It has been fascinating to follow discussion on why more credit unions are not blogging several years after blogging became somewhat mainstream. The earliest reference I read was Trey Reeme’s post on CUES’ Skybox blog, one and a half years ago. More recently, Tim McAlpine in Vancouver asks CUs if they will blog for the money if not the love, which then got Shevled by the Shevlinator. The following message is partly aimed in response to Ron, who I think needs a trip to America’s CU Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire. (It’s only 51 minutes away from your office, Ron…. looking forward to joining you there on April 5 for BarCampBank NewEngland.)
Ron has some outstanding points to consider in developing an online strategy. Yes, a marketing person should always consider the broader strategic picture and figure out if/how blogging may or may not fit into that. Especially if you work at a large bank, where ROI is watched like a hawk.
But Ron is himself missing the bigger picture when it comes to credit unions. Namely, what is the purpose of a credit union? Why were they founded? These questions are even more on the forefront of my mind since I made a presentation last week to Lehigh Valley Educators CU in Allentown, Pennsylvania on the history of the credit union movement, and how their credit union fits into that amazing one hundred year history. (Yes, this is our centennial year in the United States.)
What is the major difference between banks and credit unions, besides lower loan rates, higher savings rates, lower or no fees, etc. (which is not even true in many cases nowadays)? It’s the self-governance, the fact that I personally can be elected to the Board of Directors. Since the Board equals .00001% of the total membership, most people never actually get to serve on the Board. But in theory, the Board is there to serve my needs and best interests. Prior to the internet age, there was no practical way that Average Jane Concerned Member could communicate with Elected Board Representative Wiseone. Now, via blogs, not only is that possible, it is possible to hold those conversations out in the open. Why wouldn’t Board members want to invite participation from their members? Why wouldn’t they want to discuss policy openly? Why wouldn’t you want to find out from the members themselves what it is they want in THEIR financial institution?
Ginny Brady is doing that with the Boardcast. But she is the lone voice out of 8,000+ CU boards. (Multiply that by an average of about 9 directors per board, and she is one in 72,000.)
It’s not easy being a Board member. It’s an unpaid position, and mostly thankless. Most members don’t realize that.
Most members feel disenfranchised from the institution. They feel it’s faceless, and that “it” doesn’t care about them. So why should they keep their accounts there or feel anything special towards it? By keeping policy decisions behind closed doors, Boards and CUs are perpetuating that the institution doesn’t really care about its members.
BY OPENING UP THE DISCUSSION, BY INVITING PARTICIPATION FROM THE VERY MEMBERS THAT YOU PURPORT TO SERVE, YOU ARE GIVING YOUR MEMBERS A VOICE. YOU ARE LETTING THEM KNOW THAT THEY ARE IMPORTANT TO YOU, THAT THEIR OPINIONS, CONCERNS, AND DESIRES COUNT FOR SOMETHING.
You want loyalty from your members? You can’t purchase loyalty. You can only earn it. You want your members to have a relationship with you? That starts with having a relationship with your members.
So how many CUs should be blogging? 100% of them.
(Credit unions that are planning on converting to a bank charter may be excused.)
Let me go out even further out on a limb. Trey and the rest of the gang at Trabian have always been very diplomatic when it comes to the question of blogging and credit unions. They have been very polite by saying you should determine if your culture is READY to blog. I’m going to flip it around.
If your culture has devolved so far from what the original mission of the CU movement is all about, IF YOUR MEMBERS AND EMPLOYEES CAN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT IT MEANS TO BELONG TO YOU VERSUS BEING A CUSTOMER OF THE BANK DOWN THE STREET, IT’S TIME TO CHANGE YOUR CULTURE, THROW OPEN THE DOORS OF TRUTH, LIGHT AND DIALOGUE, AND ENGAGE YOUR MEMBERS IN OPEN AND HONEST CONVERSATION.
IN OTHER WORDS, IF YOUR CU CULTURE FEELS LIKE IT ISN’T READY TO START A BLOG, YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR CULTURE TO BE IN A PLACE WHERE YOU ARE READY TO BLOG.
Now having written some inflammatory remarks, I will back off that statement in three regards: One, because blogs are ‘hot’, I am seeing and hearing talk about blogs where a different form of media/communication is more appropriate, such as an online discussion site. Two, when I say blogs, I really mean open communication with your members. If you are still small enough or still have a focused FOM, and are in regular communication with your members via face-to-face discussions, or other channels, then you don’t need to have a blog. Three, blogging is indeed NOT a be-all, end-all panacea. It’s just one tool in a marketing toolkit. There is still a place for traditional media, as this Fast Company article on how trends happen points out.
But for all the CUs out there that are not growing, that are floundering with a lack of membership growth, that have ‘gone community’, that are looking for direction, you need to start communicating with your members, and not marketing ‘at’ them. And blogs are an exponentially less expensive way of doing that than focus groups.