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Social butterfly

For credit unions – and especially those with limited marketing budgets – social media can be an effective way of promoting their brand.

Many legal departments had collective panic attacks a decade ago when financial institutions began self-promoting on Facebook and Twitter. Claire Richardson even received instructions from a compliance manager at the United Kingdom bank where she worked that no one, under any circumstances, should tweet anything. Ever.

“They thought that people were going to be tweeting account numbers and personal information. How are we going to control this?” recalls Richardson, who is now social media and content manager for Meridian Credit Union (309,000 members and $14.7 billion in assets).

Ten years later, social media is a standard component of most marketing strategies, including Meridian’s, which is listed fifth worldwide on The Financial Brand’s Top 100 Credit Unions Using Social Media. The odd mistake rarely escalates to catastrophe because staff in all 90 branches receive regular training from the three-person digital content team and have clear policies guiding online behaviour.

A written policy is essential, says Meredith Olmstead, founding partner of Connecticut-based Social Stairway, a company that manages social content for 10 United States credit unions. Surprisingly, her first recommendation is lifting social media restrictions on work computers in business hours. Blocking Facebook or penalizing tweeters might seem better for productivity, Olmstead says, but destroys employee motivation to follow or share your brand’s posts. “Be realistic; your staff are on social media anyway. The more open you can be, the more energized your culture will be around social media. You’ll get more behind-the-scenes pictures and more submissions from branches.”

Sonia Westervelt says policies surrounding personal accounts softened over time at Coast Capital Savings Credit Union (547,000 members, $15.8 billion in assets) as senior management learned how best to amplify their brand’s message. “Employees are crucial in helping share content because people are ranked as more credible than organizations,” says Westervelt, manager, brand and social marketing.

Once a credit union decides to bring all employees (not just the digital team) on board, it needs to address personal social media accounts in its company policy. Olmstead suggests aiming for a respectful balance: staff shouldn’t feel political or other heartfelt opinions are being policed. But if employees are sharing credit union posts or disclosing their employer in a bio, then they are representing the brand and should appear professional. Spell out that foul language, racist, derogatory or untrue remarks are unacceptable but respectful disagreements online are okay, says Olmstead. Meridian encourages employees to add a statement saying, “All views are my own and not necessarily shared by my employer.” Coast Capital Saving’s policy includes plenty of anecdotal examples of acceptable and unacceptable comments, leaving less room for confusion.

Policies that lay out who will respond to comments, how quickly and through which channels will also help your team turn negative feedback into an opportunity to “promote your stellar customer service,” adds Olmstead.

“Employees are crucial in helping share content because people are ranked as more credible than organizations.” – Sonia Westervelt

Meridian’s policy directs the digital team to respond to postings within one hour during work days and within 24 hours on weekends. Digital team members receive the initial alerts about comments during off hours. They can respond to basic queries immediately, or escalate to a list of on-call colleagues in departments such as mortgages, credit or account services for more specific questions. A quick response, even saying, “I’ll find out” — is important in this always-live channel, Richardson says. Also important is taking complaints and account-specific questions to private channels, she adds. “Obviously, in financial services, you don’t want to carry on conversations in the comments section where everybody can see personal information,” says Richardson. “Say, ‘I’m sorry about what happened. Can you direct message me?’ ”

A credit union’s policy should also provide standards for civility: profane or abusive comments can be hidden.

Social media can be an important channel for credit unions without huge marketing budgets. But because this fast-paced channel relies on employee participation, it’s essential to have an easily accessible policy with best practices for a variety of challenging situations. A good social media policy allows enough exibility to demonstrate your friendly culture without allowing a credit union’s brand reputation to suffer. ◊