APCO Employees Credit Union is a $2.4 billion financial cooperative headquartered in Birmingham, AL. The Southern credit union with a closed field of membership primarily serves employees of Alabama Power Company, although its 67,000 members also represent a variety of smaller select employee groups. At midyear, its 12-month member growth fell between its state and asset-based peers’ growth — 3.19% versus 2.85% and 4.40% — however, its market penetration was notably higher. APCO Employees reached 55.82% of its possible membership as of June 30 versus 7.12% for Alabama credit unions and 8.29% for credit unions with $1 billion or more in assets, according to Search & Analyze data on CreditUnions.com. What’s more, those members hold higher balances in their accounts. The average member relationship at APCO Employees was $39,425 at midyear versus $4,190 for Alabama credit unions and $7,958 for asset-based peers.
The credit union reaches and courts members in a variety of ways, including through its wholly owned CUSO, APCO CUSO, Inc. Here, Don Manuel, president and CEO of APCO CUSO, and Dennis Washington, APCO’s social media consultant, discuss how the credit union connects with members today and the collaborative social media opportunity they see on the horizon.
Is there a social media opportunity on the horizon for APCO’s CUSO?
Don Manuel: Yes, the line of business we started most recently is a division for our social media efforts. In the past, the credit union was not up to speed in that area and we didn’t have the right expertise in-house, so we outsourced it. The gentleman we brought on, Dennis Washington, has an expanded role now and has been able to take our social media efforts to another level. In a matter of six months, our Facebook likes have quadrupled and we’ve been able to improve online communications with our members. Dennis works for the CUSO and currently handles all of APCO Employees Credit Union’s social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, and our new Blog, APCO news. Our goal is to offer this service to other credit unions.
APCO Employees Credit Union Twitter Page
How long has the CUSO been involved in social media?
DM: We started in the summer of 2012, so we are at the one year mark. We are definitely still learning. It is an area you have to be on top of on a daily basis. Members ask questions and we have to answer them. It takes an expert to do that and coordinate [the other channels].
How did you decide which sites APCO should have a presence on?
Dennis Washington: Some of the larger social media sites like Facebook were pretty obvious to us because of the amount of traffic that is already there. We also thought Twitter had a lot of potential. Those are the primary two we use; however, we’re constantly evaluating other channels. Every platform has a different audience so we typically evaluate each to see if there is a fit with our target market. For example, YouTube is a channel that is not always considered a social media platform. We use it and consider it part of our social media strategy because of the ability for members to comment and interact with us.
APCO Employees Credit Union YouTube Page
How important is the blog in your social media efforts?
DW: From my perspective, the blog is the hub of everything else we do. I’ve used the analogy of a wheel many times with staff. The hub is our blog and our website and everything else we do — Facebook activity, email marketing — branches out like the spokes of the wheel. Every method we use to reach people has the same goal of driving traffic back to our blog and website to engage members digitally.
Does APCO provide financial education on social media?
DM: Yes. We have a lot of people at the credit union who are experts in different areas, and we asked them to write news content and share their expertise. We were pleasantly surprised at how many people stepped forward to write articles for APCO. We’ve centralized the management with Dennis, but this gives the employee a sense of contributing, and the members have been reading and responding. We give credit to the employee that writes the article and provide contact information so the member can contact that person directly with questions.
Are there any limitations to how many credit unions one person can support on social media?
DM: With technology the way it is, I think the CUSO could support dozens [of credit unions]. I don’t see a cap on it. Our focus, like many credit unions, is educational. This makes it easier to develop financial news and information that is important to all members while still making it distinct to that credit union. Dennis can customize things for each credit union efficiently.
Do you use any type of management system to help manage multiple social media sites?
DW: Yes, I have started using a service called BufferApp.com, which is basically a way to queue the posts. It is a fantastic service we have been using to schedule posts in advance when there is a lot of new information to release. However, I try to keep the responses as manual as possible so we can have true conversations with our members. Social media is most effective when it’s being used as a conversation tool — we don’t want to automate too much and be seen as robotic.
How closely do you work with the marketing department to coordinate what it is doing with your social media efforts?
DW: I work closely with the marketing department. In fact, there is nothing I do that does not go through the marketing department first. APCO has a full-time marketing coordinator and a team from various parts of the credit union that work together as the core marketing group. We have regular meetings to discuss upcoming projects, brainstorm, and ensure we are communicating well with our members.
Why do you think so many credit unions find social media challenging
DM: A lot of credit unions can’t afford to outsource social media. They might have someone in-house handling it that lets it go for weeks with no comments. Even though many credit unions can’t or won’t pay a lot for it, there is still a definite need.
Are there any lessons learned you’d share with other credit unions?
DW: The biggest lesson learned for me is that you cannot rest on your success — you have to constantly evaluate new platforms and decide if those will help your members. You also have to look at where your members are and make sure you are engaging with them. It is easy to think you have a good website and are covered, but that isn’t enough anymore. Communication, both internal and external, is also critical. We make sure employees are informed of events and promotions before we notify members via social media or any other channels. We also work closely with the call center so we know what questions members are asking and, if appropriate, we address those on social media.