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Social Media for Financial Institutions

This article will be featured in an upcoming issue of Credit Union Smart Solutions.

Cashing in on Social Media

Every financial institution wants to make a killing on Facebook. After all, there are more than 550 million users – up 100 million in the last six months. Twitter is also exploding, and LinkedIn has 75 million users in 200 countries.

Oddly enough, most financial institutions barely have 1,600 “fans” on their fan pages in Facebook. If you look at the top fan pages as of January 2010, you won’t find any financial institutions. Pizza is there. Mafia Wars. Gaga. No credit unions.

If you’re hoping to sell on Facebook, my best advice is: forget it! Sure, the numbers are staggering, but people are on Facebook to connect, share pictures, play games, and waste time: they’re not really looking to evaluate a mortgage or auto loan.

Social Media Should Drive Organic Search

There’s one valuable use for social media for your credit union. It’s just not what you think it is. Our number one use is to win new members by driving customers to your website. You do that by improving your organic search rankings. This is typically known as SEM or search engine marketing.

Why is this important? People research 86% of all decisions on the Internet. If they’re looking for a new financial institution how likely are they to find you?

Ever since Google bought YouTube, they’ve been giving great weight to video clips. If your website has videos on it, your search rankings will improve. If you post videos on YouTube with links back to your website, your search rankings will go up. Google is also indexing Tweets now – a major indication that Twitter has come of age.

Google also gives higher search ranking to blogs. Why? Simply because they feel that blogs reflect comments from the public and will have less pure propaganda than a website. Having a blog will increase your search rankings and traffic to your website.

Many credit unions are worried about social media and blogs in particular. They worry because you can’t control the conversation, and that some members will post negative comments. That’s true, but each negative comment on a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook is an opportunity to reach out and make the situation better. And, there are likely already comments out there in pages you don’t even control: almost every online article has an area for comments. What are people saying about your credit union?

One way to find out is by monitoring their conversations, and this is actually the best starting place for your credit union in social media. Tools like Radian6 or GeeYee let you monitor what people are saying—sort of like a social media clipping service. Once you know what the conversations are, you’re in a better position to jump in and influence them.

Work Hard, Build Slow

Social Media is not going to be the instant, cheap panacea to the marketing challenges people initially thought it would be. A fan page on Facebook alone just won’t cut it. A blog takes a lot of work. The trick here, in blogs, Twitter, Facebook and others is to provide helpful content: Ideas on budgeting; How to decide if refinancing your mortgage makes sense; College financing tips. It takes a lot of work because the content has to be fresh and frequent. Not once a month: ideally, several times a day. (Really!)

The good news is you don’t have to write all the content yourself. You can set up Google Alerts to search for topics of interest and automatically email you – on a schedule you determine—news articles and other postings on those topics. You can repurpose that content for your blog, news postings on your website, and on your social media pages.

Keep It Fresh

You may have noticed a continuing theme here: your website and social media pages need to be fresh. Google increases organic search rankings based on fresh content; if their search bots hit your website and see nothing new, your search index goes down. So your site needs frequent updating, and you should have a robust content management system (CMS) that lets you make changes and update content easily. This keeps content fresh and rankings up. And if organic search rankings are higher, you have a better chance of being found.

Want to know more about how your financial institution can put these tips to good use? Check out the Social Media and SEM sections of our blog for more information.

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