Originally appeared in CUES Credit Union Management
Tips and tools to get you started in the wide world of Web 2.0.
I’ve been actively involved with social media in my professional life since 2006 and have watched as blogging and social media activity have moved from a fringe pursuit to a mainstream activity for people and for businesses.
I’ve watched as Facebook has moved from a small student only start-up to a public company with nearly a billion users. I’ve witnessed the rise of Twitter and YouTube and countless other social services. I’ve studied the popularization of the mobile Web and app space that the iPhone and Android have ushered in.
I’ve done all this with a keen interest in how credit unions can best get involved and be successful with social media. Thanks in large part to first-hand experience with progressive credit unions, I’ve learned about a bunch of tools and best practices that I’d like to share with you. Take this as my social media marketing cheat sheet. I hope you’ll find a few nuggets you can use at your credit union.
1. Learn as Much as You Can
Whether you have taken a wait-and-see approach at your CU or your CU is in whole hog, I would pause to do a bit of research on the subject of social media and how it applies to marketing a business. A quick search of Amazon reveals more than 180,000 books on social media. The choices are overwhelming and, quite frankly, a lot of the titles offer such basic information that I wouldn’t waste your time. I’ve read a bunch and here are the top four I think you should read.
- Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. This was the first book on the subject that really broke down how social media applies to business. It was originally published in 2008, so make sure to search for the 2011 updated version. Synopsis: Corporate executives struggle to harness the power of social technologies. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube are where customers discuss products and companies, write their own news, and find their own deals but how do you integrate these activities into your broader marketing efforts? It’s an unstoppable groundswell that affects every industry—yet it’s still utterly foreign to most companies today.
- Tribes by Seth Godin. Godin is great at writing entertaining and inspiring business books.Tribes is no exception and there are many good lessons credit union professionals can learn from to help build a loyal and local following. Synopsis: A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to each other, a leader and an idea. For millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical (think of the Deadheads). It’s our nature. Now the Internet has eliminated the barriers of geography, cost and time. All those blogs and social networking sites are helping existing tribes get bigger. But more important, they’re enabling countless new tribes to be born.
- Power Friending by Amber Mac. This is an easy-to-read and practical resource. Synopsis: When it comes to social media, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or the latest video blog, the tools evolve quickly, the rules change rapidly, and the technology feels more and more complex. But making social media work doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In this compact, yet thorough, guide, Mac shows you how to effectively harness the online world to grow your business.
- Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julienne Smith. This is a good overview on how to portray your company as human and also connect social media to actual sales and success. Synopsis: Two social media veterans show you how to tap into the power of social networks to build your brand’s influence, reputation and, of course, profits. Today’s online influencers are Web natives who trade in trust, reputation and relationships, using social media to accrue the influence that builds up or brings down businesses online.
Next up, plug into some blogs. There are two must-reads in the marketing and financial services arena that have plenty of social media content.
The Financial Brand. Synopsis: The Financial Brand is an online publication focusing on issues and advice that affect bank and credit union brands. It is the singular resource for CEOs and marketing executives looking for the latest ideas and information about how financial institutions build and shape their brands.
Snarketing 2.0. Synopsis: Snarketing 2.0 is a blog about marketing and financial services, written by Aite Group Senior Analyst Ron Shevlin. If this blog doesn’t make you think more critically about the world around you, then it has failed. If it doesn’t make you laugh from time to time, then you don’t have a sense of humor.
2. Craft a Social Media Policy
Now you are brimming with knowledge and ideas, but before you jump in, take a moment to craft a social media policy for your credit union employees. There is a great free policy generator called Policy Tool. Simply answer 12 questions and, poof, you have a workable policy.
It’s a good idea to run it past human resources and even a lawyer, but be careful not to make it too legal sounding. Whether you use this service or write something from scratch, try to write it in as plain English as possible. In addition to sharing with all your employees, I also recommend publishing it on your website. This will show your members and potential members where your credit union stands on social media.
If you do take the time to craft your own policy from the ground up, here’s a couple examples of the type of writing I would recommend. From Canada’s largest CU, Vancity: “I will always be respectful and will never say something online that I wouldn’t say in front of my grandma.” And from REI, the large outdoor equipment cooperative: “Here’s the nub: Unless they’re clearly authorized to send a ‘company’ message, employees are speaking personally and not on behalf of REI.”
As you craft your policy, think about being a concierge vs. a security guard by encouraging productive participation instead of attempting to block all access. It’s a mistake to try to completely forbid social media usage or even to only allow particular employees to participate. If you do, you’ll hamper your credit union’s ability to build an online presence and following, plus hurt your overall culture.
If you do decide to lock down your network, you should be aware that a large percentage of your employees will still have total workday access with that personal smartphone in his or her pocket or purse.
3. Establish Your Goals
I won’t go too much into creating a campaign strategy in this article, but I will say that you should track three to four meaningful key performance indicators that make sense for your situation. Depending on your overarching business and marketing strategy, your KPIs may be membership growth, average membership age trend, direct sales, search conversion, referrals, sharing, raising awareness or establishing thought leadership. Avoid getting caught up in hollow KPIs, such as likes, views, followers or traffic.
4. Pick Your Listening and Participation Tools
With your policy in place, the next step is to build a social media listening station. You will want to monitor the Web activity for your credit union, your products and services, your key executives and your competitors. Set up a free Gmail account to get access to all the free Google applications, including Google Reader, Google Analytics, Google Alerts, YouTube and more. Chris Brogan has a good step-by-step post on this, so in the interest of space, I won’t rehash it here.
Next, pick a publishing dashboard. I’ve tried many and I believe that HootSuite works best for a credit union’s needs. It’s a social media management system that will help your credit union collaboratively execute campaigns across multiple social networks from one secure, Web-based dashboard. It plugs into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, plus a suite of social content apps for YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr and more. It’s free for one person and reasonable for teams.
Pick a URL shortener—HootSuite has a built-in shortener, but you should also consider Bit.ly. It has great analytic tools, plus every shortened link automatically generates a corresponding QR code that you can use in your print pieces if you wish.
There are numerous paid dashboard and tracking solutions, but from my experience, a CU does not generate enough social activity and mentions to warrant an enterprise-level solution. Stick to the free or inexpensive stuff.
5. Build out Your Social Media Ecosystem
You can now start to build your social presence. I recommend creating a blog as the epicenter of your ecosystem. Creating and housing content on your own site ensures you own it and you control it. If you only post content to social networking sites, you are completely at the mercy of these third-party websites.
However, only create a blog if you intend on publishing regularly. I recommend at least two well-written articles per week and at least one original video per month. Spread the work around by recruiting a team of writers from different areas of your credit union and run your blog like a real publication with an editor, an editorial calendar and real deadlines.
If you are creating a general blog to serve your whole membership, ideally, it should be housed within your corporate website. The actual URL should be www.creditunion.com/blog not blog.creditunion.com. The former will help with natural search engine optimization, while the latter will be seen by Google as a completely separate website.
If you are creating a specialty website and blog for a particular demographic marketing program, I would recommend using a popular content management system like Wordpress, Drupal or Squarespace. Make sure you control the URL. Do not create your blog with a URL like www.wordpress.com/creditunionblog, instead host it on your own URL like www.ourspecialtysite.com/blog.
If you feel like you can’t do a blog well, skip it and choose either Twitter or Facebook as the epicenter for your social media activity. This approach is a compromise, but it is better than starting a blog that ends up withering from a lack of attention.
If you feel like you can do a blog well, I would also recommend building an email database as part of your efforts. Email marketing is still an effective marketing tactic and can work hand in hand with your social media efforts. Gaining permission to send regularly-timed, personalized email to an opt-in list is a great way to build and communicate with your following. Send emails either monthly or quarterly, write intriguing subject lines, personalize your salutations, make exclusive offers from time to time and keep your messages to less than 500 words.
There are dozens of email services to choose from; the main things you want to look for is a legit service that is large enough to actually deliver your messages without being marked as SPAM and that has templates that automatically reformat for mobile. I recommend Campaign Monitor or MailChimp. CUES Supplier member DigitalMailer, Herndon, Va., is also a good option and it is a credit union service organization.
To grow your list, be sure to promote exclusive subscriber-only contests with your blog posts and social media updates, and include subscriber forms on your blog, website and Facebook page. Most email services will include the ability to embed a subscription form, but you may also want to check out Wufoo or Formstack for more robust data-collection options.
Be choosy about the social networks your credit union participates in. Ideally, you will want to post and interact daily, so don’t spread your resources too thin. Stick to Twitter and Facebook since they are the most popular and add in YouTube if you are creating meaningful videos. If you still feel you have capacity, consider additional networks and tools in this order: LinkedIn for a simple company account, Flickr or Instagram for posting photos, Google+ as an additional social network, Tumblr as an alternative blogging platform, Pinterest if you have interesting images to pin and Foursquare (https://foursquare.com) if you have something worthwhile to offer at your branches.
There are dozens and dozens of other services I would just ignore, plus it’s OK to say to no to any or all of these additional services. Start small and only add to your core strategy if you feel it make sense for your situation and your capacity. When participating on your blog and in social networks, be as human as possible and avoid automatically sending your Twitter and Facebook updates back and forth between various networks. Ideally, identify the individuals who are behind your updates, be present and reply to every comment, complaint and inquiry promptly and politely.
Stay away from creating downloadable apps as part of your social media marketing strategy. There are a number of cheap or free services that allow you to create simple apps that pull your blog posts, tweets, photos and videos together. From my experience, very few people will ever download this type of app and if they do, they will never open your app more than once or twice. Apps should be powerful and offer real utility, not just repurpose content that can be consumed easily elsewhere.
Having said that, if you already have a useful mobile banking app or are planning to launch one, it is a good idea to add links and content from your social activity. If you do go down this path, make sure to offer Apple iOS and Android at a minimum and poll your membership to see if many are using Blackberry or Windows Phone before going to the expense and effort of creating for those trailing platforms.
Now, Get Busy!
There, you now have my social media marketing cheat sheet. Hopefully this will fast-track some of the basics for you and allow you to get a jump on what your credit union needs to put in place to do social media marketing well. How you pull everything together into a cohesive and compelling social media marketing strategy is now up to you. Good luck!
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.