ROMULUS, Mich.-At any time of day, expect to see Amy McGraw pecking away at her BlackBerry on Twitter, "tweeting" with her members about the Mexican restaurant where she's eating or a movie she's about to see.
"I have a lot of conversations with my members on Twitter, 24/7," said McGraw, who is the marketing director at $123-million Public Service CU (PSCU) here and whose work was featured in a New York Times article in June. "Many of the conversations are not related to credit union business. If I had to guess, I'd say that 70 to 80% of my tweets are more relationship and the remainder are marketing support."
Twitter is a great way to develop the human side of the relationship with members, McGraw explained. "As credit unions, we pride ourselves on people-helping-people in hometown places where everyone knows your name. Twitter is the same philosophy but in electronic format. I'm the face of the credit union in an electronic channel. Soon, you get to know your members wants and needs, and they start thinking of you first for their finances."
Using Twitter only to sell products and services is a mistake, McGraw continued. "Twitter is a social medium. If I were to try to turn it into a sales medium, I would lose my followers really quickly."
It's OK to "soft sell" on Twitter, she added. "When I tweet about products or services, it's more informational, not pushy. I never use Twitter exclusively to sell any product or service." McGraw recently invited her Twitter "followers" to come to a PSCU car sale, where she took pictures of them in their dream car and posted them on social media sites.
PSCU's mix of the personal with the business is represented visually in McGraw's Twitter moniker-a collage of the PSCU logo and McGraw's headshot.
McGraw, who has tweeted for PSCU for more than a year, said she's surprised that only about 100 credit unions use Twitter. "It's free. Smaller credit unions have small budgets, so we have to be innovative."
Many uninitiated credit unions seem to worry that Twitter might take over their life, said McGraw. "It's true-someone at the CU has to be committed to the task. But I don't spend more than about 20 minutes per day on Twitter, even at night. I'm not putting off my kids to tweet."
Whereas McGraw uses her BlackBerry to tweet via the UberTwitter client, she interacts on Twitter via the TweetDeck dashboard on her work and home desktop computers. And the Twitterrific client suits her iPad, she said. "I've got lots of automation helping me monitor the brand quickly and efficiently at Twitter."
TweetDeck alerts McGraw of tweets that mention PSCU-"that's when I jump to respond to a member," she said. So far no one in the "Twittersphere" has said anything negative about the CU, she said.
The uninitiated think that opening a Twitter account will make them vulnerable to bashing, McGraw suggested. "You think that if you're not talking on Twitter, then you can't get into trouble. What some credit unions don't realize is that members are out there talking about you anyway, and it's a big disservice for the credit union not to be part of the conversation."
Of the more than 500 PSCU followers at Twitter, only about 200 are CU members, or about 1% of the total membership, said McGraw. "But don't get caught up in the numbers game," she warned. "At Twitter, it's about quality, not quantity. Twitter followers are important members because they know others who are members or could be members. And Twitter is just one way we communicate with members."
Twitter is more effective than Facebook, according to McGraw. "I just don't get the kind of engagement on Facebook that I get on Twitter."