Once upon a time, credit unions relied solely on traditional methods to market their brand. Today, channels such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest and others have been touted as the natural evolution, yet the supporting research has been scarce, leaving many to wonder if it was nothing more than just another marketing fairytale.
The one constant, among experts and detractors alike, has been the need for strategy and the idea that rather than usurping traditional marketing, social media most effectively plays a supporting role in the larger overall strategy.
“If you are getting in it, there’s got to be a social media strategy, that is not an option,” said Mark Weber, president/CEO of brand strategy firm Weber Marketing Group based in Seattle. “Be clear about the why behind it and what you’re going to do and not going to do. Understand the resources, time that goes into it. I’m a proponent of strategy and how it’s going to be used so it’s done well.”
That strategy has to be unique and wrapped in each credit union’s brand, Weber said.
For the past four years, Corporate Insight, a provider of competitive intelligence and user experience research for financial institutions, has been studying the evolution and trends in social media. A recent report entitled Social Media Leaders revealed that a few innovators continue to experiment with new methods, topics and tools, in a bid to propel the industry forward.
The research firm looked in-depth at more than 90 financial services firms and the report offered rankings for four types of social properties: Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, proprietary communities and blogs. The research was conducted on companies that Corporate Insight tracks continuously through its monitor services, including annuity issuers, banks, brokerages, credit card issuers, insurance companies and mutual fund firms.
For example, over the past few years, recruitment pages from financial institutions have become increasingly popular, both on Facebook and Twitter. According to the report, roughly 10% of the financial firms reviewed provide information on career opportunities from promoting recruiting events and describing the firm’s corporate culture, to providing access to general career advice from third-party sources and simply listing job openings at the firm.
In addition to the general recruitment accounts, a few firms use social media to recruit advisers such as Allstate through its Be Your Own Boss At Allstate effort. State Farm also promotes its internship program through its Facebook State Farm research and development page and corresponding @SFRDC Twitter account.
“Recruiting has increased over the last several years and I think we’ll continue to see that increase at a large number of firms,” said Alan Maginn, senior analyst and social media expert at Corporate Insight. “As far as the questions financial services firms should be asking as far as social media, they would be correct to ask if there is a real value they can provide, not getting involved just to do it. At the same time, clients [and] consumers are already talking and they have more sway over what a brand is and does, so there needs to be some level of involvement in those conversations.”
As far as offering value, some of the innovations highlighted in the report include Zecco- enabled trading on Facebook via its Wall Street application. Wall Street has allowed its Facebook fans to access real‐time stock quotes and charts, share trading ideas with others on the social media channel. Zecco clients can also place trades from within Facebook’s interface. Ameriprise said it has enhanced its adviser search tool to allow prospective clients to search for them based on their LinkedIn connections, in addition to traditional name and location search options.
As for E*TRADE and optionsXpress, they launched their own brokerage communities. E*TRADE’s community enables members to share portfolio information such as positions, trade activity and performance with the rest of the community. For optionsXpress’s oXSocial community, the company said was designed to provide an environment where investors can share their opinions on the markets through trade predictions and user forums rather than focus on performance.
“What’s most important is the level of engagement,” Maginn said. “Social media is a great way to engage a broad audience, but some of the most successful campaigns we’ve seen have targeted a subset of clients or other individuals.
Consider targeting different groups of clients based on age, product or need, some experts suggest. By isolating a subset of your broader audience, you can increase the value of the social interactions by enabling these individuals to share their experience with issues they share with their peers.”
Maginn said that the biggest factor in the success or failure of any social strategy is content. The challenge for financial institutions in particular has been making financial topics interesting. Along those lines, he advised using pictures and video, highlighting popular third-party articles on similar subjects, posing questions to encourage users to think about the subjects and incorporating social media features like ratings, comments and sharing links into their corporate website designs.
“There is no longer a clear distinction between social media websites and the rest of the Internet.”