Social media, as we're told nearly every day (primarily by either self-appointed social media "experts" or those who have something to sell), is the irrefutable, undeniable and inevitable future of the world, and that includes credit unions.
Not sure I find a lot of appeal in a world in which the person to whom you are speaking is basically telling you that that screen they are staring at is more important to them than you are, or a world in which a 140-character message is considered long-winded. But apparently a lot of people do.
Or do they? Credit unions' experience on Facebook today has been a lot like that company's stock: a great rush of excitement to get on board followed by a slow, steady decline. CEOs back "social media initiatives" because, well, they don't want to look like they're no longer cool or "don't get it" and because everyone else is doing so, too (even if it's for the exact same reasons). There have been some innovative efforts by a few CUs on Facebook, fewer on Twitter, yet at the end of the day, for most, the ROI consists of nebulous references to "awareness" and "engagement."
The Financial Brand recently released a survey of 160 CUs that have a social media presence and found that 94% have a Facebook page, but one-in-14 said they plan to give it up. Two-thirds said that in 2013 they will focus primarily on Twitter.
But as one person recently posited, the challenge to CUs in using Twitter is giving people a reason to give a tweet. Why should someone take a moment from their busy life and follow the credit union? As that same person observed, finance is not exactly the sexiest topic of interest in a world where you're competing not so much with big money center banks, but instead with Justin Bieber, LeBron James and Charlie Sheen.
During the recent CUNA Lending Council meeting, Patrick McElhenie, sales planner at CUNA Mutual Group, observed that "Survey findings show credit unions using social media for more than three years are more adept at integrating it into their overall marketing strategy and are achieving better levels of member engagement."
That may very well be true, but it leaves many wondering what it really means. And it certainly doesn't suggest any ROI or even brand strategy, and that's for credit unions that are the veterans of social media.
Facebook has popularized the use of the "Like" symbol. For credit unions, it isn't so much "Like" or "Don't Like," as the more appropriate symbol might be a shoulder shrug.
The Meaning of a Holiday
* In Las Vegas recently on a trip that overlapped a national holiday I remarked to a cab driver that not too many folks seemed to be observing the aforementioned holiday. Responded the cab driver, "The only holiday here is daytime."
One Rule That Is Overdue
* As every compliance officer knows all too well, there has been no shortage of rulemaking coming out of NCUA and Washington in recent years, and yet the one rule that remains sadly absent in 2013 is a requirement that all CEO contracts include some sort of prohibition on bonuses being paid in the event a credit union suffers a loss (including a clawback provision in instances where a bonus is paid to CEOs who oversaw the demise of their institution).
Two recent cases in California continue to make clear something needs to be done. Bob Siravo, the former CEO of Wescorp, was received a $6.9 million payout from a SERP even though the one-time $34-billion corporate had to be placed in conservatorship and every federally insured CU in the country has had to pay for it. And Grace Mayo, former CEO of Telesis Community CU, also received a $2.1-million payout even though NCUA recently noted that Telesis' failure is projected to cost the National CU Share Insurance Fund losses of around $72 million-with that tidy amount added to the bill of every federally insured CU in the country, too.
I know there has been some discussion at NCUA and elsewhere about such provisions. It's time for a little less talk.
A Real Face-Scratcher
* The situation is getting a bit hairy at a couple of credit unions. Take Gulf Coast Educators FCU in Texas. Some of its employees are participating in a mustache-growing contest (call me narrow-minded but I'll assume it's just the men) as part of a contest to win a local school a donation of $1,000. In the contest, in which the 'stache staff also participated last year, participants must be clean-shaven as of Feb. 1, and then have 28 days to rock a new soup strainer, lip toupee or face fungus. GCEFCU will be sharing progress photos on its own Facebook page and on stache4schools.com and the public will be invited to vote which 'stache gets the cash.
Meanwhile, in the Palmetto State, South Carolina FCU and, specifically, its Young & Free S.C., is sponsoring Beardmageddon 2.0, a "night of celebration for beards of all kinds," according to a spokesperson for SCFCU. Beardmageddon 2.0 is the sequel to the original Beardmageddon that debuted in 2012 as part of the Charleston Comedy Festival. This year's event will be an improvisational gameshow that runs about an hour and is put on at local improv Theatre 99. The target audience is people under age 25.
Both efforts are yet another example that imagination doesn't require a big budget.
Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at email@example.com.