When social media first arrived on the scene in the 2000s, experts touted how credit unions absolutely, positively needed a presence in these new channels. But once on board, many institutions — particularly those looking to directly glean a traditionally defined ROI from these interactions — were left scratching their heads and asking, “What now?”
Interra Credit Union ($692M, Goshen, IN) and BECU ($12.6B, Seattle, WA) have little in common. Aside from the great difference in their asset and membership size, Interra also serves a mix of urban and rural areas and demographics, including members of the local Amish community, while BECU started out as a credit union for Boeing workers and continues to serve a predominantly high-tech-oriented membership today.
Yet with roughly a decade of combined social media experience between them — running the gamut of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Yelp — these two top-performing financial institutions do share an understanding of how to get the best value from low-cost social channels.
“Our staff really had to develop and present a business case to our leadership before they were able to implement any social media,” says Karen Steffensen, chief marketing officer at Interra. “For us, having that foundation and our desired outcomes set in advance has been key.”
At BECU, where social media has been a learning process, the ultimate goal of these interactions is to build a sense of community online and connect that group to the credit union’s actual community offline.
“Our initial social strategy was built on four pillars: listen, learn, interact, and share,” says Tom Berquist, the credit union’s senior vice president of member strategies. “The first step was to start listening to what members and consumers were saying about BECU, and we did this by subscribing to a listening platform from Radian6. Then, based on what we learned, we determined how and when we should interact with them. The last step was focusing on how to more proactively share our brand through our social sites”
Below, we profile several nontraditional activities that these two institutions have successfully deployed to mine extra value out of each and every log-in, like, follow, comment, and retweet, as well as highlight some additional, untapped opportunities available to credit unions within the social media pantheon.
A Face For The Brand
If you do a quick search for Interra’s Facebook page, you’ll probably find another account simply labeled Collete at Interra. This informal page run by Collette Troyer, a marketing specialist at the credit union, successfully blurs the lines between Interra the brand and the people behind it.
“When we started with Facebook, we knew we needed someone who really used it themselves and understood what the voice and engagement of that channel was,” says Steffensen. “But the next step for us was really having someone who could take ownership of that.”
In some ways, Troyer acts as a content aggregator, pulling information from both internal and external sources and filtering it through the context of what a social media user would find helpful.
As a result, these interactions come across as more authentic, and consequently more effective, than if the credit union was merely trying to promote its own products and services through an official spokesperson.
“I’ll take any interesting posts that I think the friends of Collete at Interra would like to see, such as budgeting best practices, and put my own spin on it,” Troyer says. “Other times, I may just be sending people messages wishing them a happy birthday. The account is always morphing into something new based on what people are interested in and responding to.”
Promotions On A Budget
While they often go unused by financial institutions, third-party social media applications can create a wealth of new efficiencies, engagement opportunities, and business purposes within these channels.
“We use a local provider to create tabs on Facebook for our newsletters, alerts, special promotions, seminars, webinars, and anything else we want to promote,” Troyer says. This format allows users to easily like, share, or even transfer content among many different social media venues.
One of the main ways Interra itself deploys this enhanced interactivity is through its monthly social media contests.
“We can set these up in different ways, so that a person has to like our page to enroll in the contest or they get additional entries for each friend they share it with,” Troyer explains.
For example, last Easter, the credit union bought a $50 candy basket, took a picture of it on Instagram, linked it through Facebook, and tied it to a quiz asking how many people only eat the ears off of their chocolate rabbits. In all, the campaign reached roughly 7,800 people and generated around 345 entries and 40 likes.
Both Interra and BECU have also successfully deployed promotions that allowed members to upload photos of outdated or messy portions of their homes on sites like Instagram or Pinterest and win money to makeover that property, which helps to educate and create a buzz about the credit unions’ respective HELOC products.
“For our contest, you had to be a member to enter, but anyone could cast a vote,” Steffensen says. “That allowed us to successfully get in front of people who had never really heard of us before.”
A generation ago a member’s first instinct would have been to dial the call center or visit a branch to resolve an issue, but today’s members are more likely to make a beeline to their favorite online community in order to vent.
“If someone does post a critique or something negative but it’s not offensive, we leave it up because that’s an important part of maintaining the authenticity of our channels,” Steffensen says.
At the same time, these critiques also give the credit union a viable, visible opportunity to address and correct negative impressions, which might have festered in a less accessible channel if the problem wasn’t resolved.
One of the first investments BECU made in its social media efforts was a listening tool that constantly tracks any mention of the credit union across multiple sites.
“Social members tend to be engaged with the credit union, so there’s often a service response element involved in their post,” Berquist says. “For localized issues, we’ve developed processes to quickly respond to these folks with the right answer or, if needed, divert them off of the social channel to a contact center or branch."
For example, if a member has a problem with an account, BECU migrates that discussion to avoid the risk of the member posting sensitive information online.
When a scenario is more widespread, social media offers another environment outside of BECU’s own website to acknowledge the issue and show how the credit union is actively addressing it.
At Interra, social media staff members receive a small stipend to monitor these channels and follow up on comments, particularly after business hours and on weekends.
Sometimes, these members may not even have a problem but just want to get information in a more convenient way than visiting a branch or contacting a call center.
“People will frequently contact me though Facebook or Twitter messaging just to ask questions about Interra or get pointed in the right direction for their needs,” Troyer says.
The same third-party features that allow for votes and surveys in online contests can also be deployed by credit unions as a critical intelligence-gathering tool.
From surveys on what products or services you could improve or introduce to general crowdsourcing, social channels can allow direct access to public and member sentiments and ensure more democratic access for members in everyday decision making.
“We have a program called the People Helping People Awards where we give out around $100,000 worth of grants, and we use Facebook comments to allow members to nominate nonprofits and determine where that money should go,” Berquist says.
BECU also tries to present content that encourages discussions and gets people talking about their particular needs. From those conversations, the credit union is often able to respond with custom offers based on what members indicated they needed. Those offers typically receive a much higher acceptance rate than other traditionally marketed ones.
At times, social commentary at BECU has driven particular infrastructure investments, such as adding its own or a partner’s ATMs at the credit union’s self-service locations to make access more convenient.
Segmentation and specificity are the keys to making these social dialogues actionable, Berquist advises. For example, each of BECU’s branches currently has its own dedicated Yelp page, which allows the credit union to separate issues and opportunities in a more localized, actionable way.
Perhaps one of the most valuable resources that a credit union can acquire from social media is its next key employee or institutional leader.
According to the 2012 Social Job Seeker Survey from Jobvite, 76% of employees and a whopping 92% of employers reported using social media to find their next job or new hire.
LinkedIn was rated the most valuable channel, as it was used by 93% of companies with an 89% success rate. However, roughly two thirds of companies reported using Facebook (with a 25% success rate), and more than half have used Twitter (with a 15% success rate).
“Sought-after, higher skilled, and educated professionals are becoming much more passive in their career management," said Dan Finnigan, the CEO of Jobvite, in a press release about these findings. "As a result, recruiters are finding that the talent they seek isn’t where it used to be."
And it’s not just employees who are migrating to social channels to uncover new opportunities. Consumers also rely heavily on reviews and the commentary of others when selecting their financial institution.
“At Interra, we plan to offer online account opening by the end of the year and this will create an easy, natural next step for those people who find us through social channels,” Steffensen says.
Genuine Testimonials For Ad Campaigns
BECU has used members in its advertisements since 2007, but last year it began asking individuals who had posted positive comments on social channels if it could use those comments for some of its advertising campaigns.
“BECU has always been fortunate enough to see mostly positive comments, both on our sites and third-party sites such as Yelp,” Berquist says. “So we were trying to figure out how we might better leverage that commentary and combine this new media with our traditional advertising.”
By piecing together clips of people sharing their genuine thoughts about the credit union, BECU created a candid view of the co-op, avoiding the canned feel of more traditional testimonials.
“There was no script, just their original comments made on those social networks, but we found that once they started talking about BECU, they just kept going, and it created a whole additional layer of content that we weren’t expecting but proved valuable,” Berquist says.
This approach not only reduced some of the ads’ production costs but also helped motivate nonmember-facing employees by demonstrating that these success stories do exist and that the staff’s daily efforts really matter.
“These comments are something our employees can actually see rather than just read about in a report,” Berquist says.