I've been reading the CUES Skybox for the last couple of years and I know that some pretty heavy-duty topics are discussed here. That's why I've decided to take on the hard-hitting subject of Twitter and Oprah!
Oprah started tweeting on Friday, April 17. In case you've been living under a rock, Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its members to send and read other members' updates known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length which are displayed on the member's profile page and delivered to other members who have subscribed to them (known as followers).
I have been a member since May 2007 and up until recently it's been a pretty niche network mainly filled with social media early adopters. I enjoy it because I can regularly connect with a group of about 50 or so progressive credit union advocates in real-time.
This isn't a post about why your credit union should or should not have a presence on Twitter, it's a post trying to understand how a company with less than 30 employees and no real business plan or revenue stream has captured the world's attention and has individuals, celebrities and businesses falling over themselves to join. How did Twitter go from zero to Oprah in just over three years since it was founded? What can individual credit unions learn from this free Internet micro-blogging service that has gained 19 million world-wide members without spending a penny on marketing?
First some Twitter background. Along with the plain old early adopters like me, there were many tech luminaries on the scene early. People like Leo Laporte and Kevin Rose were battling it out to be the most followed. In the beginning, 25,000 followers was considered unreachable.
Then the politicians arrived. When Barack Obama reached 100,000 followers, the mainstream media began to take notice. Traditional media outlets followed suit with the NY Times and Time Magazine establishing large followings.
Finally, the celebrities arrived. I first noticed Shaquille O'neal and then Lance Armstrong, Brittany Spears and Ellen DeGeneres among others showed up on the scene. Things really heated up within the past month when actor Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN Breaking News to see who could be the first to achieve 1,000,000 followers. Ashton reached the milestone on Thursday, April 16 and on the following Friday, he appeared on The Oprah Show. Leading up to this appearance, there was so much hype about Oprah's impending first tweet! Sure enough Oprah tweeted during the taping of her show Friday and in the following week more than 600,000 people followed the most influential woman on the planet. She is sure to become the most followed person on Twitter in a matter of weeks. Oprah's opinion and influence are undeniable. It is rumored that more than two million new users have joined Twitter in the week since Oprah joined.
This may seem like a very random unrelated story, but I think there is plenty that individual credit unions can learn from Twitter's meteoric rise in popularity.
- Twitter has a very simple offering that you can't find anywhere else. I would compare MySpace and Facebook to the big banks. They offer the full gamut of features and service including friend mail, videos, photos, music and hundreds of third-party applications. The founders of Twitter saw a hole in the social media space and pioneered micro-blogging – the novel concept of short messages in real-time. Many credit unions look and feel like smaller versions of banks and try to go head to head by offering the same full suite of products and services. What if you took a different approach and developed something brand new that filled a hole in your market? And what if you did that one thing really well? I bet that would get people talking and joining!
- Twitter has embraced collaboration. At under 30 employees, Twitter can't develop everything that the community is asking for, so instead it has created the Twitter API (application programming interface). This API allows independent software developers to write complementary applications. At the time of writing, Twitdom — a directory of Twitter apps – lists more than 700 third-party Twitter applications! Credit unions have embraced collaboration through the widespread proliferation of CUSOs, but they could definitely be doing more to work together to advance their use of technology.
- Twitter connects its members. Credit unions are founded on the concept of empowering a local community of like-minded people, but do credit union members really feel connected to one another? I would argue that credit unions have lost the sense of connection that they once had with their members and their members no longer know one another. In contrast, people are so passionate and fired up about Twitter that they have spread the word about it like wildfire. There are spontaneous events called Tweet-ups – in-person gatherings of Twitter members – that now happen regularly around the globe. What could you be doing to create more of a sense of community and connectedness among your membership? How are you showing your members that they are appreciated and what are you doing to arm your members with the ability to refer others? Twitter has proven that empowering members to grow a community is infinitely more effective than advertising.
- Twitter has removed all barriers to entry. Credit unions are too hard to join. Two things that are really slowing down new member acquistion: outdated, in-person, paper-based sign-up procedures and the perception that you have to be in a union or be an employee of a sponsor company to join. In contrast, Twitter has a dead-simple sign-up procedure – after a few clicks, you are up and tweeting! The tools exist today for your credit union to offer online account opening and funding and most credit unions' fields of membership have grown to be more inclusive. You need to remove the barriers to join and let your existing members know how easy it is to refer their friends and family.
Granted, Oprah is unlikely to come in the door of your credit union to open an account, but I believe that with a few simple changes a number of new members will! I've listed four things credit unions can learn from Twitter and I'm sure there are plenty more. Please add your thoughts in the comments.
Tim McAlpine lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. He is the President and Creative Director of Currency Marketing, an integrated marketing agency specializing in helping credit unions attract the next generation of members. Tim is best known as the creator of Young & Free and CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec, and co-creator of the CU Water Cooler.