Challenge marketing for credit unions part 7: Content

Creating a steady stream of interesting, entertaining and educational content

You have a great challenge concept, a great product offer and a fabulous reward. You have promoted your initiative with your staff, your members and your potential members. You have a memorable URL and a great website with plenty of ways to interact. Now what? You need great content and lots of it.

First off, let's talk quantity

How many blog posts per month does your challenge marketing website need to establish a loyal, large and active following? 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. The urge to post may come once per week or even once per month. Or if you are a cat, you may feel like blogging everyday!

But I cannot agree with this advice for a major marketing initiative for a business. If you are investing time and money into a challenge marketing program with an expectation that you will attract new members that will want your products and services, you are going to need to be very deliberate with your content creation schedule. 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.

To give you an idea of the blog-publishing rate in our industry, I visited a few of the top credit union blogs to get a feel for typical blog post and comment quantity.

Seattle's Verity Credit Union was the first financial institution in North America to establish a blog. Since 2004, the 13 Verity staff writers have collectively posted between two to 15 posts every month on the Our Voices blog. There have been 44 posts over the past 12 months. Judging by a quick scan, I would estimate that an average post receives one to two comments. Our Voices is a great example of a pure informational and human-interest blog brought to you by the employees of a credit union.

With just one author, The Boardcast from Ginny Brady of New York's UFirst FCU, has published 90 blog posts over the past 12 months. Each post receives between zero and five or more comments. Considering that Ginny is an unpaid volunteer board member and that her content consists of mostly long-form essay-style blog posts, The Boardcast's quantity and quality is phenomenal.

These are impressive numbers for pure informational blogs, but I would argue that your challenge marketing website will need more. Let's contrast the above numbers with our three challenge marketing examples.

Since soft launching in January 2008 and then opening it up to all members in April 2008, What Are You Saving For? has had 90 blog posts published by a number of authors. Each post yields between zero and a dozen comments. April was the high point with 20 posts.

Over the past 12 months, Change Everything has had 344 blog posts published by dozens of authors. Each post yields approximately three to four comments. January was the high point with 64 posts. This isn't surprising, considering that it's a site about change and the popularity of New Year's resolutions.

Over the past 12 months, Young & Free Alberta has had 335 blog posts published including more than 90 original videos. These posts have yielded 1,369 blog comments or approximately five comments per post. This past October was the high point with 50 blog posts published as our three 2009 Young & Free Alberta Spokesperson finalists vyed for the public's votes.

As an interesting side note, I think DeAndre' Upshaw's application video and blog post for the Young & Free Texas Spokesperson challenge takes the all-time-most-comments-on-a-credit-union-blog-post award with a total of 218 comments!

These challenge marketing examples might seem like too much content for your credit union to commit to creating, but if you are not posting on a very regular basis, you run the very high risk of not having return visitors. Here's a typical scenario to consider: a new visitor is drawn to your site by clicking on a Facebook ad or a banner on your corporate website, seeing the URL in print or by being referred to the site by a staff member. They take action and visit the site. This person likes what they see and bookmarks the site or, better yet, subscribes to your RSS feed or e-updates. If you are lucky, they return after a day or two to see what's new, but unfortunately, there is nothing new. They then forget the site exists and never return.

The social web is a very busy place with massive amounts of new content being pushed out by the second. The consumers of this content—your potential creators, editors and audience (read part 3 for a refresher)—are used to websites that deliver fresh content very regularly. And in order for your challenge marketing program to draw these folks in and entice them to becoming your fans and participants (and ultimately new credit union members), you need to have a very aggressive content creation strategy.

Take a look at the top destination blogs on the Internet—they are run like newspapers. For example, Gizmodo, one of the top technology and gadget blogs, publishes up to 80 new blog posts every single day! And, it's sites like Gizmodo, the Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Lifehacker and other top blogs, not to mention news sites like MSNBC, CNN and your local newspapers that have set an expectation that destination sites post great content at a dizzying pace.

To make your challenge marketing program a success, my recommendation is to post something new every weekday. In fact, over the past couple of months, we have upped the total posts on our Young & Free sites to at least two or three posts per day and at least five pieces of multimedia per week (including 12seconds.tv videos, YouTube videos and podcasts). This has contributed to increased traffic, increased participation, increased e-update sign-ups and, most importantly, increased account sign-ups in both Alberta and Texas.

Second, let's talk quality

Boring, uninspired content doesn't get any better with quantity! Everything that 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 100. The tone of voice for Young & Free Alberta is smart, fun, quirky, youthful and engaging. Two overriding rules for Young & Free Alberta are:

  1. Entertain first, educate second
  2. One educational post for every 10 off-beat, quirky posts

For user-authored sites like Change Everything and What Are You Saving For?, quality can be measured in the passion shown by site members committing to changes in their lives and communities. The content published on both of these sites is not always entertaining or educational—but that's OK, that is not necessarily the intent of every post.

If you, your team or a dedicated blogger are responsible for the content, make sure that everything you create makes people want to come back for more. I recommend having strong opinions on your topics, but beware of polarizing your audience—remember, this is a corporate initiative backed by a conservative financial institution. I would steer clear of sex, politics, race and religion. Most of all, have fun and be engaging.

Third, vary the format of your content

Text posts can get pretty repetitive—especially if you are cranking out new posts everyday. At the very least, include artwork or photos within your posts from time to time. This will help your posts grab attention and get read, especially within an RSS reader, where all content looks the same. Our 2008 Young & Free Alberta Spokesperson, Larissa Walkiw, included an original colour illustration with every text blog post to add interest.

I highly recommend throwing 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, Vimeo, Blip.tv and Viddler, there is no excuse not to produce your own videos from time to time.

Also consider podcasts and live shows. I know I talked about quality just above, but feel free to experiment and try new things. Your audience will forgive you if your content is slightly lower quality than the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Fourth, involve your audience

Depending on your challenge, there will likely be a portion of blog posts that are created by your team at the credit union and a portion of blog posts that are created by participants in your competition or from within your community. The participant-authored posts will easily attract a lot of attention and comments from family, friends and fans.

For your credit-union-authored posts, you will have to work a little harder to get comments. Too often, blog authors write long essays (like this one) that cover every angle. In the end, there is nothing left to discuss. The best blog posts are typically short and inspire action and dialogue.

Social media pioneer Ze Frank had audience participation down to a science during his one-year run of The Show with Ze Frank.

Thousands of photos, videos and music files were contributed by the audience, including over 1,000 photos in one 20-hour period. Viewer feedback from a previous show often served as a launching point to a new topic. One episode was scripted by thousands of viewers using a wiki.

Be deliberate and conversational with your posts and don't be afraid to ask the audience to participate in one form or another.

Fifth, set the rules

You should include a privacy policy and a terms of use statement as well as a blog comment policy on your site. Your privacy policy and terms of use statement should detail how you collect and use information and how you ensure privacy and security. Check out Change Everything's terms of use to see a great example.

Your blog comment policy should detail what you define as acceptable and unacceptable. Here is a great article from The Blog Herald on why you should include a blog comment policy and how to create one. Also check out the Young & Free Alberta blog comment policy to get more ideas of what to include.

Some social media proponents will advise that nothing should every be deleted from your blog, but I disagree. Remember, you set the tone and you have every right to remove comments that are in poor taste, negative or self-promotional.

In our first 11 months of Young & Free Alberta, we only deleted two comments out of nearly 1,000, but during the 2009 spokesperson search we had our first run of negative comments. They were directed at one applicant and we decided to delete more than 20 negative comments that came in within a 24-hour period. This zero-tolerance approach curbed this negative run and had no lasting negative effects within the community.

Finally, here's some blogging resources to help with your content creation

There are countless blogs about blogging best practices! I would recommend Copyblogger, ProBlogger and Chris Brogan to get you started. All three of these sites offer a very steady stream of great articles with practical tips and advice that you can put into action. 

Next up: encouraging multiple levels of participation.

Tim