Challenging the Credit Union Social Media Status Quo

When was the last time you followed a credit union on social media? What about your credit union?

If you’re not a member of Navy Federal Credit Union (Navy Federal), then I’m guessing your answer was probably something along the lines of, “Uhhh…” Well, fear not—you’re not alone. This (not really) just in: credit unions are just not that fun to follow on social media…yet. Yet is the key word here, because today’s credit union social media status quo does not have to dictate its future!

Image of people raising mobile phones with financial services social media

The watered down, textbook social media posts of today will give way if credit union marketers can set aside their expertise in traditional marketing to recognize the opportunity presented by this informal medium. Social media is structured to help businesses, like credit unions, create relationships and cultivate trust among existing members. In return, this community becomes an embodiment of the brand; it serves as a living example of why people should trust their finances to a member-owned institution in the first place: personalized, community-oriented service.

This all begs the question, what is Navy Federal doing right to give it such an expansive reach on social media? For starters, according to its Facebook for Business case study, it is the largest credit union in the world, with $50 billion in assets, over 4,000,000 members, 227 branches and over 10,000 employees. That, in itself, is a leg up on the brand awareness front. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee social media success. Its 1,000,000+ Facebook fan base had to start somewhere. For Navy Federal, it was straightforward; its strategy was to simply “honor its members.” Think about that word for a second: “honor.” It’s profound. When you reflect on “honor,” do you think of an animated salesperson, spouting off offers that you “just gotta have!?” Do you think of empty holiday greetings, like “Happy National Leg Warmer Day!?” Or what about self-promotional language, like, “We love us! Check out this article about us in this fancy financial publication to learn how great we are!” Do these examples embody honor? I’m with you: no way.

In Navy Federal’s Facebook for Business case study, “honoring its members” was interpreted quite literally. It challenged its fans to submit a video to a Facebook app with their story of how Navy Federal was there for them, like this entry (and eventual winner) below:


Video Challenge Winner
We’re proud to share one of the “Why I Love Navy Federal” Video Challenge winners!

Posted by Navy Federal Credit Union on Thursday, September 27, 2012

Winners were selected by member votes. At the same time, Navy Federal also took advantage of Facebook’s advertising offerings, running a one-week campaign that featured special product offers to new and existing members. Not only were 45,000 video votes tallied, but the Facebook ad efforts led to 25 times the average conversion rate to the Navy Federal website for the one-week specials advertised.

And that, re:group blog friends, is what I like to call a beautiful balance. Yes, Navy Federal did run ads, but they did so strategically. By incorporating the ad campaign as a tactic within the “Tell Your Story” campaign, they reinforced their commitment to community and to content that serves and honors their membership. Social media is a fickle creature; there is room for self-promotion…but only after you’ve earned it. You could argue here that people follow or like businesses on social media only to participate in a contest or to redeem an offer and then hit the “unfollow” button, but many, many more commit to the long haul. They have opted in to occasionally dedicate part of their News Feed, Twitter stream or Snapchat Stories to your content. That’s not a responsibility to take lightly. Because the opt-out is a whole lot easier for a social user than the work it takes to convince them to opt in, as a credit union, you’re always auditioning for member or prospective member approval. As such, content and campaigns should be conceptualized and created to serve members first and you second. It’s like a successful first date—you’ve got to earn the right to talk about yourself.

In a June 2014 survey of 80 credit union marketers and business development professionals by Third Degree, it was revealed that the most common type of content credit unions share is general brand awareness (80%), credit union news and updates (74%), tips and information (73%) and product/service promotions and offers (70%). I don’t know about you, but when I think of riveting content, these categories don’t necessarily top my list.

Contrastingly, organizations like the Navy Federal and Oklahoma’s Tinker Federal Credit Union (TFCU) are taking creative risks to connect with their targets. TFCU’s “Buck the Norm” program began as a blog, but migrated into one operated across social networks like Facebook and Instagram to connect with Millennials experiencing financial milestones for the first time. Copy, though often containing financial education, is written for Millennial eyes; it takes on a much more casual voice, often including popular phrases, colloquialisms and even emojis that you don’t often see from financial institutions. It’s packed with interactivity: like scholarship contests; photos of real Millennials at real events hosted by TFCU; and actionable financial tips for those navigating their first foray into financial independence.

There’s a reason I was able to find these two credit unions when searching for credit union social media success stories online. When looking at your credit union’s social media presence, how do you compare?


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