The Credit Union Social Media Disconnect

Do I really care about the latest marketing campaign that XYZ Credit Union is doing? “Have you seen the video on YouTube by GenY Star? It would make the perfect national marketing campaign,” bleets many of the social media sheep in the credit union industry.

Do you know why most credit union CEO’s don’t blog and aren’t on Twitter? Because nothing important happens in the credit union blogosphere. Yeah, we all get to network, see what each other are doing, and maybe catch a pearl of wisdom here and there. But the bottom line is the important stuff, the game changing stuff, is never really talked about online. Changes to the member business lending cap. That’s a game changer. A partnership developed between FSCC, CUSC, PSCU, Fidelity, etc that enables all credit unions to become shared branches automatically. That’s a game changer.

I’ll bet we could fill an airplane with all the people in the credit union social media space. Literally. What would happen if that plane went down? Nothing. That’s right, nothing.  Now imagine filling that plane with the CEO’s of the credit union leagues, trade associations, CUSO’s, and credit unions. We would have a catastrophe. Innovation would be ground to a halt. The real partnerships and collaborations that were happening, albeit on a small scale, would cease.

Tim McAlpine recent wrote on the CUES blog about using social media to advanced your career. And he is 100% right. Social media can help to get your name out there. But we in the social media blogosphere need a greater goal than getting 500 twitter followers or blog subscribers. Trey Reeme and I recently had a conversation about this issue of social media being disconnected from the important things in the industry. Daily life at a credit union isn’t glamorous and fun. It is trying to find a way to help a teller do a process 1 minute faster. It is about finding a better checking product to match up with the maturity of your credit card portfolio. It is about patterning with neighborhood credit unions to form a multi-owned business CUSO to get around an individual credit union’s business lending cap because a.) business loans are profitable and b.) members need them.

If a flood was coming to the credit union industry, would you be invited onto Noah’s Ark to weather the storm? Right now, I wouldn’t be. And I’m not going to stop fighting for the credit union industry until I am.

24 thoughts on “The Credit Union Social Media Disconnect”

  1. Good post, maybe a little extreme, but I generally agree.

    I would also add, lately everyone is trying to be the “influencer”. They want you to follow their brand, like their page or post. It feels very one way and unnatural, like we’re not really working together, that I’m just a statistic.

  2. I almost 100% agree. I’ve been trying to bring credit union substance to social media by posting and asking about corporate news, interchange, member business lending, etc. I rarely get a response. Why? Because many of the people in SM I find are often not willing or able to discuss these issues. I brought this up with a credit union CEO (who actually is on twitter) and he said it’s because marketers are the only ones with time on their hands to do SM. Personally, I think marketers are the type of people who can envision the possibilities of SM rather than just being a bunch of lazy people with time to play on their hands. But, the larger point is, credit union SM can lack substance. The recent interchange debate would be the perfect time to use SM to gin up support; the other side did.

  3. @Otto – I agree, follow companies random Facebook pages doesn’t make a lot of sense unless they can actually deliver a valuable service over that channel. No one would use online banking if they couldn’t check their balance or transfer money.

    @Rachel – I’ve got more where that came from…

    @Sarah – I almost mentioned you specifically in this little rant. The quality of editorials you’ve been putting out in CU Times has been outstanding. They are asking very hard questions with no easy answers. And you are right, getting engagement for that kind of subject matter is very challenging.

  4. Sweet irony! “nothing important happens in the credit union blogosphere.” I read, nonetheless. Each time a CU has success in the social media space is important, though, right? I would guess Tim McAlpine’s company has done well for CUs, from a business perspective, and there are others too, like MSUFCU, who are engaging consumers online. If you mean it’s garbage to sit around and pontificate about CUs in the social media space, then I understand. If you’re saying that a lot of us are spinning wheels in social media, that’s fine but it’s not for lack of trying. We all need to come up with better ideas to get on board that Ark? Cool. Noted.

  5. Rob: I think you’re really really really missing something here. Specifically: Social Media (as it exists today) is a religion.

    What is a religion? It’s a “set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.” A religion is a way to think about the world — a set of beliefs that is mostly (if not always) impossible to prove empirically.

    Social media fits that description. Proponents — or adherents — of social media believe it’s the way to improve member/customer relationships, do marketing, provide service, etc. They believe it’s changing the world, they believe it’s the future, etc.

    Is is really better? Does it really deliver on all those promises? They can’t prove it does. But that doesn’t matter to them — because they BELIEVE in it.

    So when you say “nothing important happens in the credit union blogosphere.”, you’re wrong. Something important DOES happen. Social media believers reinforce each others’ belief and commitment to their religion. One guy I know would probably call this an “echo chamber” (and he’s right), but that, too, misses the point that the CU blogosphere validates people’s belief in SM.

    Funny you should refer to the proponents as sheep — because they ARE members of the flock.

  6. To me it’s more of a case of expectation management. You can definitely deliver social media with valuable content if you want. Compliance isn’t the most popular thing in the world, but NAFCU’s compliance blog generates real traffic and helps people every day. If you have a message and you need a direct, inexpensive way to present it, social media is the way to go. If you think that putting up a Facebook page is going to dramatically increase revenue for your credit union in 2011, think again.

  7. Social media is like your cell. The coolest phone doesn’t create worthwhile conversations. But, used correctly it can amplify your efforts, make reaching out inexpensive and help you enge with people you normally wouldn’t.

    I agree with Rob, we are starting to see a good use of the “equipment” of social media. We have a blog at the League where we organize information for our members on a wide variety of political topics. The NAFCU Compliance blog is very helpful (we read it too!), and tweets to our tweetheads have generated political action on interchange.

    Overall I think social media starts ideas and collaberations, but can rarely finish them, given the limitations of the medium. But in our industry, getting them started is not so shabby. The magic is finding people who do commit to finishing.

  8. Discussions such as this are productive for me. I started CUTweetTrack a year ago because I “just wanted to be there”. I still feel that way. Early on, many were rushing to quantify social media and that still exists today. I believe that it’s still too early.

    At the very least, it has provided a conduit to people in the industry I would have never reached any other way. At the most, well, I believe that is still “to be determined”. And as they say…that’s OK! I came from a traditional media background where it took decades for mediums to establish models…and access was limited to a very few. We’re still so early into this, so I’m willing to “just be there” and hopefully be a small part of where it all settles out.

    BTW…agree totally with your take (Robbie) on Sarah’s efforts. Keep trying, Sarah! 🙂

  9. Social media has been part of the credit union marketing zeitgeist for the last 4-5 years, and yet how many successful case studies can you list? A dozen…?…If you’re lucky…?

    As both Robbie and Tim have suggested, if you want to get your name in the trade media and further your career, social media is THE way to go. But if you want to increase things like net members, loans, products-per-household, wallet share, ROA, etc., I suggest you try something else. In the mean time, don’t expect your credit union CEO to start handing out bonuses for “deepening member engagement” just because you’ve accrued 362 “fans” on Facebook (100 of which are insiders reading this blog).

  10. Robbie, I’ve read your article a few times and I am not sure what your conclusion is. What does someone or something spending time in social media have to do with whether or not they would be invited on the CU Ark or whether or not they are capable of innovating and executing? Can someone not tweet and start a CUSO? Or update their LinkedIn profile and find a better checking product? Or leave a comment on this blog and also get their work done? I just don’t see the correlation.

    Are you suggesting that communicating through social media for credit union professionals is a waste of time and that they should stop? Or are you saying that monitoring social media for credit union brand mentions and opportunities is a waste of time? Or that adding social media to your credit union’s marketing mix is a waste of time? Or all of the above?

    In all cases, I could not disagree more.

    I typically agree with all of your posts, but find myself completely on the other side on this one. I’d hate to think that you’ve come these conclusions after blogging for four years. 🙂 Happy blog anniversary BTW.

  11. @Tim – Everything you just mentioned about social media, I believe, are perfectly good uses for it. All brands should monitor themselves in social media as we all should continue to network using these social media tools. Social media has the ability to fundamentally change how we do business. However, most of the current uses for social media just don’t seem to be that important. Sure, Obama has a Twitter account, but you know he doesn’t actually do it. Could he poll his constituents on Twitter to get their feeling on Israel stopping ships in the Mediterranean to help him decide how to posture? Absolutely. Would he? Doubtful.

    Eventually, social media will mature and major business and societal changes will come from it. I’m just anxious for that to happen. Credit union Christmas commercials get major cover in social media. I’m ready for some of Sarah’s posts to get major coverage in social media. I’m ready for the conversation to mature and I wanted to challenge others, not too see social media has strictly a marketing too, but also has a tool to get yourself on the Ark.

  12. …”most of the current uses for social media just don’t seem to be that important.”

    Most of the current uses for many things don’t seem to be that important. I’m not sure what your point is. “Importance” is highly subjective.

    Also, what does “major coverage in social media” mean for Sarah’s posts? She writes for the CU Times’ blog…one of the most popular sites in credit union land. Her posts have been covered/carried by CUInsight, The Financial Brand, CU Water Cooler, RadioFree CU, CU Chat Up, and others in the past few months alone. That may not mean much to you, but at this point that’s the best we’ve got.

    It has been clear for years that creating quality social media content doesn’t guarantee traffic/conversation. For evidence, check out the number of comments at terrific providers like CUES Skybox, Current Issues in Credit Unions, and the Filene blog. It’s a shame, but it’s reality. If there’s content that you or anyone else is craving, you have a forum. You have plenty of them. Just as quiet content consumption discourages provider creativity, finger-pointing about absent readers/content is equally unproductive. As Ghandi said, you must be the change you want to see in the world.

    Also #2: Your paragraph:
    “I’ll bet we could fill an airplane with all the people in the credit union social media space. Literally. What would happen if that plane went down? Nothing. That’s right, nothing. Now imagine filling that plane with the CEO’s of the credit union leagues, trade associations, CUSO’s, and credit unions. We would have a catastrophe. Innovation would be ground to a halt. The real partnerships and collaborations that were happening, albeit on a small scale, would cease.”
    is absolute bullshit. No one is worthless. And no one is irreplaceable.

  13. Well something is happening. The marketing director of another CU called my boss to complain that we are two negative about them on twitter. It was enough to concern a 2 billion dollar cu.

    However your post is kind of a wakeup call that as great of a communication tool this is we haven’t found out how to use this for true proven success. I have had a few great successes with it but nothing consistent.

  14. Although Matt uses CIiCU as an example of low numbers, it illustrates my point on expectations management. To me, the 1589 people we reached in May isa fantastic result. Where else can I have a conversation about compliance and credit union law in front of almost 1600 in the movement? It’s spectacular and the reason we’ve been doing it for 4 years.

  15. @ Matt I agree, importance can be highly subjective. And a more appropriate phrase for me to use instead of “major coverage in social media” is engagement. The more comments I see on a post/story/editorial, the more meaningful the post is to people which I then equated to major coverage. More conversation = more coverage.

    To your Ghandi quote, I totally agree. I want to see radical change in the industry that will help us survive. I think a good amount of the content in the CU blogosphere doesn’t meet that requirement. And that’s fine. To each their own. I think we all agree Sarah’s posts are great. I wish they would generate more conversation on the CU Times site. You are also right on target CLiCU. It isn’t sexy or fun, (most lawyers aren’t, sorry Rob) but it serves it niche very well. 1500 people might not be alot of traffic to some, but Rob is filling that niche very well. And Rob’s group has the opportunity to be involved in fundamental change in the industry.

    Words can’t describe the strife created if you or I weren’t around anymore for our children or wives. We are absolutely not replaceable to them. However, are we having a huge impact on the CU industry? If the cheesy and old “Who’s Who” for credit unions was around, who’d be on it? Who’d be those 250 on the proverbial plane? You and I wouldn’t be on there, although we might be eventually. People like Ed Filene, Dick Ensweiler, and Dan Mica would be. I want to see more people use social media to create for themselves opportunities to get on that “plane” and leave a lasting impression on the industry.

  16. @Robbie

    After the week I just had, I have no desire whatsoever to be on another plane. Although it often is, influence is not always earned. Sometimes it just happens. Dan Mica didn’t know the first damn thing about credit unions when he became the CEO of CUNA. He had a skill set that the organization needed, and filled his role beautifully.

    By the end of this decade, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim McAlpine’s initiatives have added 500,000 new members to credit unions. If he’s not on the plane, the plane is meaningless.

    There’s not a harder working professional in or around credit unions than Rob Rutkowski. He helps countless people, and then blesses us with his podcast/blog. Does that put him on your plane? Who cares if it does or it doesn’t?

    My impact on credit unions has not, will not, and should not be judged by my blog or social media activities. Frankly, most of my participation in the online conversation is made in spare time I increasingly don’t have. That said, I could not possibly work harder for, be more focused on, and be more constructively critical of credit unions.

    I don’t do any of this to get a seat on a plane.

  17. What are you guys arguing about? Robbie wants more comments on blog posts. Matt likes Young & Free. Both of you agree that there are good examples of social media in the financial B2B space. No one wants a seat on Robbie’s metaphorical plane, which would create emotional strife for many if it crashed…

  18. Here’s my unsolicited 5 cents. (Inflation.)

    I really don’t know what is so special about social media. It is nothing more than talking, albeit via new technologies that allows you to speak with a boatload (no airplane references here, thank you very much) of people all at one time.

    The NAFCU Compliance blog now has 2,200 subscribers who read it each day. Is that a lot? I don’t know, and I really am not all that caught up with the numbers. But it works for us. Since we’ve started the blog, our direct phone calls from members have actually increased. (Then again, the Federal Reserve’s 27 new regulations may have had something to do with that.) People use the blog to stay on top of issues. But when they did down into the details, they’ll often need to contact us to clarify a finer point.

    But back to my point. Social media is nothing more than a conversation. I’ve met many a person at a cocktail party who really liked to converse. But they were terrible. Which drove me to drink, which was OK, as I was at a cocktail party. But to be successful, you have to converse in a way that other people will like. A good conversation is a two-way street. But with social media, it is more of a 10,000 way street.

    With that in mind, here are a few simple rules we use at the NAFCU Compliance Blog.

    1. Know your audience For us, it is the compliance officer, or someone who has to keep abreast of compliance issues.
    2. Give them what they need. For us, that’s easy – compliance information.
    3. Don’t waste their time. We always blog on something related to compliance. I may talk about my twins, or a trip I’m planning. But that is always secondary to some compliance-related nugget. If you mix in too many topics, or try to cover everything, you’ll lose focus – and the usefulness of the blog/message will falter.
    4. Make it as entertaining as possible.
    5. Be consistent. If you want to grow the audience, you have to consistently deliver.

    For credit unions, I would think the same rules would apply. They’d just find different answers. And there’s the rub. What information should a credit union blog/twitter feed deliver? Who is their audience? (Sure, their members – but there are a score of subsets.) And what information can they deliver that cannot be found somewhere else? Those aren’t easy questions to answer. But when you do find the answers, you’ll do well – regardless of the numbers.

    (Personally, I’ve thought about this a ton. If I were a credit union, I’d run a daily blog/twitter feed of sound financial tips. There’d be a new tip. Every. Single. Day. I’d also include information about upcoming credit union meetings, area events, etc. But the driving force would be a steady stream of tips to help people manage their finances. You do that for a few years, and you’d make a difference. And people would look to your credit union as a trusted source of financial information who is there to help.)

    OK, that’s enough rambling for today. Carry on!

  19. congrats on the consulting evolution blogger. last time I stopped by you were “life of a cu employee”.
    Anyway, here is a social media story;

    Yesterday I was sitting in starbucks and met another musician. He had an iPhone and a laptop with him. We got talking about various bands we like and used the technology to listen to each others reccomondations at the same time.

    Afterwards we connected on facebook and myspace. Now that’s social media!

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