When asked how cooperatives can differentiate in increasingly competitive markets, Robynn Shrader, CEO of the National Cooperative Grocers said “We are competing against big multinationals that enjoy strength and clout. But the cooperative model has the advantage of fostering connectivity with owners and customers.”
Fostering connectivity with owners and customers is the key point here. Some businesses are fearful of negative reactions and uncomfortable with the control held by a well-connected and enabled audience. It’s understandable given the number of companies that have experienced an #epicfail in this era of consumer empowerment.
But a cooperative’s ability to connect on values and encourage involvement and engagement between the individual and the organization is an advantage, and when navigated correctly, can lead to beneficial and positive outcomes for all.
Building a culture of engagement
Not only is “democratic member control” one of the 7 cooperative principles by which credit unions are structured, there is also strong desire among the general public today for two-way communication and the ability to influence change where we live, work and spend our money.
In a Google-led study, 2,458 recent purchasers of products were surveyed. They found that “consumers choose the brands that engage them on their passions and interests 42% more often than they do those that simply urge them to buy the product being advertised. As a result, their path to purchase is actually their path to purpose.”
A consumer survey from Cooperatives for a Better World found that once consumers understand what a cooperative business is, they are 78% more likely to choose a cooperative over a conventional option.
One thing credit unions can do to capitalize on these themes and build a stronger base of connected and engaged owners is to give them a space where they can engage with the brand and know their voices will be heard.
Remaining open and accessible to all voices helps members feel they will be heard no matter what they say. Often, people just want to know they have been heard. If your credit union effectively listens to what members want, and because of that, is able to solve their problems, AND provides a space for them to tell others about their experience (and why they’ve chosen you over the competition), you’ve just created a powerful brand ambassador.
Your members ARE using social media
There are many ways a credit union can engage with members and potential members, but the most far-reaching, inclusive, effective way is through social media.
These usage stats paint a clear picture:
- 3 billion people on the planet use social media, including 65% of U.S adults.
- 90% of 18-29 year-olds and 35% of those 65 and older report using social media.
- 56% of those living in the lowest-income households use social media.
- On average, users spend 2 hours per day on social media.
A tiered approach to better engagement
To maximize use of social media as an engagement tool, your credit union should build up engagement with a strategic and planned approach:
- Passive Engagement: This is where you listen to your audience. Take time to learn their culture, needs, and wants. Search for gaps and think about strategies to provide what is wanted and needed by this group.
- Active Engagement: Once you’ve done due diligence listening and learning, and you understand your audiences’ circumstances and culture, you can and should tell your own story. This is where your credit union’s values and purpose come through clear and strong.
- Collective Engagement: Through cooperation and group discussion, you’ll be able to make your services better for those who use and need them and provide a space for owners to talk to the organization, for the organization to respond to owners and for owners to connect and discuss among themselves.
Where there’s risk, there’s also solution
Credit unions that have heartburn over what may happen when members talk about your brand on social media; or what will happen when staff speak on behalf of the organization on social media; or what happens when mistakes are made and people are upset…are normal. These are legitimate concerns and it’s wise to flag these risks as such. However, gone are the days when one could simply evade these risks by avoiding social media altogether. Any of these can still happen even if you ignore it, because 2.3 billion people are currently NOT ignoring social media today.
That said, there are simple and feasible solutions for each of these risks. For starters, every credit union should have:
- Social Media Response Escalation Plans
- Social Media Policies and Rules of Engagement
- Staff Training and Education
- Social Media and Brand Ambassador Strategies
Survival is the ultimate value of engagement
Cooperatives can tap into their unique ability to connect with members by providing an environment where all voices are heard. While that can happen on any channel, your best bet is to go where your audience already is–and that’s social media. By listening, telling the story of what your organization stands for, and encouraging engagement that leads to better solutions for members’ problems, your credit union has a true differentiator that will sustain it through troubled waters–be it competition, regulation or whatever else may come tomorrow.