Recently I went on vacation to Sedona, Ariz. It was a relaxing trip that included hot air balloon rides, long hikes to the top of beautiful mountains overlooking painted red rocks and a three-mile walk along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
It was great fun. My wife and I shared it with all our friends and family in real time every step of the way – via Facebook.
I posted pictures minutes before and after lift off from the balloon ride on my Facebook.
I can’t quite explain the satisfaction I get from uploading these sorts of things and I also can’t explain why I like looking at my friends’ adventures as well. I know the city of Sedona has benefited from my posts, since many of my online Facebook friends saw how beautiful it was and have asked me about where I stayed and what we did.
For this reason and 500-plus million more (the number of users of Facebook), I have concluded that social networking isn’t a fad. Transparent living and posting real-time updates to our lives have some value. Maybe it’s like a big support group cheering you on through your day or maybe it’s just the feeling of knowing what your friends are family are doing at a micro level that makes you feel connected to something bigger.
For those in the tech industry that see Facebook as a daunting and large, useless network, I would challenge you to find a more relevant and quicker technology change in the last 10 years. Other than mobile (which goes hand in hand with social networking, by the way) there hasn’t been anything this transformative since the arrival of email or the Internet itself. It has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and connect with people.
So what’s the value of social networking to credit unions? I believe that the sense of community and exclusivity that Facebook has built its model on is the very essence of who we are as credit unions. After all, haven’t we all strived to point out that our credit union members are more than just customers? We want them to be part of our family and we want them to benefit from the relationship.
Facebook and other social networking services if implemented correctly could organically create a sense of community and involvement where we have struggled to fabricate it.
The challenge is that you have to accept the good with the bad. Like it or not, people may not always have positive comments about your organization and your brand. Creating a public platform for these people may not seem useful, but aren’t they already saying it else where? Don’t we want a chance to respond? More importantly we can give our loyal supporters a chance to respond which means more than any of our responses.
After all it’s not about what we think; it’s about what people we trust think. Since many Facebook friends are family members as well (potential members of your credit union), doesn’t it just make sense for credit unions to seek out their members and make fans of them and in the process giving those members them useful tools to evangelize your credit union.
When I was a kid , my dad used to take me to the mall in Tucson, Ariz., and he would always buy me an Orange Julius (a smoothie for those of you born after 1975). Recently I noticed that Dairy Queen had purchased the Orange Julius brand and our local mall had installed an Orange Julius store.
I decided it would be cool to take my own son there to buy one, and relive the memory. I meant to take a picture of it and post it for my mom (one of my closest Facebook friends), but I forgot. Later on after reviewing it in my transaction list I thought: wouldn’t it be cool to post that to my Facebook directly from transaction history? When you think about it, most of the things we do involve transactions of something we purchase, so why not find a way to socialize those experiences? So I asked our developers to mock it up.
I tested it for the first time with my account and the result was immediate! Friends responded to my post with their own comments.
I don’t have all the answers, but I think there is something to this. There is an opportunity we have as credit unions to leverage social networking in a way that makes sense for our members.
Nobody wants to see Facebook become a commercial advertising channel. So it would need to be done in a way that is much more about the social than the “business”.
But we should try! If we don’t innovate in this space, somebody else (banks?) will do it anyway, and we’ll find ourselves playing catch up. I also know that it’s going to require a lot of work to make it useful. Is it worth the effort? Will it make a difference? The answers remain to be seen. But I am excited to see what lies ahead.
John Best is chief technology officer at the $2.6 billion Wescom Credit Union in Pasadena, Calif.