Thursday, November 11, 2010

Embracing the Social Mentality

By Margie Church, Copywriter/Editor
Pinpoint Direct Marketing

Social media is an opportunity for others to get to know the authentic you. Wow. You're brick and mortar. No, you're not. You're an organization of feeling, breathing human beings, working collectively for one purpose. Is your purpose to sell stuff? Probably, but if all you plan to do is plaster your advertising messages on my wall, you're going to get un-followed, un-friended, and un-linked faster than you can type the next 140 characters. Harsh but true in the social networking world.

More traditional advertising, including your company website, will blast out ads and explain products and services. Using social media means you're willing to engage your Tweeps, friends, blog subscribers, and LinkedIn associates on a different level.


Think about social media like this. You walk into your favorite coffee shop and the person at the counter takes your order and asks about a piece of jewelry you're wearing or how your day is going. Then they wait for your answer.

In the business setting, does this mean you're going to learn the personal details of my life? Certainly not. But mixed in with the business messages, you find out friendly things about me. Examples could be what kind of pet I have; that I enjoy my coffee straight-up black; music is important to me; or that the office is having a potluck lunch.

My online friends who have similar interests might volunteer to "pour me another cup," tell me about their favorite pet or ask what time to come by with their empty lunch plates.

At that point, I have two options. Ignore or engage. Social media is about engaging.

I'll thank you for the refill as though you were standing next to me. I'll tell you to bring a pan of brownies at 11:30 (and you also learned I like brownies). Do I seriously expect readers to come by? That depends on who's doing the asking, but that's not the point. The online friend is getting a sense of who I am and ultimately what the company I work for is like. I become real to them as a human being, not just a credit union that handles their money or pay a bill to.

Creating your social identity indicates to the world that you're extending a level of transparency and a human quality to your company. The effort deserves serious consideration and a plan. Embracing the activity must start from the top down in your organization. If your President/CEO isn't convinced social media is important to your credit union's success, then I think it's going to be difficult to devote resources to it and be successful, especially when the results may not be immediately evident.

Ask anyone in sales and they'll tell you that unless the product you're hawking is something they can't live without, relationships are the most important element to success…to keeping a member for life.

Have I got your attention?

Fitting product promotion into social media

You wouldn't think of diving into your sales pitch before greeting a member. Social media has similar etiquette. Say hello when you enter the electronic arena for the day. Read through the messages on your wall or filter and respond to some of them. Yes, RESPOND. You are there to engage. There's nothing that makes a follower feel better than to know they were heard/read and responded to. The online exchanges that can occur can be enlightening and fun.

When you want to shout out a product or service, position your message so it answers a need. Instead of: Mortgage rates 4.5% get yours now. Try: Let us try to lower your mortgage payment. 4.5% sound good? Include a hyperlink to your website for more details or an application.


The explosion of electronic gadgetry to communicate has forever changed the way most companies do business. If you're prospecting to younger generations, social media has to be part of your strategy.

Baby Boomers are likely to be quite Internet savvy. Gen Y and Gen Xers grew up with computers. They are as comfortable with a laptop and an iPhone as you might be with reading the morning newspaper in print. If you want people to think about your credit union as a modern, cutting edge place to work, then consider a social media strategy. If you want them to do business with you, you're going to have to meet them on their turf. Create easy, fast, and relevant ways to communicate and work together.

What about negative posts?

Your online "office" is where corporate transparency is evident. Someone walks in with a complaint (posts on your wall). The lobby is full (your followers are present) and the member can easily be overheard (every one of your associates can read the comment). You have two choices. Ask them to leave (delete/hide the post) or engage. I choose engage.

Reply to the comment as soon as you see it. Even if you don't have the answer, acknowledge the writer. Proactively dealing with negativity lets your followers know you're really there, you care about their experiences with you, and you deal with issues in a straightforward way.

Double edged sword? You bet. But having or not having a social media strategy isn't going to change that. Whether you tell your employees they may use social media at work or not, they're going to use it at work or at home if it's something they enjoy. Their friends and followers are going to get tidbits about their life and experiences working for YOU. Will it always be rainbows and sunshine if you let employees use social media? Of course not. But open communication such as that present in social media, tells your employees, "Hey, we're trying to do a good thing here. We're trying to get customers to know us and build relationships with us that are important to our success and future."

Over time, the people and businesses that follow you form opinions about what it's like to work for you and do business with you. When the time is right to invest, buy, find a new job, get advice, or make a recommendation, will your credit union come to mind as a good solution to any of those needs? If you're handling your social media properly, the answer could be yes. Could be? Yes, could be.  It's not a done deal. You need to talk, but you've engaged them enough to form some sort of a positive opinion. That makes the negotiation that comes next go much more smoothly. And your ROI is significantly lower.

Think it's not true? Do you shop on the Internet? Are you a fan of any Facebook pages? Network on LinkedIn? Why do you do those things? Because they have appealing information, products, and services.

Quality not quantity

Some folks determine their online success by the number of friends/followers/associates subscribing to their online persona. Does that truly make them successful? Not necessarily. If you are able to "see" who is following them, you might learn that a large portion of their online friends are not relevant to the kinds of business the company engages in. Like sharing personal bits and pieces of yourself, some of the folks and companies you might subscribe to help define your credit union's personality and make it more interesting for followers to visit you online. Some folks might follow celebrities, for example. Well, few celebrities have or make the time to actually engage online. There are exceptions, but likely these celebrities just beef up numbers. Is that authentic? Not so much.

Organizations related to credit unions are worth investigating and possibly following. Are there philanthropic activities your credit union participates in? Friend them and what's more…ask them to friend you back. If you're consistently ignored, you have to start to wonder if the company or person really understands the purpose of social media – and that is to be SOCIAL. Their strategy is flawed – they have a presence but don't engage. It's like creating a website but never updating it. Does that mean we're going to exchange holiday cards? Maybe, but you'd do it because you want to and that's what friends do. Some Tweeps have meet-ups…they actually have come to like each other so much online they meet as a group for a social one-on-one.

Instant success?

The only thing that's "instant" about social media is the posting part of your message. A friend of mine who is considered a social media expert, describes social media like farming and traditional advertising like hunting.

Traditional media pulses out there, waiting for the recipient to take action (apply for a loan, sign up for new services, call you, etc).

Social media cultivates the relationship the same way you would a friendship. The activity is embraced from the top down—your management team "gets" the importance of communicating in a new way. They find the work valuable and important to your credit union's success. Cultivating relationships via social media requires patience. Is it time consuming? It doesn't have to be, but it's an investment. Unless you're able to give away products and services left and right, cultivating a successful, loyal following is going to evolve over time.

Who should do the postings?

Good question. In a large organization, you may have a communications department. Someone in this group isn't necessarily a bad choice. They are, after all, the most connected to the credit union's brand and promotional activities. These employees tend to be aware of legal and corporate issues that should remain secret. Will they portray the organization's personality as stuffy and sanitized? You bet, unless you have developed some guidelines about what's acceptable social content.

How do you get around this? The same way you came up with a corporate slogan or positioning statement. You brainstorm to formulate written guidelines. Figure out what might be interesting to talk about that fits professional boundaries. Decide what isn't. Corporate secrets, strategies, legal issues, politics, religion, etc., obviously are never appropriate to talk about online in the business setting. Feeling crabby about something personal? Did your supervisor make you mad? Does a coworker have a really annoying habit? Zip it. Internet communications are highly traceable. The minute you think you can get away with a Tweet about the jerk you work for is the minute you could be fired.

And while you're on the subject of acceptable social content, decide about photos and video. Truthfully, people love to see these things on the Internet and it's really nice to put a face with the name. Use a critical eye to examine any photo or video you put on the Internet to make sure it meets a reasonable standard for respecting the person in the picture. If you wouldn't want your picture out there, don't send somebody else to the slaughter. First names only is probably a good idea, too.

Ready to go!

So, you have a strategy, some content guidelines, and you've figured out who might do the work—or is it to have the fun? I like to think it's both. Don't bite off more than you can chew. If you don't have time to participate in three or four different networks, don't sign up for them. Pick what you can reasonably manage and focus on regularly. Similar to your website, social media requires attention or people abandon ship.

What do you think?

Is your social media strategy working or not? Tell me the highs and lows; the battles and victories you've achieved as you brought your credit union to the social media arena. I bet your stories are fascinating.

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