerns, but these financial institutions are also proactively searching for consumers who refer to negative experiences and approaching them with assistance.
Community activists. Information on upcoming events, community service and philanthropic activities the FI sponsors, new branch locations, personal finance tips, changes to state or local regulations, and even local weather updates are shared.
Informers. These types of financial institutions serve as a repository for information and articles related to personal finance, payment technology and other finance-related topics. Tweet links typically lead followers and readers to blog postings, media articles and Web sites of interesting companies.
Communicators. Financial institutions in this type are characterized by their frequent use of re-tweets and replies to their followers or other Twitter users. Unlike problem solver twitterers, these financial institutions use replies to engage in discussions or to say hello to friends.
Social butterflies. This type of financial institution's Twitter account is managed by an individual, typically the marketing director, and some of the posts reflect his or her personality. The accounts combine product promotions, comments on community activities, shout-outs to friends and customers, and updates on internal news-all in one place. Personalized Twitter accounts are more likely to be used than ones with a more formal, corporate tone.
Sideliners. Financial institutions with fewer than five tweets. They created the account and posted a handful of tweets but have not embraced the platform and made the time commitment to using it frequently. Placeholders are another group that falls into this category. The financial institutions that have made no tweets but still have the Twitter placeholder as their photo created their accounts in order to prevent brand jacking on Twitter. They reserved their Twitter name so that someone could not create an unauthorized account claiming to be the financial institution.
Partee said the first rule about getting involved in any and all social media, including Twitter, is to listen first.
"Go into this with an attitude of learning and service, not of sales," said Partee. "It is so important to be personal. Credit unions are so used to addressing things in an institutional way, but a credit union's Twitter presence shouldn't be impersonal. For example, instead of naming your page 'mycu' on Twitter, it should be a person's name@mycu."
He said he cringes a little when CU tweets say, "We appreciate the chance to earn your business" instead of "I," since it is supposed to be more of a one-on-one conversation.
"When you consider that the Twittersphere growth rate is about 1,300%, the reality is that all credit unions have a substantial portion of members and potential members already twittering," said Partee. "Being active on Twitter can give great insight into what is going on in your members' lives, and it provides a more honest and real look at what is on your members' minds."
He added that it is important to view a Twitter presence in the context of a much larger social media strategy within your credit union's overall business strategy. He said credit unions can't just jump in without a plan simply because everyone is on there.
A recent Gartner study, "Social Banking: It's All About the Money and Customer Focus," revealed the emergence of a social-banking services model that provides opportunities for consumers to meet their day-to-day financial needs while balancing their desires to be good global citizens. According to Gartner's research, without planning for the emergence of this new financial services environment, retail banks will not only be disintermediated but will also miss a significant opportunity to transform their operations and customer focus. Gartner expects these challenges to impact the delivery of all retail-focused products and services delivered by banks, and those responsible for retail delivery strategies should start planning for this approach.
"Currently, many traditional bankers tend to reject the concept of social banking as a fad while others refuse to recognize or accept any degree of threat posed by such new phenomena," said Alistair Newton, research vice president at Gartner. "Although bankers may see current low usage by consumers as a permanent source of safety, this disregard for changing consumer behavior with social networking generally may mean that they miss the possibility of fast, viral uptake of social banking."
Consumer interest in social networks and social banking does not mean that consumers expect or want their financial institutions to be social networks like Facebook or MySpace. In a January 2009 survey of 3,988 consumers who use online banking, only a small percentage of respondents said that they were interested in using an online social network on their bank's Web site to talk to other customers. Out of this small percentage, most were interested in using social-network information about how their banks compare with others and to find information to simplify their financial and personal lives. Gartner analysts said that although these consumers are few in number, they provide clues about the desires for social banking and are likely to be the first adopters and therefore online trailblazers for social banking.
For those credit unions still hesitant about incorporating social media into their overall business strategy, Partee said to view Twitter as another way for members to communicate with you.
"I picked this analogy up from William Azaroff: If a member walks into a branch, would a teller just turn their back on them? What about if they call in-would you simply hang up? Twittering is essentially a member reaching out to your credit union, and it is un-credit union-like to turn your back on your members who are on Twitter," said Partee.
"What could be better than connecting with people who want to communicate with your credit union? It's a natural fit for credit unions, and it doesn't cost a thing besides an employee's time" he said. "Think of twittering in terms of belonging in your contact center. Years ago when e-mail was first introduced, no one imagined being able to communicate with members that way-now we can't imagine a customer-service platform without it. Twitter is the next step in that progression."