How To Teach Rocket Science

What credit unions can learn from NASA’s social media branding initiative.

Chris Hadfield is YouTube famous. He has an enviable job and is more than willing to share sometimes creatively, sometimes scholarly with his more than 244,000 subscribers. What does he share? Oh … hygiene lessons, David Bowie covers, burrito-making lessons … the usual YouTube fare. Only, he’s an astronaut. And all his videos take place in space.

Yes. They’re as cool as you imagine:

His videos reflect NASA’s widespread effort to alter its public perception. As technology advances and space as a commercial industry becomes more likely, the government agency has taken an active approach in public engagement, specifically with regard to social media.

For example, here’s the view from American astronaut Reid Wiseman’s window he shared via Vine.

NASA And Credit Unions

On the surface, NASA and credit unions seem to have little in common. One sends scientists into space; the other provides financial services to average Joes. But they do suffer from similar high-level problems. Both have perception issues that a strong social media presence has the ability to fix.

Credit unions struggle with awareness, especially among millennials. According to a 2013 CUNA study 22% of consumers age 18 to 24 are credit union members compared to 33% of all adults. Additionally, 71% of nonmembers age 18 to 24 are not at all familiar or not very familiar with credit unions. And despite the fact that credit unions generally receive higher customer satisfactionscores than banks, a lack of awareness on the part of nonmembers has resulted in many institutions dropping credit union from their namealtogether to avoid confusion.

NASA is an $18 billion agency that, to many, provides an ill-defined value. A little more than half a penny of every federal tax dollar ends up at NASA, according to, but how does the agency make our lives better? Sure, some who pay attention know, but wide swaths of people don’t.

The American public invests considerable resources into some pretty compelling Earth and space exploration, and it deserves as good a view into the technologies as we can provide, Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for communications, told Fast Company.

How You Can Make It Work

NASA’s branding project works for one indisputable reason: Space is cool. Most of us don’t know what’s out there. But that these pioneers and explorers have traveled distances most of us can never imagine intrigues us. It’s why a video of a Canadian astronaut singing David Bowie can get 24 million views on YouTube and inspire Bowie himself to waive this particular instance of copyright infringement.

The breadth of NASA’s outreach is immense. NASA films and releases video of many of its test flights including some 24/7 video streams it encourages astronauts to post space content to social media, its experts frequently fact-check Hollywood films, and the list goes on.

This branding effort educates the public, but it also humanizes the agency. It creates empathetic characters instead of faceless, nameless number crunchers. Watching NASA’s engineers try to land the Curiosity rover on Mars gives all viewers a rooting interest.

Realistically, credit unions can’t compete on the coolness front. But they do offer something most consumers need financial knowledge.

Instead of solely using social media to update members on what’s happening at branches or to post funny and timely content to attract eyeballs …

Luckily, leaving the evil #Empire & their #Banks is all too easy #MemeFriday#DontTaxMyCU #ItsTime2Pay@CUNAadvocacy

Teachers FCU (@TFCU) December 5, 2014

… credit unions can also use the platform to become a trusted resource for financial information, similar to what a site like Investopedia does. In-depth seminars and schools that walk attendees through complicated financial processes are great, but what about offering in-house videos or blog posts about the less complicated stuff? Establishing credit union expertise benefits the institution in several ways:

  • Financialeducationcontent can draw attention to the credit union’s social networks.
  • Financial education content can improve cross-sell and cross-promotional opportunities by suggesting next steps and additional credit union resources to viewers.
  • Good financial advice, especially when offered personally by a loan officer or deposit manager, breeds trust, and trust breeds relationships.

An example of this idea in action comes from BECU’s ($12.7B, Seattle, WA) Life. Money. You. financial wellness initiative. Here’s a sample video:

Both NASA and credit unions operate fairly complicated business models, and for both, many people want to learn more about the internal operations and external outputs that make each go. That’s the power of social media. It provides interested parties an up-close and personal look at these operations and outputs, from the comfort and convenience of their computer. Because if I can’t go to Mars, a video feed is the next best thing.

January 7, 2015

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