COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Don't underestimate Facebook and Twitter: more than half of all CU members use social media, according to a survey of about 11,000 members across 10 CUs, released by Callahan & Associates' Internet Strategy Consortium.

And it may come as a shock that a great number of those social media members aren't from Generation Y. "One of the more surprising trends is the strong usage of social networking by non-Gen Y members," said Victoria Selfridge, director, marketing and e-commerce at Ent FCU here, which is one of the 10 CUs comprising Callahan's Consortium.

More than 70% of members aged 30 to 39 use social media, according to the Consortium survey. Meanwhile, nearly 60% aged 40 to 49 and nearly 45% aged 50 to 59 use the sites, including Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, Classmates and Twitter. The survey also reports the features members expect to see.

"Initially, Ent created a presence on select sites to position our brand as modern, sophisticated and relevant to our Gen X and Gen Y members and prospects," Selfridge explained.

While Ent continues to court the Gen X and Y group, the survey helped the $2.9-billion CU realize that "social networking use is becoming mainstream across all demographics"-so the CU will begin to reach out to other age groups as well, she said.

Nearly 45% of Ent members use social media, according to the survey, but fewer than 1% are participating in the CU's social networking, said Selfridge. "Looks like we have room to grow in attracting our members who actively use Facebook and Twitter to being fans and followers of the credit union."

Atwitter Over Twitter

Although Facebook is the site of choice for most members at Consortium CUs-more than 90% of members actively use Facebook-Twitter leads the way at University FCU in Austin, Texas, according to the survey. That's probably because University FCU started its venture into social media via Twitter, using it to deliver up-to-the-minute updates about its core system conversion in May, explained Lyndee Bennett, marketing media project manager at the $1.1-billion CU, also a member of the Consortium.

"Members got updates in real-time, even when we were closed," said Bennett. "Twitter proved to be very worthwhile, as it fulfilled a member need. Member uptake over the first two-week period was fast and easy. Now we use it for important product updates, events and financial education, and we dove into other social media. Our followers on all sites continue to increase."

With social media, CUs can "humanize themselves and promote their brand in a way that isn't focused on transactions but on providing a variety of helpful information, from financial tips to updates" Callahan's Research Manager Denise Senecal told Credit Union Journal.

Typical "posts" and "tweets" are brief and immediate-"they don't require much effort on the member's part," whereas traditional statement stuffers or newsletters contain in-depth information and are distributed less frequently, said Senecal. "You can implement quick changes with Facebook and Twitter."

Social media sites "are not going away," Bennett added. Consequently, CUs should construct a strategy, Senecal said. "The number of members you reach is directly correlated with how actively you promote social networking, through other channels and contests," said Senecal. "And you need to make an investment in time to keep the sites updated."

"You need to have an honest conversation with your members," continued Bennett. "Don't just leave a positive or a negative comment hanging."

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