Make a Big Noise

To get noticed on and off line.

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Credit unions are taking a toe-in-the-water approach to social media. This strategy typically involves asking a young staff member to set up a Twitter profile, a Facebook fan page and upload a corporate video or two to YouTube. And that’s it.

Before long, the virtual dust bunnies collect and social media is deemed as a complete waste of time. The sad reality is, it is a waste of time unless you have a long-term integrated commitment to it, something relevant to talk about with your audience, and you do it up in a very unique and big way.

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The Social Media Myth

Social media advocates will tell you that traditional media is dead. They will have you believe that TV, radio and print can be completely replaced with social media and word-of-mouth marketing. The promise of Web 2.0 will conquer all. To perpetuate the myth, credit union marketers are being bombarded at industry conferences and in trade publications with the notion that all they need to do is start a blog, a Twitter profile, a Facebook fan page or a YouTube channel and the millions (if not billions) of people on line will find and flock to their lovable credit unions.

While I agree that the social Web is extremely exciting and presents an opportunity to connect like never before, I do not agree that social media is a replacement for all other forms of marketing. What’s missing from all the buzz is the notion that social media is a great addition to other media marketers have at their disposal. The real power lies in integrated social media marketing. There is a huge opportunity to marry many different marketing approaches.

The Business Case for Integrated Social Media Marketing

Social media as an island-unto-itself offers little ROI—in fact, it can be quite costly. While the social media tools and channels may be free to use, the time commitment to do social media well is definitely not free. Because of this, there is a paradox at play. Unless you are actually getting products and services sales through your social media efforts, it is difficult to justify the expenditure. But to-date, credit unions that have entered the social Web have primarily concentrated entirely on listening to members and have consciously avoided any type of selling. It is widely believed that social media is only to be used to listen and to connect with members and potential members; by being open, transparent and conversational you will demonstrate that your organization cares about its members and this display of caring will compel people to do business with your credit union.

While this approach has merit, it’s extremely passive and will not satisfy your CEO, CFO and board of directors’ who want to see a return on investment. I strongly believe in listening and learning from your members online, but let’s be honest, everyone who is online representing a company ultimately has something to sell. Why should we feel bad about that? I don’t believe that marketing and sales are off-limits in your social media outlets.

A legitimate business case can be made when you combine “listening + engagement” executed with “care + conviction” in an open and honest way, set against the backdrop of a really relevant product offer and a really compelling social media challenge.

Within this framework, members and non-members will be receptive to your marketing and sales messages. You can actually measure your campaigns by counting up the total products sold and the total deposits, loans or investments made. This is the simplest way to measure your expenditure of time and energy.

One Way to Make Noise

You need to ignite a following and create real excitement. The basic premise of a social media challenge is to draw considerable attention to your credit union by throwing down a unique challenge stoked with significant rewards, and by encouraging people to creatively participate, compete and connect.

In the case of our Young & Free Spokester Challenge, the challenge is to compete for a dream job with a great salary, great gear and total freedom to be creative on line. This gets young people fired up and really moves the campaign beyond passive contesting and throw-away promotions.

Your challenge should drive a select group of people to action. Ideally, it should grow naturally from your credit union’s focus and brand while aligning with your credit union’s goals and objectives.

Challenge Site Needs to do a Lot

I am a big advocate of a having a dedicated microsite for your program. It really comes down to features and functionality. To successfully host an integrated social media program, the site needs to do a lot. Your site must have the ability to embed videos, podcasts and other widgets from various Web services. Your layout must incorporate various ways to reveal all the great content within your site.

If your program will include a public vote, your site will need to allow for quick layout changes between phases and you will need to design a voting system that is easy to use and completely secure. In addition, your site will need to include prominent links to mainstream social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others. And finally, a blog with an RSS feed is a must.

If you can do all that on your corporate Web site, go for it. However, corporate IT departments prefer to keep their networks as closed as possible. Your IT department would probably not be very open to embedding third-party code from YouTube, providing direct links to Twitter, Facebook or MySpace or allowing site visitors to leave comments on your primary corporate Web site.

Even though the security risks for doing so are low, most IT departments are intentionally conservative when it comes to Web 2.0. I completely understand this position, as IT’s first priority is to keep your network up and running and to make sure that your members have uninterrupted access to your online banking system.

Four Mistakes to Avoid

Credit unions tend to make four big mistakes when planning social media marketing campaigns.

  • Believing that you can just launch a Web site on its own. You need to use traditional and non-traditional marketing to jump-start and sustain your program.
  • Thinking it’s a three-month campaign vs. an ongoing program. An integrated social media marketing program has the potential to last for years. It can either be year-round or it can be an annual three- to four-month promotion. Because the creativity comes from participation, the story will constantly evolve and take your program in new directions.
  • Believing that the social Web is just for young people. People of all ages are participating on line in niche communities. In 2009, we launched VerityMom.com. During the search phase, we had moms from the age of 23-47 actively participating in this very unique challenge to become a paid mommy blogger for $298 million/26,000-member Verity Credit Union (www.veritycu.com) Seattle.
  • Not having a long-term, content-creation strategy. You can have a great concept, a great product offer and a fabulous reward. You can promote your initiative with your staff, your members and your potential members. You can have a memorable URL and a great Web site with plenty of ways to interact. You can have all these things, but if you do not have great content and lots of it, you can’t sustain momentum over time. Creating a steady stream of interesting, entertaining and educational content is key, but it is sorely lacking from so many of the campaigns I follow.

Tips for Creating Content

Some social media experts will advise that you should only publish a blog post when the feeling hits you. I can agree with this advice for a personal blog, but I cannot agree with this advice for a major marketing initiative for a business. If you are investing time and money in an integrated social media marketing program with the expectation that you will attract new members who will want your products and services, you have to be very disciplined. I would recommend approaching blogging like publishing a newspaper.

  • Establish a very regular publishing schedule with hard deadlines. Publishing regularly and often is critical to making a return on your investment.
  • Institute quality standards. Boring, uninspired content doesn’t get any better with quantity. Everything you post to your site should meet a minimum quality standard that you are comfortable with. This definition of quality is up to you and what you feel your audience will connect with. Your site should have a consistent tone of voice and personality, regardless of whether there is one author or 10.
  • Include artwork or photos within your posts from time to time. Text posts can get pretty repetitive—especially if you are cranking out new posts everyday. Including imagery will help your posts grab attention and get read, especially within an RSS reader, where all content looks the same.
  • Throw some video into the mix. You can either embed existing video from YouTube or create your own. You don’t need a professional video crew or expensive equipment. For as little as $150, you can get a Flip digital camcorder with built-in video editing software and you are in business. And with free video hosting at sites like YouTube (www.youtube.com), Vimeo (http://vimeo.com), Blip.tv (http://blip.tv/) and Viddler (www.viddler.com), there is no excuse not to produce your own videos from time to time.

Keeping Things Fresh

Now that you have a targeted long-term platform with an interested and engaged following, you have the opportunity to build on that success. For instance, our Young & Free Alberta program for $10 billion Servus Credit Union, Edmonton, Alberta, has been running for three years now and, to keep the excitement

going and interest high, we have built in numerous contests throughout the year.

The Young & Free Scholarship program is a competition for 30 $1,000 scholarships. Students must be a member of the credit union and submit a 60-second application video or a 500-word essay showcasing how their dreams, ambitions and vision can make their community and/or the world a better place. The competition attracted 248 applications and the people’s choice portion of the competition received more than 700,000 votes and drove an incredible amount of traffic to the site during the two-month time frame.

As you can see, these ongoing contests do not need to be earth shattering—in fact, the best place to start is by simply re-imagining things your CU is already doing in the real world.

You can’t sit on your hands and hope for new members. The current unrest in the economy actually presents a great opportunity for CUs with a good reputation to tap into integrated social media marketing.

CUES partnered with Currency Marketing on the Next Top Credit Union Exec challenge. The winner will be selected at CUES’ CEO/Executive Team Network (cues.org/cnet). Public voting will happen on Nov. 9 at www.nexttopcreditunionexec.com and the winner announced Nov. 10.

Create a simple business case that outlines a realistic annual budget and goals. Once you start to itemize all the elements you will need and the resources necessary to back your program, you will soon realize the scope and scale of an integrated social media marketing program is much bigger than launching a corporate blog. However, when done well, an integrated social media marketing program has a much higher chance of driving an actual return on your investment.

I highly recommend introducing a new market-leading product that is directly tied into your program. You need to aim to recover the costs by attracting new members who will utilize your products and services.


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.