Stuck at '12:00?'

Participating in social media is risky but necessary.

December 27, 2010

“Nothing good was invented after 1980.” That was my father’s take on why his Betamax video machine was as good as we were going to get.

While I hold my dad in high regard, I still remember the morbid look on his face when we bought him a DVD player for Christmas. “Thanks,” he said, looking at the box as if it contained human body parts. “I’ll just open it later.”

Later never came. We found the box, unopened, propping up his venerable Betamax machine. “It makes pressing the buttons easier,” he quipped.

He never figured out how to set the clock on the Betamax either, so our house was perpetually flashing “12:00.”

It wasn’t that he was technology-averse. He had so many gizmos, the house looked like a Star Wars garage sale. He simply didn’t see the need for most new technology.

It’s a good segue to the reason credit unions lag so badly on social media.

What’s the need? What does it do? How does it work? And why does my son call me an idiot when I refer to his Facebook account as a “waste of time”?

A bit confused myself, I Googled the term, “social media definition.” That exercise yielded about 234,000 hits.

What I gathered is that social media is:

  • Internet-based;
  • Collaborative; and
  • The way a lot of consultants make a living.

At its essence, it isn’t media; rather it’s social interaction in an electronic format. Conversations now happen day or night between people thousands of miles apart. You probably participate in this community in your spare time.

For any organization, entering this new environment is risky. Attempt a traditional marketing blast and you’re sure to find yourself in social media purgatory faster than corn through a goose.

No, the goal is to be helpful and human. Specifically:

  • Don’t post on every existing site. While getting your message out hasn’t been this cheap since prom night, if you aren’t careful you’ll be tagged the same as that loud, obnoxious drunk guy at the Christmas party.
  • Be pertinent. Is Jill now an MSR II? Great for Jill, but who else cares?
  • Let others talk. If you want a one-sided conversation, get married.
  • Don’t wander. Just because the Internet is random, doesn’t mean you should be, too. Don’t follow up your posting about hours with the latest amusing video from YouTube where a kid gets popcorn stuck up his nose.
  • Don’t be all corporate-like. Show members you have two sides—not only the one that loves to charge them $30 for a courtesy pay.
  • Update consistently. Not like a squirrel with attention deficit disorder, but regularly.
  • Tailor your message to the medium. Don’t split your 1,400-char­acter press release into 10 twitter-sized posts.
  • Don’t slam critics. And don’t engage them. Answer them honestly, and then get on with life. That’s what we do in the real world.
  • Set goals concerning your social media marketing plan, even if this means the CEO might make you actually achieve them.
  • Listen. Use sites like and to see what people are saying not only about your credit union, but also about your competitors and the world, in general.

Whether you’re pro­active or not, your organization will be part of this new social medium. Will your credit union be the one stuck at “12:00”?

JAMES COLLINS is CEO at O Bee CU, Tumwater, Wash. Contact him at 360-943-0740.