Can You Measure Social Media's ROI?

The platforms have proven their worth in many respects, but social media's return on investment remains unclear.

April 8, 2014

A few years ago when social media was entering the mainstream, a credit union director stood up at the end of a social media panel discussion and asked the panelists, “How will Facebook save my credit union?”

Since that time, social media participation has skyrocketed among credit unions. But that director’s rhetorical question reflects a persistent skepticism about social media’s contribution to the bottom line. And that skepticism continues to dampen some credit unions’ social media enthusiasm.

On one side you have marketers extolling the virtues of social media, and on the other side you have chief financial officers (CFOs) asking hard questions about return on investment (ROI). this has created, at some credit unions, a social media stalemate.

There seem to be just as many social media success stories as there are skeptics.

Some credit unions have successfully used social media to improve brand awareness, amplify advocacy efforts, provide better member service, improve crisis communication, solicit feedback on new or proposed products, and bolster search engine optimization efforts.


Most credit unions’ social media efforts are designed to increase loyalty levels among members, which increases member engagement, and that leads to increased profitability. But it’s a circuitous route from social media to profitability, and therein lies the rub.

Measuring effectiveness

Most credit unions that don’t pay to advertise on social media gauge their effectiveness on penetration and engagement metrics. These metrics can tell you  whether or not members are seeing your message but they don’t tell you whether or not they’re acting on it.

Even when credit unions suggestively sell products through contextual posts—such as an article that discusses the pros and cons of a 15-year mortgage with links to loan rates and applications—conversion rates are murky at best.

And while “sales” traditionally has been a fourletter word in social media circles, some sales advocates view social media as a valuable, largely untapped opportunity. These proponents of sales tactics point to new tools that enable segmented marketing, lead generation, and prospect conversion.

Reaching a broader audience

Regardless of a credit union’s strategy, it must broaden its social media audience to make a significant impact.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of U.S. adults who go online were regularly using social media sites as of September 2013, according to Pew Research. Facebook remains the dominant platform, with 71% of all online adults—101 million daily users—taking part. Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube all have about 20% of online adults.

Some credit unions have developed sizable social media followings. But on the whole, credit unions have barely begun to connect with their own members, let alone the general public.

Financial institutions connect with an average of only 4.7% of their member/customer bases on Facebook, according to a recent study by the financial technology firm Shastic. As for Twitter, credit unions reach an audience equal to 0.8% of their aggregate memberships, reports thee Financial Brand. And of the twothirds of credit unions on Twitter, about 20% of their average of 400 followers are inactive.

“The most important component for any ROI measurement is audience growth,” says John Riordan of DAYTA Marketing, a social media firm that partners with the Minnesota Credit Union Network to maintain credit unions’ social platforms.

The most successful grassroots growth strategies revolve around creating engagement among members, nonmembers, and even credit union employees. Royal Credit Union in Eau Claire, Wis., with $1.3 billion in assets, placed 11th nationally among medium-size businesses in the Business Journal’s Social Madness contest last summer.

To earn that ranking, Andrea Finn, digital marketing specialist at Royal, created instructional videos to teach employees and directors how to use social media and recruited staff to spread the credit union’s message through their accounts.

To maximize eficiency, your social media strategies must align with your credit union’s broader marketing and business plans. “We can be a million different things to a million different people, but what are we known for? And how can we get this message to them?” asks Kenny DeShields, social media specialist at $724 million asset Vantage Credit Union in St. Louis.

NEXT: Enhancing engagement

Enhancing engagement

Royal’s Facebook following has increased fivefold to nearly 5,000 in the 15 months since Finn became its first full-time social media specialist. Despite that sudden influx of followers, she hasn’t seen any erosion of member-engagement levels, and she has used only 0.3% of Royal’s overall marketing budget.

“A lot of people were hesitant at first,” says Finn, “but when they saw the consistency of our message and that we were there for them, that changed quickly.”

Other credit unions report similar success stories. In only six months, DeShields generated substantial audience growth by using robust content and input from “Tweet-up Tuesdays”—brainstorming sessions between social media specialists at area credit unions.

Meanwhile, Vice President of Marketing Lynne O’Leary and Social Media Specialist Richard Murdocco have created a sizable following for $4.9 billion asset Teachers Federal Credit Union, Hauppauge, N.Y. The credit union’s social media channels have a quirky blend of themes, memes, localized contests, and stunts, including a faux credit card belonging to Darth Vader that shows up on the credit union’s Instagram page at local events and retail outlets.

CUNA Mutual Group social media managers Michael Ogden and Holly Fearing have noticed a considerable uptick in credit unions outsourcing their social media duties or hiring full-time staff.

“Credit unions frequently ask about what they can gain from social media,” says Fearing. “I would encourage credit unions to think in terms of the opportunities they’re missing by not engaging with social media.”

Social media experts offer this advice to credit unions trying to grow their audiences and increase member-engagement levels:

Develop a voice. The most effective posts carry a personal touch, a clear point of view, and an underlying message. Prove there’s a person behind the machine. “You can tell in a second when it’s a ‘canned’ response,” O’Leary of Teachers Federal says.

Focus on the “social.” Run contests. Salute other area businesses on their achievements to broadcast to their audiences. Talk about the topic of the day. “I’m communicating with our members about what’s relevant to them,” Royal’s Finn says. “If we’re in the midst of a huge snowstorm and people can’t get to work, I’m going to talk about that because that’s what they’re experiencing. At that moment, our loan sale is not their top priority.”

Be consistent and frequent. With the help of social media scheduling tools, Finn has posted content every day (except one) since she started, including weekends.

Facilitate internal communication. Constantly engage staff in other departments. Vantage’s DeShields meets every Monday with his supervisor, design team, and a communications specialist to discuss the week’s agenda. He has a department meeting every two weeks, and a big-picture planning session every month.

Constantly re-evaluate your efforts. Use metrics such as Google Analytics and Facebook Insights to determine when and where people see your messages, and adapt your posting habits accordingly. Observe which types of messages resonate with your members and which fall at.

Involve your colleagues. Your staff should be your credit union’s best social media ambassadors. When they share content, your reach expands exponentially, and in a more authentic manner than an organizational post. Staff should share their knowledge on specific subjects and share the responsibility of creating content. 

"That was a big barrier at the beginning,” recalls Royal’s Finn. “I can’t drive two hours to take a picture [Royal CU has 25 branches], so I rely on my colleagues for help. Fortunately, our staff is highly engaged.”

A case for sales

James Robert Lay, CEO of CU Grow, no longer thinks of “sales” through social media as inappropriate. “If you’re not selling on social media, then get the heck off it,” he proclaims.

Lay’s epiphany came a few years ago during a social media presentation at a credit union planning session, when one of the directors said, “We just need loans.”

He now believes credit unions can migrate their traditional business development strategies to the digital realm by pairing data analysis with social media to nurture interest among members who need—or soon will need—credit union products and services.

“Social and content marketing is all about helping people,” Lay says. “We can deliver highly personalized messages regardless of where a consumer is in the digital buying cycle.”

Shastic’s Calcubot—a Facebook mortgage and auto financing tool that updates a credit union’s loan rates daily—is one early success story reflecting social media’s ability to generate actionable loan prospects.

About three-quarters of Calcubot users make one or more loan estimates, and 8% connect to an online loan application page at Calcubot’s more than 60 credit union clients, according to Shastic founder Joseariel Gomez.

“We identified new and used vehicle loans with balances totaling $887,043 as a result of members applying through Calcubot,” says George Balchev, manager of digital channels at $8.1 billion asset Alliant Credit Union in Chicago.

Credit unions must also consider paying to promote content, especially since Facebook’s recent algorithm adjustments greatly diminished the exposure of business page posts among followers.

Because of social media’s ability to target a specific audience, credit unions can get a significantly better return on social media ads than they do with traditional online mass marketing efforts, according to James Pond, a principal at James and Matthew + Company.

Credit unions will continue to debate social media’s ROI as it evolves. As the debate continues, it’s important to put the role of social media into perspective.

“People sometimes forget there are many marketing channels; social media is just one tool in your tool kit,” says Lisa Totaro, marketing manager for Sunmark Federal Credit Union, Latham, N.Y. “Compared to other marketing channels, it’s still pretty cheap.”

ADAM MERTZ is Credit Union Magazine’s senior editor. Contact him at 608-231-4342 or @AdamMertzCUNA.