Building Local Communities to Build Stronger Memberships
A credit union could use the capabilities of Web 2.0 to better connect with their local
communities, find persons who share the credit union’s values and thus build its presence among potential members. But would discussion groups foster counterproductive complaints against the credit union?
In just the last decade the Internet has dramatically expanded our definition of “community.” Before the Internet, our sense of community used to be almost exclusively about our local affiliations - neighborhoods, schools, places of work and worship, local politics, sports teams, and clubs as just a few examples. Credit unions were founded around these community groups based on a focused understanding and identification of their unique needs.
While the Internet has achieved the remarket feat of bringing together global communities of people with similar interests, it has only been mildly successful at enabling local communities to engage with themselves. So, for example, while we can now easily find and communicate with hundreds of Siberian Husky owners across the world, we still stumble when it comes to using the Internet to easily discover and discuss the needs of the local community.
A Local Community Web Opportunity for Credit Unions?
Credit unions are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap that currently exists in local web communities and more clearly differentiate the credit union’s identity in the broader financial marketplace. The concept is relatively simple and based on Web 2.0 community principles: provide a website facilitation platform where the community (both current and potential members) can communicate with itself about the needs and opportunities that matter specifically to them.
In concept, these platforms can be structured as 21st century bulletin boards and contain community blogs, classifieds, discussion forums, events calendars, and more. Each credit union’s membership, either SEG-based or broader community, is likely to have specific issues of particular relevance to them that are more unique in the broader environment.
Simply providing the platform extends the credit union’s presence within the community in a similar way that a local restaurant may choose to cater a political event for free, or a radio station sponsorship of a live concert, or bookstore market signings for local authors. The big difference is that this now happens in virtual communities where participation is open and highly convenient. Credit unions should take this into consideration as they look for innovative ways to leverage the Internet in their website strategy and design.
VanCity Credit Union in Canada is experimenting with this strategy. They launched ChangeEverything.ca in July 2006 as an online community where community members can find information, tools and connections to inspire and support change in their own lives, their communities, and the world. It was envisioned as a way to engage their members and prospects, not by selling product but by aligning the credit union with values that the members also appreciate. Over the last year, the site has attracted over 1,000 registered users and over 2,000 user-generated comments and posts.