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Social Media Point/Counterpoint

January 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 1
by Karen Bankston

Should you widen your reach by expanding into Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram or stick with the main outlets like Facebook and Twitter?

January 20, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is Web-only bonus coverage from “Move Over Facebook?” in the February 2014 issue of CU Management.

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With all the social media venues now available and new platforms popping up regularly, how can credit union marketers decide whether, where, and how much of their time, creative energies, and budgets to invest in these emerging outlets? Consider these pros and cons on expanding your social media strategies.

Point: Google+ is a virtual wasteland for financial institutions.
Jeffry Pilcher, editor of The Financial Brand, summed up his views in this headline for a February 2013 post: “Stop Wasting Your Time With Social Networks Like Google+.” In a census he conducted of financial institutions using this network, he found that many had abandoned their once-active accounts. The interface is clunky, and Google+ users don’t seem interested in connecting with financial services providers there, he contends.

Counterpoint: Google+ offers a flexible graphical interface and may be a good place to “hang out” with specialized audiences.
Tech aficionados favor this network over Facebook, and Google+ offers more design flexibility and the potential to host live events with members through its “hangout” feature, maintains Lynne Viccaro O’Leary, VP/marketing at $5 billion/230,000-member Teachers Federal Credit Union, Smithtown, N.Y. “It’s like a cleaner and more visual cousin of Facebook. And you’re not getting bombarded by ads all the time.”

Another consideration is the potential to elevate your credit union’s search engine rank by expanding your Google presence, suggests strategic marketing consultant Mark Arnold, Carrollton, Texas. “Ultimately, though, social media is not about any one platform. It’s about engagement. It’s not about the tools. Focus on your strategies, focus on your brand, and know the difference between a trend and a fad.”

Point: Your best bet might be to focus your energies on one or two social media platforms.
“It all boils down to scale and what’s the most productive use of a marketer’s time,” Pilcher suggests. If it takes five hours a week to maintain content for each virtual venue on top of a marketer’s other responsibilities, the most fruitful course may be to focus on Facebook and Twitter, especially if you already have an active community there.

While Pilcher recently announced he will no longer update The Financial Brand’s Facebook page because Facebook deliberately does not show all of a brand’s posts to all of its fans (in hopes that the company will pay to have its posts viewed by more people), he does believe it’s still worthwhile for financial institution marketers.

Pilcher’s recommendation: Almost all credit unions should maintain a Facebook presence; Twitter may be a good channel to respond to inquiries and complaints; and YouTube is a useful venue for enhancing the reach of TV spots and other video. “But what I see, based on my observations, is if your credit union is not very big and you don’t have the resources, you’re not going to get any traction by branching out beyond that.”

Counterpoint: Point taken. Doing social media right takes time.  
Many credit unions with an active social media presence on multiple platforms employ at least a part-time person to manage the content and member interactions there. For example, $800 million/90,000-member Firstmark Credit Union, San Antonio, has a half-time position, but the marketing department is marshaling a business case to go full-time. Social Media Coordinator Donna Prado “will be building out Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and we want to investigate Google+ further,” says CUES member and SVP/Chief Marketing Officer Fred Hagerman. “And we do a lot on YouTube—we had 36,000 views of a balance transfer commercial posted there—but we could do more, and mobile channels are obviously important as well.”

Point: Who says you can’t sell on social media?
Pilcher disputes a commonly heard caution that social media is not for overt marketing. If you do it right, he says, you can use your Facebook cover photo as a sales tool and promote rates and products in a way that members find useful rather than annoying or invasive.

“If we can’t use social media to sell, why are we doing it?” he asks. “There are ways to make it fun and engaging, like sponsoring an ‘ugly room’ contest where the winner gets $10,000 for remodeling.”

Credit unions should also investigate buying Facebook ads, he says. They’re scalable for financial institutions of all sizes, and you can refine the geographic and, to some extent, demographic reach.

Counterpoint: Social media is for engaging with members, not selling to them. Still…  
“You never sell on social media, but it can lead to sales,” Arnold counters. “It’s a member service channel, a form of engagement marketing and brand building.”

Social media can support marketing, but it requires a different approach than traditional channels, O’Leary agrees. Businesses that view social media primarily as a means of free advertising may find themselves outcasts on these networks. “Don’t bombard people with product information. There’s a reason it’s called social media,” she notes. “When you walk into a roomful of people, you don’t instantly launch into a commercial. There are pleasantries to be observed. This is a conversation.”

Marketing messages are “definitely in the mix of everything else we do,” says Andrea Finn, digital marketing manager for $1.3 billion/151,000-member Royal Credit Union, Eau Claire, Wis. “On Black Friday, for example, we posted a message at 6 a.m.: ‘Royal Credit Union is open. Check out our great rates on loans and credit cards,’ with a link to apply. Everyone was out standing in line, so we sent them a mobile message that’s relevant to shoppers. We market via social media strategically and smart and in a way that relates to members.”

Refer-a-friend promotions are perfect for social media sites, Finn adds, such as depositing $20 for members and $20 for a friend for a new checking account referral.

Final points: Apply standard metrics to social media—and know its limits.
“No other activity would be approved for funding without tying it to ROI,” Pilcher maintains. “You need to make everything pencil out, and not with squishy or vanity metrics like number of followers and retweets. How many followers is enough? 100? 1,000? You need to look beyond the ‘likes.’”

To evaluate the return on their social media investment, credit unions should be using Google Analytics to measure how many website visitors click through from Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets. They can also create customized landing pages for each social media site or tailor offers for different social media to assess response rates.

But, mainly, find ways to measure progress toward the ultimate aim of connecting with members and prospective members via these channels: “New members and new accounts are the critical metrics,” he says.

Pilcher offers two additional—and crucial—points for credit union marketers using social media.

  • Provide information that is interesting, useful, relevant, compelling. “We’re in a content-driven economy. There is a bigger thirst for content than there are people who can provide it. Banks and credit unions don’t tend to hire writers, and that’s what it takes. There’s an art to writing a good post in 140 characters” and to facilitating engaging social media conversations.
  • Remember that where you hang out doesn’t make you “cool.” Your quality of service might. “Let’s just say that young people associate financial institutions with uncool stuff. Most consumers put scrubbing toilets and banking at about the same level. If you want to be cool, find a way to make banking cooler. Offer a new way to make payments, for example, to make it easier to pay the landlord.”

Karen Bankston is a long-time contributor to Credit Union Management and writes about credit unions, membership growth, marketing, operations and technology. She is the proprietor of Precision Prose, Stoughton, Wis.

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