MADISON, Wis. (11/10/11)--While all the media coverage of consumers' exodus from banks to credit unions certainly helped get the word out about the benefits of credit unions, don't underestimate the power of social media' in what at least one media outlet called the "stampede" to credit unions.
Social media played a key role in the chain of events from Sept. 29 through Bank Transfer Day--the kind of role that communications academicians and consumer behaviorists will study for years.
One lesson learned "is the power of social media," said Massachusetts Credit Union League President Daniel F. Egan Jr. in his president's message to credit unions in the league's monthly newsletter (Values & Visions November). "Being aware and involved with social media sites can help you interact in this new environment in a positive way. It has far reaching and dramatic effects on the public perception of many institutions in our society," Egan wrote.
As The Baltimore Sun put it, when Kristen Christian got angry at Bank of America's fee, "she did what many people do these days when they get mad: She put it on Facebook. What followed was an illustration of the power of social media" (Baltimore Sun Nov. 5). On Oct. 4, she urged 500 of her Facebook friends to abandon their banks. Suddenly 75,000 people had pledged to participate in Bank Transfer Day. And that, said the Sun, culminated in the mass rush to credit unions.
News Now realized that Bank Transfer Day could be a serious move for credit unions after a reader forwarded a link to the Bank Transfer Day Facebook page initiated by Christian. What caught News Now's attention was the response to that page and to other similar pages. Credit union members had written in about how great their credit unions were and how they weren't charged the fees the big banks had charged. They tweeted their testimonials to others, put the information on their own Facebook pages and commented on blogs. It was a marketer's dream.
Members, in discussing their own credit union experiences, provided a direction that disgruntled consumers could take. Realizing the potential to attract more members, credit unions took it from there. They used their own social media to get the word out about how credit unions are a better deal. To reinforce their message, many developed their own ads and promotional campaigns and offered incentives. Some, such as Bethpage FCU, created special microsites to urge consumers to try out the credit union. On Saturday alone, it generated 672 new accounts.
The rest has made credit union history: 700,000 new members, $4.5 billion in new deposits.
Just reporting on the events brought record numbers. News Now's home page received more than 1 million hits in October. Typically the page receives 500,000 hits a month. In May, it received 300. Although it doesn't publish on Saturdays and Sundays, the site received more than 5,900 hits on Saturday, which was Bank Transfer Day, and 4,900 on Sunday. Its top story on the event attracted 11,000 viewers.
Sites for consumers to locate a credit union--including aSmarterChoice.org and findaCU.org--hit all time highs: 69,999 hits Friday and 62,000 hits on Saturday, Bank Transfer Day. Even on Monday-- after the Bank Transfer Day was officially over--the site received 29,000 hits. The typical average is 2,000 to 3,000 hits. After a story on Fox Business News, the site received so many e-mails that it froze up the search engine.
In New Jersey, between Nov. 1 and 6, New Jersey credit unions received 45,315 hits on the credit union locator sites, nearly quadruple the number received in an average month, reported the New Jersey Credit Union League (The Daily Exchange Nov. 7).
"I think we may look back in a few years and say that this was the spark that caused a lot of people to say, 'Yes, credit unions are a better deal,'" CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney told the Baltimore Sun. "Because at a credit union, the members are the shareholders."
In a state that received one of the biggest boosts in new members in October, Texas Credit Union League President/CEO Dick Ensweiler said he was confident that the newest members "will continue to discover all that their credit unions have to offer, and will take advantage of savings on loans, credit cards and other financial products. With the help of social media and consumer advocates, people across the country are discovering credit unions and are making the move" (LoneStar Leaguer Nov. 9).