Based on the conversation exploding on EverythingCU.com over the past two days on Credit Unions and the ROI of Social Media, I created and edited this opinion piece down to 10 minutes to fit it onto YouTube. I talk about branding, marketing, social media, credit unions, ROI, the future of credit unions, their Boards of Directors, and their members, and my mom. I think what we currently think of as Social Media (aka Online Community Engagement) has the potential to transform it all. What do you think?
Hi, I’m Morriss Partee, Chief Experience Officer of EverythingCU, and I’d like to make this quick little video blog on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and that is credit unions and social media. It’s been an amazing thrill to see the topic of credit union’s use of Social Media and its ROI really blossom on EverythingCU in the past couple of days. I’ve watched with great interest as many opinions have been stated very forcefully from both sides. There are a lot of good arguments, both for and against, credit unions using social media.
Online communication is changing everything
Social media, and if we use the term to mean online community interaction, is, without question, transforming the way that people across the United States, and even across the world, are interacting with each other, and interacting with the world [around them]. So this social media phenomenon and revolution has affected or will affect virtually every department of credit union operations. It’s clear there are marketing implications and operational implications. But I’d like to talk about one are which I think in the long run, has the largest potential to truly improve credit union business and the way members interact with and view their credit union.
A Little Background
One of the big sea-changes in the way that credit unions operate with their members is when credit unions were deregulated from standard fields of membership in 1998. And since that time, credit union after credit union after credit union has gone to community charter, or a charter much broader than their original one.
As example, my mother is a member of UMassFive College Federal Credit Union. Whenever I’ve had the pleasure of working on marketing campaigns for that credit union, I often think of my mother as the ideal target market. And every now and then, I’ll ask her a question about the credit union. “How do you feel about this? Why do you do business with the credit union? What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it?” And the thing that really strikes me is that because my mother is a retired professor from UMass, she feels like UMass Federal Credit Union is HER credit union. She knows the people who run it, she knows that the people who are members are colleagues of hers, that are affiliated with UMass in one way or another. Of course, she’s very proud of UMass. So anyway, that’s the world in which credit unions have traditionally operated. But for any credit union that is now far more broader than an original employee group, or their employer has changed, merged, been outsourced overseas, their original SEG has shut down, gone out of business, merged, diversified, whatever the story is, those credit unions need a new reason for being. Something that is fundamental, that makes you feel like “this is MY credit union.” Well, what do credit unions talk about in terms of the difference [between themselves and banks]? The difference is in their governance, their form of governance. Credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives. This is supposed to be MY credit union.
MY credit union? Really?
Well, what does that mean, “MY credit union”? Does that mean I can withdraw a million dollars? Well, no, of course not, it doesn’t mean that. Well, then what does “MY credit union” really mean? How can we replicate, how can we make people, feel, understand what “MY credit union” means? We are the members, right? We are the member-owners. That’s the fundamental thing we’ve got going here.
So what does it really mean to be a member-owner? Well, right now, because of previous technological or operational limitations, membership really has only meant that I vote for a Board of Directors once a year. And I’m only voting for 3 out of 9 or so [board] members each year. And unless I’m really well-tied into the community or connected to the community, I have no idea who these people are. I might get one paragraph and a little, tiny one-inch photograph of what the person looks like, and they all kind of say the same thing about how they’re going to make sure the credit union is operated in the best interest of its members. Great. Well, it doesn’t help me choose, it doesn’t help me understand [who these people are]. I feel relatively powerless, and it doesn’t make me feel much like it’s mine–that I get to vote on… I don’t know who.
Ginny Brady, Revolutionary
That’s why I was so intrigued when Ginny Brady, in Plattsburgh, New York, started blogging with her members. She truly wanted to interact with her members to say “here’s what we are weighing as the board, here are the issues we’re wrestling with, we have to make tough choices, we have to balance different facets of financial soundness, with doing the right thing for our members, with maintaining the institution’s integrity.” For several years, she was regularly blogging, saying “here’s what the board’s doing, here’s what we’re up to, here’s our annual meeting, come out to it, we’d love to talk to you, we’d love to get your input.”
She actually stopped blogging after a couple of years. I think it’s simply because she was way too far ahead of her time, and perhaps people in the Plattsburgh region weren’t really ready for a local credit union to blog, and to understand what that meant, and to know how to find it, and know how to interact, or to want to interact. But I still feel like, as people now come online in different ways, Facebook, Twitter, email , blogging, what have you, I feel that there are new opportunties for credit unions to really make a difference with their governance.
Online input on CU governance!
What if there were online polling? What if you polled the membership regularly and said “how many of you prefer X over Y?” or “how many people feel it’s important that we offer this checking account?” or “we’re planning to build a new branch.” I still feel like there’s plenty of opportunity to really engage members, via online channels, via Facebook, via SurveyMonkey, or any other means, to say “WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE? What is it that would make the credit union better for you? What do you like about us and what we’re doing now? What do you hate about the credit union now?” And we can do these things in real time. You could even have a board meeting where you pose a question to the membership at the beginning of the meeting, and you have a decent number of responses by the end of the meeting. So if members have this voice now, and they are actually engaged with the board of directors, and not even directly, but just in an anonymous way, that’s going to make people feel like, “yeah, that’s MY credit union. I have input to the credit union. The credit union listens to me for feedback. The credit union is interested in what I have to say. That’s MY credit union. I’m not going to leave MY credit union. I’m not going to go down the street because a rate is a quarter-point higher or lower, because it’s not MY credit union.”
So anyway, that’s just my thoughts, rambling from here in Western Massachusetts on a dark and stormy, rainy December night. I would love to hear your feedback on whether this aspect of inviting membership into governance has significant potential to truly revolutionize how credit unions market with and do business with their members.
What’s your take?