No longer is it a case of should a credit union be active on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Now, it has shifted to just how active and on exactly which channels.
One of the reasons is that social media has become integrated into the lives tens of millions in America and ignoring the channels may not make strategic sense, some experts have advised.
“Facebook has become instrumental in how we reach out to our members,” said Lynne O’Leary, vice president of marketing at the $4.7 billion Teachers Federal Credit Union in Hauppauge, N.Y.
O’Leary said she personally got that message loud and clear shortly after she was hired at the credit union in October 2012. That was around the time that Hurricane Sandy caused devastation around Long Island. Facebook became a primary channel for updating the institution’s 227,000 members about the status of the credit union, when it would be back online and other concerns brought on by the super storm, she said.
While electricity was widely out across much of Long Island, many still had smartphones and signals and enough juice to log into Facebook to check on how friends, family and their credit union had fared.
One of the social media lessons learned from Sandy was a lot of the utility consists in connecting with members and simply updating them on what’s happening.
“These channels are not free PR feeds. We put out information, sometimes about our products, but we are never overly self-promotional,” O’Leary explained.
What about credit unions that insist they have tried social media and gotten no results? According to some reports, others are planning to quit using the channels. It would be the equivalent to quitting a fitness club because no weight has been lost even though there never was an exercise plan or a commitment to a diet, some analysts have offered.
Getting social media results may takes consistent effort, thought, and review of industry best practices. For instance, drive-by tweeting likely won’t product results. Also, there may not be many proven success formulas to follow.
“What you see now is a lot of experimentation in social media. Financial institutions are figuring out what works,” said Mark Schwanhausser, a social media expert at San Francisco-based Javelin Research.
That commitment to experimentation plays out in many credit unions today, as more understand that doing social media is about trial and error.
Targeted advice from Michelle Brown, a social media expert with ZAG Interactive in Glastonbury, Conn., is “stop talking about your credit union. That’s not what the channels are for. Be educational. Be quirky, talk about the community. It’s a tricky medium for marketers.” She added, “Content is at the heart of social media” and it has to be compelling enough to win the attention of consumers on the fly.
Kristina Flores, marketing director at the $151 million Prospera Credit Union in Appleton, Wisc., said, “social media is a beast. It is so hard to keep up.”
But she also believes that being engaged with members online is now a must-do. When Prospera brought on a new CEO in 2009 to replace a retiring CEO who had put the kibosh on Flores’ social media plans, one of her first actions was running down to the new boss and asking for permission to raise the Prospera flag on Twitter and Facebook, she recalled. She got the okay and hasn’t looked back.
“It can be exhausting, but also, [it] is so important,” said Flores, who, like O’Leary, strives to keep overt marketing to a minimum with a bigger focus on communicating what’s special about Prospera.
There’s also a substantial amount of customer service. In one case, Flores recalled a member who posted unhappy messages about Prospera on several social media channels.
“We tried to figure out what went wrong and how we could fix it,” said Flores, who added the member came “to feel bad about the posts she had put up. But that was her right to express herself.”
At the $644 million Michigan First Credit Union in Lathrup Village, Mich., vice president Linda Douglas, said that her financial institution continues to deepen its social media involvement and is now active on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, where it has its own channel, and also on LinkedIn, where it is using that database in a hunt for the right employees.
Michigan First said it also has an ambitious commitment to monitor social media channels 24 hours a day, seven days a week; meaning that an angry post at 3 a.m. on a Sunday will get quickly noticed. “Although we do not always respond immediately,” Douglas said. “It depends on the magnitude of the post. People are talking about us whether we are there or not.” n