As many continue to question the value of social media–whether tweets, friends and video posts on YouTube can actually help credit unions grow–Filene Research Institute has taken a closer look at the topic in a new report, "The State of Social Media in Credit Unions: Opportunities and Challenges."
The report, conducted for Filene by Crescendo Consulting Group, LLC, looks at social media usage among credit unions, highlights characteristics of credit unions currently using social media, and describes practices that drive success.
The essentials to successful social media programs boil down to spending more than eight hours per week on it and aligning it with the credit union’s strategic goals. In addition, because of the time that should go into social media efforts, those credit unions with larger marketing departments (more than 10 employees) or someone exclusively dedicated to it, were more likely to report successful programs.
The report includes data from 187 credit unions of varying size and composition across the United States and Canada. According to the research, social media entails a steep learning curve. Credit unions with more than two years of social media experience are the most likely to report success (57%), while those that have three months or less are least likely (17%).
The report also found that credit unions in the U.S. can learn from their counterparts in Canada.
Mount Lehman Credit Union in British Columbia has made the most of its small size and single-branch status by focusing on improving member service through technological innovation. Not only was the credit union the first to offer text message alerts six years ago, but the Mount Lehman team created their own iPhone app for banking called MobileWeb, which allows members to access their accounts wherever and whenever they want.
In 2009, the credit union launched the Mount Lehman Show with the four goals of connecting with members, demonstrating the credit union’s services, celebrating the local community and having fun. The site, which has a Facebook feel, features blogs and videos on topics ranging from in-house fun with staffers and the showcasing local community events and people to more educational content. In addition, members can set up their own profile and upload photos, videos and blog posts.
"The idea for the show I guess goes back to BarCampBank Seattle four years ago where a lot of us had been on Twitter and experimenting with social media and this seemed like a natural phase," said Gene Blishen, CEO of Mount Lehman CU. "Everyone on staff was on board and we got it up and running and it’s taken on a life of its own. In some ways it’s an experiment. I think social media brings another channel of delivery for a business and allows you to present a face to the credit union that would be difficult by any other means."
Staffers have all been provided with iPhones and are given two hours a week to spend on social media as they see fit–for example, to work collaboratively on a video or to write and post a blog entry.
"One of the things I think is a problem is that it’s difficult to just house social media in the marketing department because its functions don’t necessarily align," said Blishen. "Yes, you can do studies, look at the hits and come up with some measure of cost but I believe having everyone involved generates some creativity, which is extremely important in an organization. So for us, if social media gets everyone thinking creatively that is a huge benefit when making decisions, developing banking solutions, even determining strategy. To be allowed to do that in the banking world of debits, credits and ledgers is a huge gain for credit unions–we don’t have to rely on what banks are doing; we can do it ourselves."
The study supports Blishen’s approach: It found that more on-staff social media champions translated to more success.
Throughout 2011, Filene and Crescendo Consulting will continue to gather data to help shed light on the perceived success of social media programs and the actual influence on financial performance.