LAS VEGAS-Many businesses "freak out" over social media, but Jay Baer says that attitude conveniently forgets there have been radical game-changers in the past, including the telephone, fax machines and, of course, the Internet.

Baer, a social media consultant and author of two books on the subject, told attendees of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues' recent convention here when he started as a technology consultant two decades ago he had to talk business owners into the idea of having a website.

"Then came e-mail, and now along comes social media. It is the next evolution in getting faster, but it is more transformative because it fundamentally changes the relationship between credit unions and their members."

Baer said business communication today no longer flows "master to servant," it is peer to peer. "Every member is a marketer and every member is a reporter," he said. "Having a Facebook page is not transforming a business. Some companies treat it as a tiny press release machine, but social media success is about culture, not technology. Credit unions must empower their employees to respond. A company cannot call a committee meeting every time there is a tweet or a Facebook post about it."


Words Worth Repeating

According to Baer, four magic words would make a CU better at social media than 80% of the organizations in America-"Thank you" and "I'm sorry." Sweet Leaf, a tea maker, does well with its "give lollipops" program, he explained. "If someone says something nice about the company on a blog, the company sends coupons within four hours. If someone posts that they don't like a certain flavor, Sweet Leaf apologizes and sends a coupon for a different flavor."

Baer's advice to CUs:

* Hire for passion and train for skills. "Does that person want to work for a credit union? Or do they want a job? There is a huge difference," he said. "Over time, hiring people who are passionate changes the cultural foundation."

* Get smarter, which starts with really listening. For years businesses wanted to eavesdrop on conversations their customers were having about them-and with social media, now they can, he noted. "The fear is a bad interaction will lead to a negative review online. But if the credit union sucks, Twitter is the least of its problems," he said to a roar of laughter. "The negative stuff makes the company better. There is information out there about you, your competitors, everything, and information is all good."

* Social media is the new early warning detection system, good and bad. Anything that happens regarding the credit union will show up in social media first, before the CU receives a phone call or an e-mail, he warned, prompting a need for vigilance.

* There is no "magic number" for social media metrics. Companies want to measure Facebook fans, Twitter followers or number of people who watched a video, but Baer said those numbers do not matter.


Preaching to the CU Choir

"The people who are liking a credit union on Facebook already are members. Facebook is a trailing indicator of success, not a leading indicator of success. People do not like a page of a company they know nothing about. On Facebook the credit union is preaching to the choir, but the important information is what to do with the fans, not just collect them like baseball cards. The goal is not to be good at social media, it is to be good at business because of social media."

According to Baer, social media should be viewed as an opportunity, not a threat.

"It is an opportunity to steal market share from banks. Bank Transfer Day is just one example."

Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the credit union industry

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.