Fully five years into the social media revolution, a job opening for a social media position at a credit union was posted on EverythingCU.com just a week ago. I was very excited about this development, because as many of you know, I’ve been involved in social media and credit unions for… well, before there was even such a thing as social media.
When we started EverythingCU.com back in 2000/2001, we wanted to enable credit union marketers across the country (and even a few other countries too) to be able to share and communicate. We quickly realized that it would be great to attach a face to these names flying across our computer monitors, and thus photo uploading was added. (In the early days we even scanned photos sent to us by mail.) In addition, we created easy document sharing, as well as individual profile pages.
When the words “social media” started cropping up in credit union and other online sources back in 2005/2006, I started investigating this newly emerging trend and discovered it was very similar to the peer-to-peer networking and communication we were already enabling with EverythingCU.com, only on a more personal and “regular consumer” level. “What an exciting development!” I thought to myself. “Now that social media is emerging as an entity in its own right, we’ll be able to help credit unions understand the power of this medium for themselves that we’re experiencing here at EverythingCU.com.” In the subsequent years, I’ve spoken at many CU conferences and conducted workshops on social media for credit union leagues around the country; something which I truly love doing.
So based on the job posting, the subject on EverythingCU turns to “how can you calculate the ROI of this new social media position?” What an interesting question!
It can indeed be extremely difficult to measure ROI for marketing. You can measure overall results for a marketing campaign for a specific product by comparing that product’s sales with the previous year’s results. But as was pointed out on EverythingCU by Mia Perez, how do you measure ROI for the second year of the campaign, when you had successful adoption of the product in the previous year, thereby reducing the pool of people who would have bought the product based on your spectacular new marketing campaign? It’s going to necessarily be less than year 1. But you did as great a job creating the marketing campaign in year 2, but you’ll have less to show for it. Hmmmmmmm.
Another commenter in the Social Media-ROI topic pointed to the Financial Brand’s Why Social Media is a waste of time for most banks and credit unions.
I can’t prove the ROI of social media, but I fundamentally believe social media is not a waste of time for most credit unions. If your credit union behaves like a bank, then absolutely, you should skip social media. But I find the values of most credit unions line up perfectly with what makes social media a fantastic venue. Let’s take a look at where and why this makes sense from a “values” point of view:
Social media is all about empowering individual people. Each person in entitled to their own voice, their own opinion, and can create their own network of friends, family, and colleagues. Everyone is on an even playing field in terms of putting their message “out there.” In the credit union world, all members are treated equally, i.e., every member has an equal vote in electing the board of directors who are charged with overseeing how the credit union is run. Credit unions open their doors to everyone who is eligible to join; they don’t discriminate. Credit unions are cooperatives; social media is fantastic because of the cooperation and sharing that occurs. Credit unions originally were created for employers or organizations in a single location, in other words, a location-based community of people who had something in common. Social media flourishes because people everywhere are finding and/or creating their own online communities based on criteria that are important to themselves, whether it be political, religious, occupational, or centered around comon hobbies, passions, pasttimes, locations, and all sorts of other common interests.
Social media is fundamentally democratic and cooperative, as are credit unions. Credit unions were born of communities; social media is community brought online.
But before diving further into Social Media and its ROI, let’s examine exactly what social media is, since it means different things to different people. I view social media as any way that people communicate with each other online. This is done on an individual as well as a group basis. Well, this was happening long before MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter started becoming popular. So why did the phrase “Social Media” catch on starting around 2004/05? At this point, Facebook wasn’t open to the general population; blogging and podcasting were the new and hot things. Bloggers and podcasters were starting to build community with their endeavors and were excited that they were creating what the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto had talked about in 1998.
So if we define social media as online communication, conversation, networking, and media sharing, then it’s been happening for quite a number of years, as email, AOL, chat rooms, listservs, the web, and the like are not new by any means. And even more fundamentally, human communication has been happening via technology since cave drawings were painted, and continued on through smoke signals, telegraphs with Morse code, pony express, the telephone, radio, tv, 8-tracks, albums, cassettes, CB radio, VHS, DVDs, and many others.
Let’s examine the telephone for a second. The telephone is basically a one-to-one non-persistent communication technology. (Although via voice mail, it can also be persistent and asynchronous.) At one time, I’m sure the telephone was very expensive, and businesses were loathe to adopt a new technology that very few of their consumers possessed. But now we don’t question the ROI of every person having a phone, whether it’s on their desk, a mobile phone, or now a smartphone. And yes, we have people dedicated to running businesses’ telephone infrastructures. But we don’t dedicate one person or one department in an organization, put all the telephones in their office and say “you are our telephone department! You’ll be operating and handling the telephones for everyone in the organization! Anytime anyone needs to make a call, they’ll come here to use these telephones, and seek your guidance in how to use the darn things!”
Well, I think social media is about where the telephone was many decades ago, in terms of how businesses are thinking about being involved with it.
Also interesting is how everyone views social media differently depending on their background. Marketing looks at social media as an advertising channel, while journalists view social media as a threat to the traditional way of bringing people news. Customer service people see social media as a new method of communicating with people.
As for ROI, well, there have been quite a few Credit Union success stories in social media already. And there have been quite a few success stories for non-CU businesses in social media.
We don’t necessarily measure the ROI of attending an in-person networking event such as a Chamber of Commerce mixer. But we all intuitively understand how important networking is. Well, as William Azaroff has pointed the way, perhaps a better term for social media is online community, or maybe even better, online networking.
Bottom line: Social media is definitely not a panacea, cure-all, or get-rich-quick scheme. But it works great for businesses when it’s used as a way that makes sense for both the business and its customers. After all, communication is fundamental to human nature, business, and marketing, and these online channels, media, and community are all fantastic communication avenues. And oh, by the way, social media, and online channels, have in many respects transformed the way people interact with each other.
Second bottom line for credit unions: Did you notice how your physical community dispersed over the last ten years or so? Yes, a majority of your members still reside within a five mile radius of a branch, but c’mon, don’t tell me you weren’t excited when you discovered you had a handful of members several thousand miles from your nearest branch. Well, I’ve got news if you hadn’t figured it out already. While location-based communities and geographies are still important, and are more important than ever in some ways (The New Geography), there is a new community and it’s online. People belong to multiple communities online and are excited about them. There may be an opportunity for your credit union to also be a part of the online communities that make sense for your credit union, based on what makes your members tick.
Post Script: (As if this blog post weren’t long enough already), I think that while there are huge areas of credit union function that are in the process of being transformed by online communication, the most exciting one, which has the most potential for bringing credit unions back to the member-centric powerhouses they once were, is in governance. Right now, credit union governance is a closed-door black box despite the efforts of pioneers such as Ginny Brady. But it’s in governance that credit unions have the opportunity to engage with the members like never before; to bring better transparency, to throw open the doors to the board room, and get meaningful, frequent member interaction with the board and management decision making. I truly believe that’s what Ed Filene would have envisioned had he been alive in this generation instead of his own. While you can’t measure the ROI of social media/governance interaction by the members, it gets to the FUNDAMENTAL reason why so many people LOVE their credit unions:
Because it feels like it’s MINE.
If you spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on a “traditional” branding campaign, you won’t make nearly the impact as ACTUAL online engagement with your members about the way THEIR institution is run. This is also an advantage that credit unions will ALWAYS possess over banks. PRESS YOUR ADVANTAGE TO THE MAX!