Managing Multiple Social Media Outlets

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Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — the three pillars of social media in the financial services marketplace can go a long way to support a credit union's digital brand. But what exactly should CUs be doing to get the most benefit from social media platforms and what new technologies are likely to develop?

"We hear social media described by leadership as a panacea or a modern requirement of doing business," said Flynt Johnson, sales and marketing manager for Gravitate Design, a digital marketing agency in Vancouver, Wash. "In reality it's just another marketing tool in the tool bag. Like any tool, it's not for everyone, and it can be used well or used poorly."

Facebook was the first social media platform to be embraced by most credit unions. Navy Federal Credit Union launched its Facebook page in January 2011. While adoption rates were slow to start, time has proven otherwise.

"Today we have 1.1 million fans on Facebook," said Navy Federal Credit Union Social Media Manager Michael Toner. The $76 billion CU supports six million members. As of June 2016, 49% of members used a digital channel, which includes mobile and/or online.

"We look at Facebook as a valuable channel where members can get answers to questions, interact with social care specialists and get educated on various financial topics," said Toner.

The underlying goal of all social media efforts, including Facebook, is the collection of data, explained CEO & Founder of the Minneapolis-based Credit Union Consulting Group Ryan Ruud who has worked with CU clients on targeted Facebook campaigns.

"Facebook has hundreds of variables to create advertising models. This kind of insight paints a profile of who's really interested in certain offers from your credit union, far beyond what we've seen before," said Ruud. "For example, campaigns to drive online auto loan financing leads can be enhanced when paired with Facebook data to find users who show behaviors of a car shopper."

For the last six years, $2.5 billion Baxter Credit Union in Vernon Hills, Ill., has used Facebook and has 17,000 "friends." BCU's AVP of Communications & Brand Strategy Jill Sammons said the strategic goal has always been focused on brand awareness.

"Facebook allows us to create personal touchpoints and relationships with our members. It also enhances our employee culture and our financial education channel: Life. Money. You." she said.

While BCU's Facebook strategy focuses on philanthropy, community involvement and providing news for its members, sometimes Facebook is a means to remedy upset members.

"A member once posted that his gift card was not active and expressed his disappointment to BCU," said Sammons. "BCU saw the post and responded by sending the member a new gift card issued for more than the original gift card."

Tweet Tweet

From former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner to actor Alec Baldwin, countless politicians and celebrities have succumbed to the immediacy and expanse of Twitter. As such, there is an inherent liability issue with social media.

"Social media offers an amazing opportunity for credit unions to highlight stellar customer service, but on the off chance that a member shares personal information or has a negative experience it's important that your staff is prepared to handle these situations appropriately and in a positive manner for the user's friends and family to see online," said Meredith Olmstead, inbound marketing consultant and founding partner of Social Stairway. The online marketing agency works exclusively with credit unions.

Gravitate Design's Johnson explained that Twitter is the platform with the most variation in strategy (based on audience and goals). "One thing we haven't seen is a consistent pattern from different credit unions using Twitter effectively. What we have seen, is a number of credit unions start to use Twitter, realize they're in over their head and then shut the account down to reassess."

Sending it first tweet in 2010, Navy Federal originally viewed Twitter as a source for distributing company news. But as its audience grew (now 74,000 followers), Toner said the CU recognized the need for more valuable content.

"We now use Twitter to share quick financial tips, post announcements, or simply recognize our nation's military heroes. For example, we launched our weekly #FinancialAdviceFriday series to provide quick and easy tips on savings."

The organizations that generally most success with social media efforts are normally those that can employ dedicated staff to the management of the respective social media outlet. This is case for all platforms, not only Twitter.

"We recommend that CUs never try to outsource their entire digital marketing department. You simply can't hire an agency to be the authentic voice of your credit union. Staff within your CU are key to getting this voice right," said Olmstead. "Because these sites change weekly or even daily it's important that CU marketing staff have training on a regular basis."

For many credit unions, having dedicated staff to manage social media is not feasible. As a result, industry experts say the size of the organization will often dictate how big of a presence a CU will have online.

"In an ideal world, employees of a credit union would manage social media to ensure the voice is personal, credible and consistent," said Johnson. "There are budget considerations: most of the credit unions we talk to don't have the budget to pay an agency to take on social media management, or if they do, we often think that money could be used better elsewhere."

Linking the Chain

Viewed somewhat appropriately as an employment portal, LinkedIn is often the least engaged social "pillar," but CUs are beginning to view this medium as more than just a recruitment tool.

"BCU predominantly uses LinkedIn as a recruitment and networking tool. It is also used to share business updates," said Sammons. "Based on our unique SEG-based growth strategy, there's a lot of opportunity for outreach to perspective new members. We are looking to proactively grow our LinkedIn presence as a marketing and educational tool in 2016."

For Navy Federal, like many CUs, LinkedIn is a widely used platform that showcases collective talents and branding posts, awards recognition, highlighting open positions, news and thought leadership posts.

Olmstead said CUs should focus on one or two social networks to start. Any more can create scope creep and defeat the original goal: defining your brand.

"Don't spread your CU staff too thin. It's tempting to jump on three or four social networks, but we recommend starting with only one or two and getting those right first," she said. "These are platforms that require daily maintenance, so the worst thing is to start a bunch and then let them go after a few weeks. This looks very unprofessional."

Each organization will have to determine which social network will benefit the CU the best in the long run. For some it maybe LinkedIn and Facebook and for others it may be Twitter and Facebook.

"LinkedIn is generally most useful as a recruiting platform, or one-on-one connection tool," said Johnson. "A loan agent may use it as a way to keep up with their contacts at a local business."

Future Trends

Historically, social media has been a moving target. All too often a trend is identified only to become obsolete or considered antiquated by the all-important demographic: millennials. Further, as more millennials take on mid-to-senior positions at credit unions, the way in which they will communicate could dictate organization change, say industry insiders and experts.

"I suspect we'll see more and more tests of emerging media platforms and in a more and more organic, natural way, the way the platforms are meant to be used," said Ruud. "What you'll see is millennials merging their experience and appreciation of the technologies with the business experience they've been gaining to create compelling opportunities for CUs to engage and grow."

As this playing field continue to change, Navy Federal's Toner said management will have to be "nimble" to keep pace with changes.

"As our [millennial] employees assume mid-to-senior roles, their approach to social media will need to continue adapting and remain nimble to be where our members are," he said. "The individual channels may change over time, but the social engagement and the interactions that our members have with us on Facebook and Twitter will continue for the foreseeable future."

BCU's Sammons said that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn will remain viable social media platforms to millennials, noting that "we are continuing to look for more platforms to add that are most valuable and relevant to connect to our younger members." She continued. "We recognize that the number of social media platforms is growing and that the field is becoming more complex. With this in mind, we are continuously assessing social media platforms and what's best suited for BCU's growth strategy."

Looking forward, Ruud said social media will move more toward real time and instant notifications of multimedia content. To this end, Snap Chat and live broadcasts will become more predominant than the mainstream feeds like Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, paid social media will be a significant opportunity.

"We're already seeing incredible engagement, relevance and return on advertising from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, and if you're Google — you've got to be paying attention because those three pose a real threat to your online advertising kingdom," said Rudd. "As for preparation, the best thing a CU could do is form a group whose primary goal is to vet new technologies and suggest test uses for your CU. This way your credit union can be inline and ahead of the trend as platforms come and you can get into the cadence of adopting new platforms for connecting with and engaging your members."

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