This article is the third in a three-part series in which I am focusing on the use of social media as a tactic to help credit unions achieve three overarching goals common to all credit unions: service, growth, and education. In part one I focused on service (that piece can be found here: http://www.cuinsight.com/social-media-is-not-a-goal-part-1.html). In part two I focused on growth (found here: http://www.cuinsight.com/social-media-is-not-a-goal-part-2.html) In this article I will cover the use of social media to deliver relevant educational content to members.
First, let’s begin with a basic definition of Education, which is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction.” Member education–providing instruction to members–has long been an important component of effective member/credit union relationships. Consumers have historically found credit unions to be sources of helpful, unbiased education about how financial products and services work. Generally, credit union staff desire to inform consumers of product details so that consumers can make informed decisions, as opposed to hiding the specifics so as to keep consumers in the dark. They have taken time, usually in face-to-face settings, to explain complicated financial concepts and products so that members leave the exchange satisfied with their choices.
The problem we face today, however, is that the presentation of educational efforts online via website and social media channels come across as marketing or sales copy rather than as unbiased sharing of information designed to help members make better decisions (or feel comfortable with the decisions they are making). How can we correct that perception? The answer is two-fold.
First, it helps to understand educational focus in the context of the financial community, and by that I mean the general subject matter for instruction. Two basic, macro areas of focus comprise education: financial literacy and product usage. If someone is financially literate we mean essentially that that person understands the basic concepts of banking. With regard to product usage, if someone is product literate we mean that they understand how to assess or use a particular financial product.
These two areas are certainly related, but each area brings different expectations with regard to what is taught. Here is a very basic example of the different educational responsibilities using the concept of compounding interest and savings accounts. For someone to make educated decisions about which savings account provides the best return, they need to understand both the concept of compounding interest and how to determine the impact of various product terms on interest earned. To continue this very simple example, a product with a higher interest rate that kicks in only after certain balance requirements are met may be a worse choice than a product with a lower rate offered on all deposited dollars. A consumer is less likely to successfully evaluate product choices and make an effective choice for themselves if they simply don’t understand how interest works.
Our task in educating consumers is to ensure the delivery of information that improves the basic literacy skill set required to both evaluate and use products. When you think of it that way, it becomes more clear exactly what we should be teaching consumers–and it should be evident that subject matter must be broadly focused rather than limited solely to the feature set of internal products and services.
In defining educational material to deliver to members, any given credit union must ask and answer two questions:
- “What do our members and potential members need to know about banking?”
- “What do our members and potential members need to know about comparing and/or using financial products?”
In answering these questions a robust subject matter outline will emerge, which should bring clarity to the scope of educational material to be shared via social media channels. Proper, in-depth, educational subject matter will go a long way to breaking down the perception that educational material shared online is actually thinly veiled sales copy. But… good material focused on improving financial literacy and product evaluation/usage will not break down the barrier alone. This brings us to the second answer to our challenge, which is the separation of educational material from service and growth-related information.
Social media channels are fascinating in that they offer a direct pipeline to consumers at very little cost as compared to the development and mailing of newsletters, etc. Managing social media channels certainly carries a cost, staff time costs to be specific, but comparing the development of a paper newsletter to the development of a social media account shows less cost for social media due to the materials and mailing costs involved in creating a newsletter. Social media channels have no comparable costs. Furthermore, having two (or ten) social media accounts or handles costs no more than having one. Multiple newsletters each carry additional material and mailing costs.
The point here is not to debate the value of mailed newsletters versus social media outreach. Rather, it it to show that creating multiple social media channels carries no more cost than creating one, which means a potential solution to separating educational material from other service and marketing-focused copy is simply to create another channel to carry the content. To use Twitter to illustrate, the strategy is to create one Twitter account (handle) to carry service and growth content, and another account to carry unbiased consumer education–with each positioned according to their “mission.”
Consumer social media accounts are often awash with a multitude of competing and conflicting messages, and it is likely that the strategy of message separation is undermined as educational information is mashed together with other messages within the viewing windows of social media services. However, as consumers first encounter the distinctive credit union messaging and engagement options available to them via their credit union affiliation, they no doubt will appreciate a channel designed solely to help them navigate the complicated world of consumer banking.
At this point we have covered, in three separate essays, the fact that “being in social media” is not a goal. Rather, it is a tactical option to help credit unions fulfill three common, overarching, real credit union goals: service, growth, and education. Engaging in social media simply to cross off a “strategic goal” is poor strategy. Using social media to drive service, growth, and education is excellent strategy–provided service, growth, and education are properly understood concepts.
In addition to using social media to deliver service, drive growth, and educate, consider these other important initiatives as you seek to engage your members via social media channels:
- Establish social media goals/objectives that map to corporate strategy.
- Identify the social media resources that allow you to best connect to your members and potential members.
- Use social media resources as platforms.
- Don’t forget that just as with in-person dialogue, social media interactions are with people.
- Adopt tools to help efficiently manage interactions across resources.
- Define policy that keeps you and your members safe.
Social media is not a panacea, but the various services that make up the world of online social interaction have great potential to bring credit union and members closer together than they have been in years. It is an opportunity not to be overlooked, but it is worth repeating: social media is a tactic… not a goal.