Why Are CUs Still Missing Out on Social Media's Advantages?

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If the topic of social media has been exhausted in the media, why then are a majority of credit unions still not taking the fullest advantage of the trend's many benefits?

Some credit unions incorrectly believe that if they set up a Twitter account and include the "follow me on Twitter" at the bottom of all outgoing e-mails, they have met the standard.

Social media is one of the most important ways for credit unions to create and maintain an active dialogue with members in a non-threatening environment. This two-way communication is critically important to the credit union industry as it builds its consumer advocacy role and strengthens the credit union's long-held mantra of quality member service. If done correctly, social media provides a healthy way for credit unions to talk with their members, not at them. By doing so, the credit union is constantly kept abreast of its members' concerns and can react in a timely fashion.

Although mainstream social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter should be incorporated into member outreach programs, it is even more beneficial for credit unions to adopt their own customized versions to enhance that community experience. Blogs and other social networking sites can also be helpful but require frequent updating of material and content from staff members assigned to report on topical issues that may or may not even resonate with members.

By incorporating one's own customized community platform, the content is member-driven and guaranteed to speak directly to the members as the material is created and built upon by them. All CUs need to do is prompt the member to speak by providing the public forum. CUs can easily and cost-effectively use their own community platform and host a customizable Q&A format that enables members to interact with one another and selected experts. The key is to listen and respond to such content.

It is important to understand that social media should not be haphazardly thrown together, but that it requires a strategy. For example, credit unions must plan ahead on how the content will be handled, what is the online voice that needs to be established and how does it support and further the CU's brand.

In order to make the most of a customized community platform, it is vital that credit unions align with appropriate partners, listen to member concerns and offer content that resonates most with their member base.

When looking for an appropriate partner to develop and maintain a customized community, credit unions must turn to those who specialize in the CU space, recognize the products and membership and ensure the resources used mirror your brand, personality and goals to optimize the message and keep members engaged. CUs must pay attention to the community dialogue and respond, otherwise all efforts behind the social media strategy will have been conducted in vain. The bond between members and the credit union can only strengthen through two-way communication.

Finally, make sure the content displayed on the site interests members, and isn't just a promotional tool. The site should not advertise the latest offerings or market certain products, yet it should only offer practical information that will better serve members' needs.

By building a quality online experience, you build trust among your members and cultivate stronger relationships.

Shawn Ward is the co-founder of Geezeo, a provider of a white-label, online personal financial management and social networking system to community financial institutions. For info: www.geezeo.com.

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