Plan For CU Social Media Initiative Now Seeks Ways To Grow Further

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NEWARK, Del.-Few would deny that the credit union movement has struggled to truly harness the power of social media, but Candace Vogelsong hopes to change that.

Vogelsong was recently named as one of two runners-up for the first annual $10,000 THINK Prize, presented at CO-OP Financial Services' THINK Conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Her project, the CU Social Media Initiative, was designed around helping credit unions find ways to effectively use social media streams to grow membership, build their books of business and further integrate themselves into the communities they serve.

"The credit union industry is faced with individuals not knowing what a credit union is and everything that the credit union does and offers," said Vogelsong. "So I thought social media would be a nice way for community credit unions to stay active in their communities."

Vogelsong serves as marketing director for Community Powered FCU, a $115-million, 8,900-member institution here. She was candid that "as far as social media goes, I'm no expert," but she recruited the team that ran Gov. Jack Markell's social media push. Vogelsong pointed out that the governor has made a push for the First State to be one of the nation's leading social media states.

Vogelsong said that part of her initiative is built around Twitter rather than Facebook, in part as a way to latch on to something that's a bit more new and exciting.

The Cutting Edge Of Communications

"I definitely think Facebook is here to stay," she said, adding that "the Twitter thing, we're going to ride the wave. It'll either get bigger or it will fizzle out, like MySpace. But if it fizzles out, then something else will take its place. We just want to be on the cutting edge of communications."

Vogelsong acknowledged that most consumers probably don't want to follow a credit union on Twitter-they're more interested in the likes of Jimmy Kimmel or Ashton Kutcher. But, she said, there's no reason a CU can't follow a member's Twitter feed and interact with that consumer via social media streams. So when a member tweets about an important event in his or her life, for example, the CU can "retweet" that event with a note of congratulations, which not only spreads the CU's name, but keeps the credit union in the member's mind. And that member may then tweet back with a question about a particular financial product the CU offers.

The key, said Vogelsong, is to keep the focus on the member. "It's like when you get together with somebody that you haven't seen in 20 years and they monopolize the entire conversation," she said. "We figure they don't want to hear about the credit union."

One benefit of such a project, said Vogelsong, is that it helps get young people interested in the CU, though she said that Community Powered FCU has seen "a slight increase" in retirees communicating with the FI now that iPads are more and more widespread.

Branching Into Foursquare

Community Powered is also branching out into foursquare, a social media utility that allows users to "check in" at certain locations. The user that checks in most frequently becomes "the mayor" of that location, and many businesses are beginning to offer incentives for check-ins and mayors. But, said Vogelsong, it's important to make sure that front-line office staff understands these utilities through and through before they are rolled out to consumers. She said that her CU has not yet determined how to monetize foursquare, but hopes that by the time it truly takes off they will have come to more of a conclusion on that front.

Despite having lost the contest for the THINK Prize, Vogelsong said that the idea behind the CU Social Media Initiative is still valid. She said that ideally she would love to make the idea into a CUSO, "but obviously without the funding it will maybe grow, but so much slower than it otherwise could."

Feeling Of Deja Vu

As a CUSO, "instead of going out and hiring a consulting company for $20,000 a year, [credit unions] could pay our CUSA a fraction of it-maybe $4,000-and then they'd be up and running," said Vogelsong. "And they'd know that the people doing it are credit union people. They're not going to be using words like customer; they're going to actually understand credit unions and financial institutions."

"It's not about if credit unions are going to join social media, it's when," Vogelsong continued. "It's like 15 years ago when companies wondered if they really needed a Web page."

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