You Don't Always Get What You Want
Let me explain. I was reading an archived entry in copyblogger.com on a recent flight. The subject: how to be more interesting. Everybody wants to be more interesting, right? Try producing a news Web site and magazine that covers financial services.
So I'm reading this blog at 30,000 feet-hard copy mind you; if it's more than a few hundred words, I have to go old school-and Jonathan Morrow offers 21 ways to be more interesting. At the same time I'm thinking interesting doesn't seem to be something you can read about and learn, but then, I'm reading this, so am I that uninteresting to myself, and the self-esteem goes downhill from there. But, I digress.
His first advice is to "be wrong." Grabs your attention, doesn't it? That's his point.
Morrow said that doing the right thing has become so pass? that people are bored by it. Again, it stirs up a feeling inside you that he cannot be right and had a deeply depressing childhood to be so cynical. If his view is reality, we're all out of business-credit unions and journalists. Not to mention the Pollyannas among us would assume the window seat on the exit row of the plane just to take a flying leap.
Morrow's reasoning is that you have to have courage to be wrong, and then people will pay attention to you. The courage to potentially be wrong-to make a prediction that may not come true or to state an opinion that half your readership thinks is horsefeathers-takes some guts. However, to intentionally be wrong merely to draw attention to yourself rings hollow and annihilates your credibility. That's like approving every loan that comes in the door just to draw attention to your credit union. The novelty would buy you fleeting attention, but is it the attention you want?
The Internet is a powerful tool. Bloggers have a very serious responsibility many do not fully comprehend. The up-and-coming generation does not know a world without blogs and treats them as news sources. I follow some, and they're very useful, but for every truly informative one, there are hundreds of others spouting off opinion and rumor as fact.
A large chunk of the problem for journalists and credit unions both is the fickle impulsiveness of modern society and the ubiquitous Internet or bank's ability to deliver information. Consumers just want to consume. What's here and now rather than what's actually worth knowing. How many consumers have followed the credit crisis?
How many have followed Paris Hilton's latest fling and not missed an episode of "Survivor"?
The parallel for credit unions was the availability of first- and second-mortgage combos that got buyers away from making the traditional 20% down payment or the ARMs that immediately gave borrowers a much smaller mortgage payment. They weren't worried about the significant jump in payments three years down the road; they planned to refinance by then anyway. Three years later, if your house is worth 75% of what it originally appraised for, you may not be able to refinance. Or if you've had a pay cut or job loss, which is all due to that easy credit available three years ago.
All credit unions felt the pressure of the competition and some got away from their core as directors and management salivated over the growth and gains these products of urgency brought.
Oddly enough, No. 2 on Morrow's list was to gain attention by being "more right" than anyone else. This suits Credit Union Times just fine. This ethos works for credit unions, too. Credit unions outperform CRA-covered banks every year according to HMDA data in serving minorities and other underserved people. Include all of credit unions' efforts benefiting Children's Miracle Network and other charities and another industry could hardly be more right.
Another highly predictable suggestion of Morrow's for garnering attention: post pictures of half-naked women. This is one of the last generally accepted discriminations. I'd love to see the comments from our readership if we tried this tactic. Fortunately, we work in substantive jobs serving a substantive industry, but we still feel the typical competitive pressures. We live in a world of search engine optimization, Google analytics and the firing of a well-known Washington Post columnist after a drop in Web traffic.
I can scream until I'm hoarse about the intangibles of journalism, like double checking facts and sourcing information to ensure it's right. I can rant about the bastardization of proper writing in an age of texting and Twitter.
Credit union executives can jump up and down telling their members to take our auto loan rather than the 0% the dealer is offering because it's better for you in the long run. They can explain to a 20-something that he or she needs to save for retirement, but that won't sate the need for a flat screen TV now.
Of course by writing about this very blog, I realize I'm falling into Jonathan Morrow's passive-aggressive trap. And he made some good, if generic, points (make people laugh, do something, put your reader first). His other points I commented on irritate me to no end, but unfortunately he's right. Those tactics work.
We all need to face reality. The trick is a volatile balancing act between what your members want and what your members actually need. If you aren't serving your members the way they want to be served, someone else will.
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