Social media companies once thought to be impervious to criticism have spent the past two years roiled in controversy. Concerns over data privacy, fake accounts and the unregulated nature of the internet have caused some users and businesses to rethink their relationship with social networking platforms.
But the marketing and communications teams at several New York credit unions say they are committed to social media, and that social networking remains a cornerstone of their marketing efforts.
Glen Stacey, social media and public relations specialist at the Latham-based Sunmark FCU, says that despite the high-profile scandals, he’s never questioned the value of social media and its ability to connect brands with consumers.
“I still feel social is a big player – Facebook alone still has 2.27 billion active users,” says Stacey. “However, it is getting more difficult to reach people organically. How these platforms are used to a business’ advantage is constantly changing and needs constant attention.”
The fact that businesses have no control over the algorithms and decisions made at social media companies is one reason Stacey created the Sunmark 360 blog and video series, a lifestyle-driven initiative designed to connect with what is happening in their members’ lives. The weekly video series, which is produced in-house, focuses on topics like job-hunting, overcoming the stress of purchasing a home, and interviews with local business leaders.
“Really, Facebook could shut down tomorrow if they wanted,” says Stacey. “This is the reason our strategy included creating our own location—Sunmark 360—to host our content, and we started building an email list of people that like and consume our content. We use social platforms to promote our content and Sunmark, but they are not a place where our content ‘lives.’”
The lack of control on the back-end of social media platforms underscores the need to take control on the front-end, explains Mike Mattone, director of marketing and public relations at the Mohegan Lake-based Hudson River Financial FCU.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of managing social pages in-house,” says Mattone. “Even for a credit union that doesn’t have a marketing department or person, social media is best used as a natural extension of your brand’s community engagement and member relations. Having an outside agency run the day-to-day social media, to me, is wasting a key opportunity of having your page become an integral part of your community’s social conversation.”
While noting that protecting member data is Hudson River Financial’s top priority, Mattone echoes Stacey’s comments that leaving social media completely just doesn’t make sense. “The thought of abandoning social media altogether because of recent negative events would take away a valuable tool for us in terms of developing our brand…” notes Mattone. “We will continue to have social media as a piece of our pie, so to speak, in order to effectively communicate to members and potential members that we are—or should be—their financial institution of choice.”
Still, not all social media platforms are created equal, and not all credit unions are using every channel the same way.
Peter Monthie, social media lead for the Albany-based SEFCU, says that Facebook by far has the largest reach for the credit union, but that’s not the only platform they leverage.
“SEFCU’s Facebook page is our largest audience with just less than 13,000 likes,” explains Monthie. “However, each platform is evaluated on a continual basis to determine the effectiveness of posts in an ever-evolving landscape. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn are given the same weight no matter the audience size.”
For smaller credit unions, deciding which social media platform to focus on and how to effectively manage a social program can seem daunting, but it is possible – and, according to some, even necessary.
“Social media is the now and if you’re going to stay relevant as a business and a brand, you have to use it and you have to spend time on it,” says Mary Sullivan, director of development & education at Good Neighbors CU in Depew. “Social media is huge and needs daily attention as trends and movements are changing on the fly. It’s necessary for business growth in this day and age, so it is important to explore all channels and figure out what the right fit is for your credit union. This is dependent upon your target market.”
And while Sullivan continues to invest the necessary time and effort to manage GNCU’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, she admits that she’s starting to personally grow wary of some of the platforms. Still, she tries to remain active on major social networking sites during her off-work hours to stay acquainted with the latest changes, because she views the channels as a key part of her credit union’s growth strategy.
“Maybe someone is looking for a new car and their friend, who’s a GNCU owner, shares a post about a recent contest they won at the credit union. All of a sudden Good Neighbors CU is in this persons’ brain,” says Sullivan. “Maybe they’ll click on our profile and check out our loan rates. Maybe they won’t – but maybe they’ll hear us on the radio a couple weeks later and remember that they saw us on Facebook.”