Talk Is Cheap, But Social Media Is Never Free

With the right strategy, social channels are capable of generating tangible returns worthy of the extra investment.


These days, it’s almost unheard of for cooperatives to not have some type of social media presence. According to a 2013 CUNA Mutual whitepaper, roughly 94% of credit unions surveyed are currently on Facebook. More than half, 58%, use Twitter, while 40% and 36% use YouTube and LinkedIn, respectively. But how many credit unions have a strategic course for these channels? How many are earning measurable, worthwhile returns from their efforts?

The hard truth is that, although social channels themselves are free, the expertise, training, and supporting software necessary to make them effective and efficient is not. Employee time alone is a major yet often overlooked factor that can significantly skew ROI calculations. According to the 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 62% of in-house marketers commit more than six hours per week to social media efforts, 36% spend more than 11 hours, and 17% spend more than half of their 40-hour work week on social media.

It is possible to create an ROI strong enough to justify this level of investment of employee time and member money, but doing so requires thinking a little differently from your peers and competitors.

#1 — Don’t Give Up On Generating Loan Leads

Engagement and brand awareness are crucial components in many social campaigns; however, there’s no spot on the balance sheet that’s 100% attributable to either. For this reason, generating measurable leads and tracking sales back to specific campaigns is an important part of the evolving social media landscape.

No one is saying that selling through social media is easy. In fact, data from those who have tried suggests just the opposite. In a 2011 survey from the Pivot Conference — a two-day gathering of companies who have successfully harnessed social, mobile, and digital platforms — 100% of respondents listed increasing sales as their main goal with social media. By 2013, just 58% of respondents listed that as a priority.

Part of this challenge is channel specific; some sites are more inclined to ecommerce and sales activity than others. For example, in February, beauty products company Sephora told the online tech pub Venture Beat that its Pinterest followers spend 15 times more with the company than its Facebook fans. But even on sales-friendly channels companies must create natural online transitions so social users can easily take that next step.

Some credit unions have achieved success using third-party applications — including gamified savings or budgeting platforms and loan rate calculators — as a way to capture user attention and drive new business from the social site to the advertising institution.  Other credit unions are looking at ways to skip that step altogether and do business within the social site itself.

#2 — Go Straight To The Source

Element Federal Credit Union ($27.0M, Charleston, WV) devotes 70% of its budget to remote channels — and with good reason. Roughly 50% of the loan applications Element receives are driven from either remote channels or online-linked Go Kiosks in its branches.

In the past, social media has been an important tool for attracting new membership. However, Element CEO/Chief Innovator Linda Bodie is also interested in exploring more diverse uses for these channels. Last month, the credit union unveiled a self-developed Facebook app that allows users to make check deposits and process applications for membership or a loan without leaving the site.

“No data is collected by Facebook and all interactions are processed via SSL encrypted sites,” Bodie says.

Relying on her own web development talent and the services of a third-party forms provider, Bodie built and integrated this app in just one weekend.

Although still in the soft rollout phase, the credit union has already generated a multitude of “likes,” four membership applications, three loan applications, and eight deposits — all without any promotion from the credit union. The only downside is the credit union does not yet have a way to display these options on Facebook’s mobile and tablet app, which limits its audience to web browser users only.

“We have to be where the people are, providing the services they want and using the architectures they prefer,” Bodie says. “We also have to be aware of what’s coming around the corner.”

#3 —Integrate Social Media Into Your Larger Ad Strategy

Whenever someone visits the website of SPIRE Federal Credit Union ($596.7M, Falcon Heights, MN), the cooperative places a cookie on their computer, which triggers ads whenever that visitor searches the web for financial terms such as “auto loan.”

Commonly known by marketers as retargeting, this campaign has driven, roughly, a 6% increase in click-throughs on SPIRE ads, says Sama Sandy, SPIRE’s digital marketing specialist. Now joining the ranks of search engines, Twitter and Facebook also have their own retargeting programs for their user base. According to an infographic from MDG Advertising, ads that appear on Facebook users’ feeds are particularly coveted, as they typically generate click-through rates that are 21% higher than traditional web retargeting campaigns.

Element currently advertises directly through Facebook, which in addition to direct retargeting gives advertisers the option to target users in a custom demographic such as region, age range, or gender.

“It’s cost effective because you can set your budget, see an estimate of how many people you’re going to reach, and run the campaign for however long you want,” Bodie says. “It’s been interesting to see who has responded, and it is definitely something we will continue to use in the future.”

#4 – Make Social Information Work For You

In addition to promoting new products and services and generating sales, social media can be a resource for informed loan decisioning. According to CNN, online lenders are already combining readily available online data with their own proprietary information to gain new insight into a borrower’s financial stability.These companies look at online payment accounts such as PayPal and eBay as well as the borrowing history of friends, family, and associates on social media to help make their credit decisions.

Kabbage, an Atlanta-based lender that targets small to mid-sized businesses, has found that borrowers who can provide links to their company Twitter or Facebook pages are 20% less likely to end up delinquent on their loans.

Marc Gorlin, Kabbage's chairman and co-founder, told CNN, "Someone who's paying attention to Facebook and Twitter channels to deal with customer service is more likely to be on top of other parts of their business, too, like inventory and shipments."

These tools might still be too green for credit unions to use today, but they are a significant indicator of where social analytics are heading in the future.




Sept. 9, 2013


  • Relevant but as the author states green unburnished tools can snag . . . ABW, jlt
    john l. tooze