The Power of the Keyboard: Debate Grows Over Blogging’s Role at Credit Unions

What benefits does it have? Can it count as advertising? Is it wasting employees’ time?


The Power of the Keyboard: Debate Grows Over Blogging’s Role at Credit Unions

What benefits does it have? Can it count as advertising? Is it wasting employees’ time?

A few credit unions have become very involved in blogging. Verity Credit Union ($346M in Seattle, WA) was the first to begin in 2004. Currently there are at least 11 credit unions blogging to their members, and other credit union executives blogging to other industry leaders. Blogging is a relatively new and still evolving technology, and it’s causing controversy.
A February, 2007 article on blogging, titled “Talk of the (Virtual) Town: Bloggers Spread the “Buzz” About Credit Unions,” stirred up a heated debate among industry professionals. The article resulted in over forty differing points of view posted as comments to the article. The article conversation itself demonstrates the power of community idea exchange in a blog-like format which forms the foundation of the point, counterpoint exchanges below.

Here’s a brief look at three main issues that are being debated:

Issue #1:
What are the measurable benefits to credit unions for blogging?

Point: Traditional marketing is difficult to track and when you throw a “non-traditional” medium it’s even more difficult. However, Verity has hired numerous employees since the blog began who cited the blog as the reason for wanting to work at Verity. Member growth is an issue and so is awareness. If people within the community connect with the ideas and values that are presented in the blog, then the relationship is enhanced which should lead to more consideration of credit union services to meet future financial needs. So, if starting a blog can bring in even a few new members or strengthen existing relationships then isn’t it worth it?

Counterpoint: There are lots of potential ways to use a credit union’s finite resources, so does blogging really deserve priority over other initiatives such as member education seminars and marketing campaigns? Blogs can be restrictive and contain information not always directly relevant to the product relationship credit unions are striving for. They often do not directly address member’s financial needs and instead sometimes seem to serve the bloggers ego as opposed to the overall success of the cooperative.

Issue #2:
How is blogging any different or better than regular advertising?

Point: Blogging is not product advertising. Instead, it is a conversation with members enabling the credit union to communicate in a less scripted and arguably more interesting way – often at a very low added cost to produce. Effective credit union blogs will help members better understand the credit union’s identity and values, most often through the first-person voices of committed credit union staff and supported by the commentary of members. This reinforces the idea that the credit union is more than just another business in the community with an impact that goes well beyond that of the formal static one-way monthly newsletter, direct mail marketing, or highway billboards.

The future ROI from blogging may by its nature be more difficult to directly track, but that should not be misconstrued as evidence that ROI does not exist at all. If credit union leaders let concerns about tracking short-term ROI prevent this kind of important new form of exchange, then they will definitely miss out on the new opportunity presented to start or improve member relationships that have lasting future value for the organization.

CounterPoint: The purpose of blogging and advertising seem to be one and the same; cultivate expanded relationships with community members through increased participation in the cooperative. However, the return on each of these investments has very different time horizons. Traditional marketing and advertising typically have short-term accountability and direct conversion metrics. It is relatively easy to track how the dollars spent increased participation with the credit union. Conversely, blogging appears to be a longer-term investment in enhancing relationships with members through reinforcement of value being created and support of the community by the credit union. As a result, the direct impact from blogs on increasing member product participation appears to be “fuzzy” at best. Given existing limited resources, it makes more sense to stick to traditional marketing approaches and perhaps simply beef-up the existing monthly newsletter.

Issue #3:
Is blogging literally a waste of time?

Point: Effective blogging need not be about lengthy postings taking hours of time and editorial process. This is a key way blogs are different from producing traditional newsletters. Instead, concise communication of ideas are what matter most in making a blog accessible to larger audiences. Posts are often as simple as a few sentences with a link to other existing web sites/pages for expanded information.

Blogging can also be a hobby practiced by interested staff outside of normal business hours as a means of sharing information with others who have similar interests. In the case of Verity Credit Union, Storm says “We have several highly productive employees who love blogging and so publishing a post every few weeks doesn’t take up a lot of their time, nor does it interfere with their duties. I imagine employees spend an hour or two a month on it.”

CounterPoint: This is just one more thing to take our staff away from their jobs. What’s the analysis of the cost of employees spending their time blogging rather than doing other community outreach? Should we have employees, already taxed by heavy workloads, spend their time and the organization’s resources to practice a new technology that doesn’t have a proven business impact?

As witnessed from the positions taken on the three issues above, there is no consensus on blogging and its place in the credit union community. Given the longer-term ROI justification this is a debate that is likely to go on for years. However, the development of blogging gives us another important chance to reflect on the role of the internet in the delivery of the credit union message to the community.

“What the heck is a blog?”
A blog, by definition, is a series of journal entries in reverse chronological order that can be commented on by readers. To put it plainly, a blog looks like any standard webpage with text, except that entries are typically informal, first-person accounts where community discussion is encouraged and contributed by the reader audience below each entry. Credit unions should be aware of blogging trends as a part of the social media movement and the potential role for enhancing online communications with members.