PLAYING WITH MATCHES: Social media campaigns require "a high degree of authenticity" or they can backfire, says Trey Hawkins, vice president of political affairs for CUNA.

Credit Union Anti-Tax Tweets Win Social Media Award

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Unleashing a Twitter campaign can be a risky proposition, as the #AskJPM fiasco proved last year.

But the Credit Union National Association successfully harnessed the forces of social media behind its anti-tax message -- and walked away with a prize in the process.

See more of American Banker's People blog.

The association recently won a social media innovation award from the Public Affairs Council for its #Don'tTaxTuesday campaign, which took place on July 23 and Sept. 10. The promotion on Twitter (TWTR) and Facebook (FB) urged state credit union associations, credit union members and other supporters to contact legislators to ensure credit unions maintain their tax-exempt status.

It spurred roughly 13,200 messages (including 7,000 sent directly to lawmakers) posted to Twitter with the #Don'tTaxMyCU hashtag over those two days.

"We have a lot of credit unions out there that are engaged with their members," says Richard Gose, senior vice president of political affairs at CUNA. "We wanted to tap into that to continue the conversation."

Social media campaigns can be an effective way to promote a conversation on a particular topic. However, organizers have little control over the message once it is launched. JPMorgan Chase (JPM) experienced this last year when it tried to stage a Twitter discussion where people could ask its vice chairman questions using the hashtag #AskJPM. Instead customers and critics of the bank hijacked the hashtag to vent their anger and frustrations.

CUNA succeeded because its grass roots genuinely believe in their credit unions, says Trey Hawkins, vice president of political affairs for CUNA. To be sure, CUNA received some negative tweets during the campaign. This is only to be expected since "you never know where a conversation will go," Gose says. Still, supporters defended their credit unions from the pushback, Gose says.

"Social media requires such a high degree of authenticity," Hawkins says. "For credit unions that have that strong relationship with their members, there is less of a risk in doing this."

The #Don'tTaxTuesday effort is part of CUNA's broader "Don't Tax My Credit Union" campaign. Currently Congress is considering tax reform, and CUNA wanted to make sure its backers got involved in the conversation, Gose says.

However, the tweets may have exaggerated the level of public support of credit unions' tax-exempt status, says Keith Leggett, a senior economist at the American Bankers Association and Credit Union Watch blogger. Most people don't fully understand the issue and it takes very little effort to tweet, he says.

"It is a good membership issue for a trade association," Leggett says. "They are able to get their member institutions fired up over it."

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