I have had a half dozen calls recently from writers who are working on credit union social media articles and white papers. The good news is that credit unions are waking up to the possibilities of social media and industry publications are in the midst of preparing best-practice information. The bad news is that these articles and white papers will likely just scratch the surface.
These writers will most likely address:
- Blogging platform choices including free and open-source options like WordPress, Typepad, Blogger, Drupal and other proprietary or custom-coded solutions
- Sources for tracking the blog-o-sphere including Google Alerts, Technorati and Google Blog Search
- Sources for tracking readership including Feedburner and Google Analytics
- Best practices like including photos of your bloggers, signing off each post with the author's name and various linking options
- Podcast hosting options, microphones, portable recording devices, video cameras and editing software choices
- The myriad of free social media services and networks including Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, Second Life, Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, Friend Feed, YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo, Flickr, Photo Bucket, 12 Seconds and the like
- Best practices for moderating comments and dealing with spammers
But honestly, you can muddle your way through all of the bullet points above without making too many mistakes. And if you do make mistakes here and there you can easily right your ship as you progress.
So, what should these articles and white papers really include?
I just published a seven-part blog starter kit series. As I researched which blogs to include, it was great to see that we now have dozens of credit unions that have caught the social media bug.
What I was struck with, though, was how great the personal blogs by credit union employees are and how mediocre the blogs by credit unions are (there are some exceptions, but not many).
How can you move from mediocre to great? Here are six things that I hope the writers of these articles and white papers consider: your talent, your purpose, your point of view, your content, your frequency and your promotion.
1) Your talent
Recruit a strong writer or group of writers and give them free reign to express real opinions. Don't impose stringent editorial guidelines. Whether they are employees, contest winners or members of your credit union and community, let them do their thing. Trust that you have allowed the right people to be your voice. If they are employees, give them ample time to produce good content. Too often, corporate blogs die on the vine because they are run off the side of an overflowing desk.
2) Your purpose
Publish a differentiated purpose for your blog. With more than 70 million active blogs in the world, we don't need another vanilla corporate blog without a purpose. Within your purpose, define your audience and your subject matter. Who are you talking to and what are you trying to say? By doing this work up front your talent will find it much easier to produce content that's on message.
Your purpose should be different than any other blog in your marketplace, if not the world! Here's a good example that passes this test, "The latest news and announcements from the UFirst Federal Credit Union Board of Directors."
The narrower you go, the more potential you have to create a following. Here's another good example of a simple stated purpose, "Welcome to UTFCU Rocks, the new student site for UT Federal Credit Union. Here you'll find information on special contests, promotions and events."
3) Your point of view
Credit union blogs suffer from the same plight as credit union brands: they are designed to appeal to everyone and therefore appeal to no one. Don't be scared to alienate. If your blogs lacks focus and is interchangeable with all other credit union blogs, why put in the effort?
Take the Currency blog for example. You could ask a regular reader why they follow and he or she would probably say something like. "That Tim guy is a credit union super freak that doesn't like banks at all. I like it when he occasionally loses it."
Could your credit union publish this article? QueerHistoryProject.com. Probably not and that's what makes Vancity's Change Everything community blog so awesome. Not only will Vancity allow a community member to publish this story, Vancity promoted it to their community home page!
4) Your content
Entertain me. Enlighten me. Tell me a good story. Do not repurpose material that is available elsewhere. That includes your newsletter articles and brochure copy. Report on things that matter to your community—not the credit union blog-o-sphere. Make a point. Stir the pot. Call the kettle black. Do not waste your readers' time.
5) Your frequency
Credit unions are posting far too infrequently to create a following. I've heard the 'post at least once per month' rule. Wrong. You need to publish once per week at the very least. Ideally, you should be publishing two to four posts per week. These can be a mix of writing, audio podcasts or video clips. You decide.
Look at The Financial Brand blog. It is less than half a year old and it has vaulted to the top of the pack in its niche. Why? Jeffry Pilcher has an original voice on a niche subject and he publishes up to 10 highly researched, high opinionated and highly educational posts every week.
Take social media seriously or forget it.
6) Your promotion
Publishing those two to four blog posts per week is just the beginning. Not only do you need to invest some money in marketing your social media effort in the form of traditional and non-traditional paid media, you need to immerse your credit union in the local blog-o-sphere (not the credit union blog-o-sphere). Are members of your credit union posting comments on local blogs everyday? This is a terrific way to get included on local blogrolls and to have local people reading and leaving comments on your blog.
Is your blog URL plastered all over your branches? Your website? Your newsletters? Your community cruisers? Your statement stuffers? Your advertisements? And your foreheads? It should be! Use every existing communication channel to promote your new blog. Your membership is not going to magically stumble on it.
And now to pick on an innocent bystander
Robbie Wright is a friend and a fellow credit union blogger. I am going to use him as an example to illustrate what I feel is the major issue of under-performing credit union blogs today. I am calling him out, because he is the only person that I could think of that has a personal blog and and also is the main blogger for the credit union he works for. He's also a good sport. Right Robbie?
Robbie has one of the best personal blogs that I read: The Life and Times of a Credit Union Employee. Here are four of his posts from the last few months.
- Lemmings (July 31 with 12 comments)
- I lost a little respect (Posted July 1 with 5 comments)
- Is Discover more thrift oriented than credit unions? (June 10 with 13 comments)
- REI and the credit union spirit (May 9 with 9 comments)
Now, here are four of Robbie's posts on his CUSO's blog from the same time period.
- NACUSO launches new site and blog (July 8 with 0 comments)
- MasterCard’s new Debit Platform (April 7, 2008 with 1 comment)
- The Federal Reserve’s Legal Opinion on Deposit Reclassification (March 31 with 0 comments)
- Our new partnership with CUES (March 18 with 0 comments)
Robbie's personal blog headlines and articles are opinionated, provocative and generate great conversation. His headlines and blog content for the CUSO are safe, boring, infrequent and generate little dialogue.
When employees blog for employers, they self edit and second guess their own instincts. Its human nature. Nobody wants to get in trouble for stirring the pot. A nice safe blog post won't get you fired. Unfortunately, it probably won' get you any online attention either.
I am not saying that every blog needs to be written in the style of the crackpot that the local paper publishes in the letter-to-the-editor section, but make me laugh, cry, question things and make me want to come back for more. Can a blog about Deposit Reclassification do that? I say hell yes! Especially if Robbie writes it in his personal persona without the fear of pissing people off.
This goes back to my first two points: define your purpose and point of view at the beginning and everything from that point on will just flow.
Maybe creating conversation isn't part of your blog's stated purpose. Maybe you just want to push news out there. That's fine. Turn commenting off and stop worrying about it. Seth Godin's blog and Daring Fireball are two of the most popular blogs in existence. Neither allow comments.
The comment conundrum
But it seems to me that you do want comments. "How do I get more comments?" is the most popular question that I hear from corporate bloggers. My quick answer is you have to work at it every day.
I co-presented the Young & Free story in New York with Cathy Graeber from Forrester. You can view the slide deck here. On slide seven there is a graph. At the bottom is a line that indicates what percentage of the Internet users comment on blogs. It looks like about 20% of Generation Y and 3% of Baby Boomers have left a comment on a blog.
Here's the ugly truth about the blog-o-sphere: a large percentage of comments are left by bloggers looking to build cross links to their own blogs in hopes of increasing traffic. It is very difficult for a business blog directed to consumers to garner a lot of comments. Consumers aren't necessarily in the self-promotional game and leaving a blog comment can be really intimidating for a first-timer.
Your content has to be incredible. It has to inspire or polarize the audience. People only comment if they really agree or really disagree with what is being written. And with headlines like "Ten reasons retirement is coming," its no wonder credit union blogs lack any real dialogue.
The Young & Free Alberta blog has had more than 900 comments in less than one year. So it is possible, it just takes hard work and great content.
Sure you can click over to WordPress and start a blog this second, but social media is not free. It takes a smart strategy and a ton of execution by dedicated resources.
If you do all six of these things well, you might actually get some comments, connect with your members, build your brand, grow your readership, sell some products and services and produce a positive return on your social media investment. You may even acquire some new members along the way!
That's all I have to say about that. What about you?
P.S. I bet I get at least one comment on this post. Sorry Robbie!