How to Prepare for the Mobile Future

As we approach 181.4 million smartphone users in the U.S with an eye toward 222.4 million, or 67.8% of the population, by 2017, it is clear that the prevailing trend in eCommerce is to break free from the confines of the desktop computer. Mobile devices, according to n-commerce technology vendor Branding Brand projects, will soon account for 39% of all traffic to the retail websites of Internet Retailer’s Top 500 e-retailers.

What are consumers doing on their mobile devices? According to Nielsen’s “Cross Platform Report,” Americans are spending a third of their smartphone time on social media. Clearly, the immediate implication for brands, cooperatives included, is that a social media strategy should be a mobile strategy and a mobile strategy a social strategy. It is likely that the business objective behind a social media initiative will be to drive traffic to a brand’s website – where, for now at least, most eCommerce takes place. It follows that to be competitive a brand’s website must be responsive to the many different mobile devices that will be following the links shared in social media. No brand can afford to lose 39% of its hard earned traffic.

The mobile revolution represents the first phase of the untethering of human connection. When social networks first gained prominence in the 00’s, many people were communicating at home on their desktop PC, or moderately portable laptop. Now, people are communicating on the road, at work, and everywhere in between. No longer tied to desktops, humans can connect and interact with friends, family, and brands as desired and needed.

Perhaps the second phase of the untethering of human connectivity will be the wearable revolution. Devices such as Google Glass and the rumored iWatch, will make us connected organisms, signaling a biological evolution as much as a technological one. By decade’s end, we may see what Brian Solis calls, the Internet of Things, “where devices and things connect to one another to perform certain tasks and/or track activities to improve what we already do or make possible what we’re trying to do.” The online and physical world will merge in a way that will, potentially, benefit humanity greatly. When objects that we use can learn and improve our actions simultaneously as individuals and populations, the possibilities for human growth and advancement are truly exciting.

Brands can anticipate this future as soon as today in social media. A social media strategy that engages and interacts individual users, responding to their needs in real time, approaches the efficiency and feedback promised by connected objects that can learn and respond. Solis’ future where we will “become insatiable in our pursuit of personalized feedback” will evolve, at least in part, from the successful Facebook brand pages and Twitter feeds of today, those that react and respond to consumers’ individual needs and desires.

The 4 Components of Viral Marketing Initiatives

According to media critic, Douglas Rushkoff, the emergence of the internet and social networks have better enabled more people to provide feedback – “launching ideas that could spread through this new mediaspace like viruses”.  Rushkoff posits though, that in trying to understand what makes something ‘go viral’, advertising agencies often have the horse before the cart. According to Rushkoff, “people don’t engage with each other to exchange viruses; people exchange viruses as an excuse to engage with each other”. In this post, I will look at 4 credit union related viral marketing initiatives that have given people cause to engage with each other and I will identify those initiatives by the key characteristic of their virality.

Preparation and Timing

For the past ten months, IC Federal Credit Union, a 20,000-member credit union in Massachusetts, have been carefully releasing a series of “weird, wild and whacky videos”. Each video was first released on their YouTube channel, then featured on their website. After an adequate gestation period, the videos were then given a featured spot on the credit union’s Facebook page. This measured approach, mirroring that of a Hollywood release – theatre to DVD to small screen – helped the Gen Y themed video series has attract more than 400,000 YouTube views, and increased Gen Y membership, itself 16.61% of the Credit Union’s entire membership, by 1%. Because this initiative was tied directly to a business objective, increasing Gen Y membership, its success was planned for and anticipated by the credit unio

Evergreen

Another key characteristic of a viral campaign, is to create content that is “Evergreen”, meaning that its relevance does not diminish over time. The video series, “The Difference between Banks and Credit Unions” presented by Young Free Alberta is such an example. The video series is clever and cute, and manages to succinctly describe the difference between Banks and Credit Unions. Since its launch in 2008, the series has been viewed over 200,000 times and, contrary to much of the content on YouTube, it has shown longevity. So much so, that I could share it with my credit union a year from now and its message would still be relevant and its technique still impressive.

Influencers

Many viral initiatives require the kick-start of an influencer. An example of one such campaign, was Bank Transfer Day. The event, which took place on November 5th, 2011, encouraged more than 600,000 people to leave their bank for a credit union. It was started by Kristen Christian, now a sought after cooperatives advocate and speaker, who was the owner of a Los Angeles art gallery at the time. Her Facebook network was expansive and influential enough to exponentially expand the awareness of the Facebook event page – by the third day of its launch, the event had 8,794 people attending. Though not an official “Occupy” event, it was quickly endorsed by that influential movement.

Entertaining

– TCU

For the fourth characteristic, I would like to share a video that I made for my credit union to create awareness of our bill pay program. The goal of my video was to make a video about bill pay that someone would want to watch. To echo Rushkoff’s assertion, I wanted to create something that could be shared as ‘an excuse to engage’. Unfortunately, my video, though I believe it to be entertaining, has not gone viral. To date it has been viewed 126 times, and it likely won’t be viewed many more. The aforementioned examples of virality benefited from more than one characteristic of a viral initiative. My video, though I believe it to be entertaining, did not benefit from preparation or timing, – I released it without an email notification to our membership or a banner on our website, nor did it benefit from an influencer – my and my credit union’s networks are small. Time will tell if my content is Evergreen, though I made some specific reference to our current bill pay provider and its current version, so it is unlikely that it will have longevity.

A viral marketing initiative is not created on luck. The more we begin to understand social networks and how people communicate, we realize that there is a science behind their success. I hope the examples that I have shared give some insight into some of the basic components of a viral marketing initiative. The more viral components that your campaign has in place, the greater the likelihood that your campaign will go viral.

About the author: Ian is an eCommerce Specialist for Triangle Credit Union. The views here are his own and not those of his employer. Ian believes in “co-operation among co-operatives”, and hopes that by writing about what is working for credit unions in NH others will benefit

 

Differentiation

Service & St Mary's

With 21 different credit unions with more than 50 office locations and $4.7 billion in assets operating in New Hampshire, differentiation is vital to survival, not just amongst other credit unions, but within the larger financial services industry within which they operate. As the Financial Brand puts it:

“It’s a noisy and crowded financial services marketplace full of me-too competitors. If your brand isn’t well defined and clearly different, you’re not going to stand apart from the fray and get noticed.”

Credit unions, as financial cooperatives, have a responsibility to their membership to differentiate themselves and remain competitive. The New Hampshire credit unions that, I believe, are most effectively differentiating themselves are Service Credit Union, asset size, $1.5 billion, membership size, 129,991 and St. Mary’s Bank, asset size, $698 million, membership size, 77,177.

Eligibility to become a member of Service Credit Union is open to any individuals who live or work in the state of New Hampshire, with the exception of Coos County. More importantly, though, Service Credit Union is open to all military and civilian employees of the Department of Defense worldwide. Wisely, Service Credit Union, in addition to opening its membership to people living with the community within which it operates, has continued to target a specific demographic for membership, the military. By targeting this specific demographic, Service Credit Union can differentiate themselves, through their marketing efforts, by focusing on military matters.

This is most evident in their use of social media. Service maintains active Facebook, and Twitter accounts and a lesser used Youtube account. On Facebook and Twitter, the message is clear and direct. In addition to the requisite community involvement information that all credit unions post, Service send messages directly to their target demographic such as this post from Thursday, April 11th 2013:Picture 1

The message on Twitter is the same:
Picture 3

On Facebook, Service have an impressive 2,926 “likes”; on Twitter a solid, 949 followers. Their posts are viral because they are focused and directly relevant to their membership. It follows then that Service’s social media efforts support its strategic goals as they effectively differentiate the Service brand within it’s target demographic.

St. Mary’s Bank, like Service Credit Union, are an open credit union, offering membership to any individual residing in New Hampshire. But, unlike Service, they do not have an obvious target market. St. Mary’s Bank’s point of differentiation comes form their unique claim to being the nation’s first credit union. On their website they state that they are proud of their heritage and wish “to help members achieve their financial goals by providing best in market service and trusted financial advice”.

Their Youtube account is the clearest evidence of using social media to pursue their strategic goal of offering outstanding service while differentiating themselves as the nation’s first credit union. Their account has an impressive 6,582 views, owned mostly by the video “Bloopers: Invitation to Meredith Viera, Today Show Host”. That video is funny and succeeds at showing the brand’s personality while also celebrating the cause of its founding 100 years ago, its point of differentiation.

St Mary’s are not as effective at differentiating their brand as Service, but they have shown some successful efforts to do so. Their Facebook account is growing with an impressive 2,068 “likes”, most arriving this year. I believe that if they were to cross promote their Youtube account more they would be able to better differentiate themselves. There is a video entitled “Re-enactment of the founding of the nations first credit union”, that is overlong and not highly viewed, only 151 in four years. With a re-edit it could become a powerful viral document that clearly establishes their point of differentiation.

It is understandable that credit unions struggle to differentiate themselves. Most began their lives tethered to a parent company or organization. Since the trend began for credit unions to break free from parent companies and open membership to the outside community, most have been unable to stake out a new identity for themselves. Service Credit Union and St. Mary’s Bank are two good examples for all credit unions to follow.

About the author: Ian is an eCommerce Specialist for Triangle Credit Union. The views here are his own and not those of his employer. Ian believes in “co-operation among co-operatives”, and hopes that by writing about what is working for credit unions in NH others will benefit.

Best Practices for Co-operative Blogging

Slide1In this age of widening economic disparity, the co-operative values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity are more vital than ever. But the message is being drowned out by corporate domination of all media types. Co-operatives, therefore, need to blog for several reasons – to educate, create awareness, and, importantly, to cement their own identity. Every movement needs to publish its manifesto and a blog provides an affordable and easy outlet for co-ops to collectively do so. Leaping in to the blogoshpere without a plan, however, is unadvisable, as it is unlikely that the message will be heard over the wall of corporate noise. I recommend following these blogging best practices to ensure maximum volume and impact.

It is important to share quality content, but more so, it is critical to do so consistently. Before launching a blog, a co-op should select a host of potential topics, such as “how to’s” or “behind the scenes” posts, and set a manageable timetable for both when to work on and when to share posts. A calendar should be utilized and shared within the organization so that every can help contribute to and promote the blog.

Co-ops are a vital economic counterpoint to shareholder owned corporations and now is their moment to shine. According to Nancy Folbre, economics professor at UMass, “cooperative enterprises play an enormously important role in our economic system, one that is likely to grow in decades to come”. To help facilitate that growth co-ops need to have a plan when it comes to blogging. Posting in inconsistent spurts will lead to a muddled message. A dozen posts at the beginning of the year, followed by 6 months of nothing will have members and potential members wondering if your co-op is still active. A blog should be your co-ops pulse; it should show others you are alive and kicking and as such it needs to have a regular beat.

In addition to consistency another best practice is simplicity. According to Copyblogger, “readers don’t want abstract principles or theoretical discussions. Sure, they may be interested in understanding the why…but they also want to know what to do”. Now, co-ops’ value lies in abstract principles, so I do believe there is a place for such discussions, but the point is your regular cycle of content needs to be informative, and searchable. A potential member is unlikely to be searching for “how equity is shared in a co-op” and come across your blog. Co-ops need to answer their members and potential members’ questions. For example, a simple post about local in-season fruits and vegetables might answer questions for potential members of a food co-op. Or a post about building credit might prove valuable for members and potential members of a credit union. The hope is that someone looking for answers to questions on these topics will stumble upon your expert answers.

To help with SEO, co-ops need to come out with strong titles, hooks, and be succinct, according to Joe Hall in Copypress. But importantly, they need to have a strong point of difference. By equating your co-op with the shared co-operative values, I believe, a strong point of difference will naturally emerge. In structure and values co-operatives are unique, and that is primarily what a co-op blog should be celebrating. This will be the decade of the co-operative, so let’s start writing about it and let everyone know.

The Social Risks for Co-operatives

Slide1As I have discussed, social media presents great opportunity for Co-operatives.  The International Co-operative Alliance has set forth an ambitious plan that “envisions co-operatives to be the fastest growing form of enterprise by 2020”.  It is likely that social media will be the harbinger of this message and is thus vital to the cause.  With great opportunity though, often comes great risks; namely, for co-operatives, in the form of compliance and regulatory risks.

Many co-operatives operate in industries, financial services, insurance, and even agriculture, that are heavily regulated.  I have discussed how credit unions, financial co-operatives, have been early adopters of social media.  They are thus the first co-operatives to deal with the risks.  It seems that many have found the risk too daunting to overcome.  A Financial Brand article found that “Credit unions on Twitter struggle to attract followers even after being active over two years, and 1 in 5 just give up entirely”.  The article found that “the vast majority of tweets sent are one-directional, often with links back to a press release or similar credit union web page.”  Such dry, safe content is indicative of an industry constrained by compliance and regulatory concerns.

There is hope for co-operatives, though, as according to Nichole Kelly in Social Media Explorer, compliance and regulatory risks can be managed.  PR risks, which fortunately co-operatives rarely face, are much harder to manage due to their unpredictable nature.  Compliance and regulatory risks are known; a credit union knows that it must take care in tweeting current loan rates, for example, as any inaccuracies would be published inaccuracies and thus open to fines and censure if incorrect.

Quitting Twitter and abandoning social media are not the answer to regulatory risk.  Creating a plan that includes active engagement and risk management is the solution. Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union were recently caught over-thinking their social media strategy, likely due to fear over compliance and regulatory risk presented by Twitter.  After a year and a half of inactivity they jumped into Twitter to respond to an odd and unsavory tweet about one of their locations two days after it appeared.  The delay and their strange response turned into a PR risk once the Financial Brand picked it up for this article.

Co-operatives need to be active and engaged with social media if this decade is to see the growth the ICA predicts.  There is no need to shy away from engagement due to regulatory concerns, as these are risks that can be managed.

Where Can I Find a Co-operative?

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2012 was the International Year of the Co-operative, and its success in creating awareness of co-operatives worldwide has prompted the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) to call for a Co-op decade.  By 2020, the goal is for co-operatives to become leaders in economic, social and environmental sustainability, a preferred business model, and the fastest growing form of enterprise.  But, the ICA acknowledges that this is a strategy that they cannot move forward with alone.  They state that in order for the Co-op decade “to be meaningful and effective, it needs to be taken up and endorsed by national bodies, by individual societies, and by all people who believe in the co-operative way of doing business”.

The next decade will require “bold initiatives and clear implementation plans”.  I believe the answer will be social media.  But let’s here consider what role a mobile social media application could play in these implementation plans.

The first step in creating awareness of co-operatives will be first to alert consumers of where they can find co-operatives.  Geolocation apps will be vital to this phase of the plan.  Naturally, Foursquare, being the leading location-based social network would be the mobile social media application of choice.  With Foursquare, users can check into locations they have visited using their phones and when they do check in, they can alert their Facebook friends and Twitter followers of where they have been.  According to Brian Honigman in SocialMedia Examiner, “Foursquare is the ideal platform to bridge the gap between your offline and online audience in an affordable and scalable way”.  The opportunity for co-operatives on Foursquare is huge, but at the present it seems to be an opportunity that is largely being missed.

In my last post, I discussed how credit unions, financial co-operatives, were successfully using Facebook to spread brand awareness.  They have been early adopters of social media and as such have been out in front of other co-ops.  Many are on Foursquare, but check-ins are limited and engagement relatively low.  That extends too to food co-ops.  When I searched Foursaquare for co-operatives in NH, the only one that came up was the Concord Co-Op.  They had limited company info and only 40 check-ins from 30 people.

There are two reasons why I see co-ops as not being successful with location based services such as Foursquare.  First, they are not properly categorizing themselves.  One of the key tenets of the co-operative movement is “Co-operation among co-operatives”.  Credit Unions should categorize themselves as co-operatives, so should the Concord co-op, currently listed as Uncategorized.  This would enable interested consumers to better see how the movement is represented in their area.  The second reason, is that check-ins are not being rewarded.  Co-operatives could take a page from this successful user Bright Eyes Family Vision Care.  Despite being a non-traditional venue for check-ins (as co-operatives certainly are), the owner increased engagement and awareness by offering odd and exciting promos, such as homemade hot sauce.

If Co-operatives are to truly emerge as the fastest growing form of enterprise in this decade, they will need, first, to let people know where they are.  Foursquare, a mobile social media application, is currently the best tool for them use.

Co-operatives unite and let the check-ins begin!