Challenge marketing for credit unions part 5: Should you require a log-in to participate?

The next three parts of this series are really going to get into the meat of running your challenge marketing program, but first I want to use this post to discuss whether or not you should require a user to set up an account and profile to participate on your website.

What are our three example sites doing?

Three different approaches for three very different challenges.

  • On Young & Free Alberta, there are no user accounts. All content and interactions on the site are available to every visitor.
  • On Change Everything, there are a few activities that you can do that do not require you to be logged in. These include viewing all of the content, voting on the latest poll and commenting on blog posts. Every other interaction is only available to members of the site.
  • On What Are You Saving For?, if you are not a site member, you can only view the content. All interactions are only available to members of the site.

You better have a very compelling reason to make people log in

The social web is maturing and becoming more mainstream. Almost everyone seems to have a Facebook account. I personally have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo, Friendfeed, SlideShare, Brightkite, Digg, LinkedIn, Evernote, Google, 12 Seconds, Wordpress, Blogger, Remember the Milk, Wesabe, Flickr and a few more that I have forgotten about.

The social applications listed in the paragraph above have useful functionality, significant financial backing, large dedicated development staffs and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of registered users. I am involved in many of these services because friends sent me invitations or there are people there that I want to connect with and keep in touch with.

None of these sites are the marketing property of a corporation that is using the platform to try to sell me its products.

I have user accounts on Amazon, Apple and plenty of other e-commerce sites—all of which are definitely trying to sell me something. I also have accounts for my five-year-old son on social networks sponsored by Hot Wheels, Lego and Webkinz—three corporations with incredible marketing and undeniable emotional brand hooks.

Every one of these services listed above offers significant value to the members that are signed-in. This is an extremely important fact to remember if you are considering requiring your participants to set up a user account on your site.

The only corporate-sponsored social networks that I have accounts on are Banktastic, because it offers an attractive value proposition for me in my chosen profession, and Change Everything, because Vancity is a major player in our marketplace and I wanted to see what the site was all about.

Internet users are over-subscribed

I know that I am not a typical Internet user, but I do believe that Internet users in general are over-subscribed to social applications that they rarely use.

I strongly believe that very few credit unions are capable of successfully pulling off their own sponsored social network. In fact, Vancity may be the only one. Change Everything is a glowing example of a vibrant, thriving credit-union-sponsored social network. It has more than 4,000 user accounts and boasts more than 8,000 daily visitors. However, Change Everything has the backing of a $12 billion credit union with 400,000 members and the site debuted more than two years ago before the proliferation of the countless new Web 2.0 sites that are commanding everyone's attention. It's also worth noting that only a handful of community members sign in each day.

It could be argued that What Are You Saving For? is a credit-union-sponsored social network. I agree to a certain extent—you have to create a user account to participate in the site and even to comment on blog posts—however, WAYSF really is a tightly integrated support group for a real-world product more than it is a social network.

As Matt said in the comments of part 3, "We allow members to set their savings goal online or offline. When a savings goal is set, we enter it in the core processor, write the goal on a WAYSF pig graphic to be displayed publicly in-branch and encourage the member to share their story on our blog. This way, no matter where the member conducts his or her business—offline, online or at multiple branches—staff, members and the public can access and share their goal and associated progress toward that goal."

People are not stumbling upon WAYSF and setting up an account. Credit union employees, as trusted advisors, are introducing the site to members and helping them get set up. This is a big difference.

Reasons to require a log-in

On the other hand, there are legitimate reasons to want people to become members of your website. Site visitors who take the time to set up an account and become site members are more likely to return and to participate again in the future. Also, site members may feel more connected to your initiative and be more inclined to tell others about it compared to passive site visitors.

In addition, you are able to give logged-in site members permission to actually create content. For instance, members of Change Everything can blog and create changes on the site. And members of What Are You Saving For? can create and display their savings goals. By allowing site members to be creators it solves one of the biggest challenges in maintaining any type of social media website—the steady creation of creative and compelling content.

For purely selfish reasons, requiring site visitors to sign up for an account can give your credit union more insight into who your visitors are. And depending on how you design your user-account-activation process, you can also ask for permission to communicate and market to your site members in the future through e-mail or through network messaging.

Change Everything allows site members to follow and nudge other site members much like Facebook or Twitter. These feature can help create inter-personal relationships between site members and increase the sense of community and the perceived value of your website.

The bottom line

If your credit union is considering a challenge marketing program, think long and hard before creating a website that requires users to create an account in order to interact with it. And, if you decide to require user accounts, make sure that you are delivering extra value to your site members.

Next up: building your program on a suitable web platform.

Tim