A little over two years ago, I helped the Councils launch CUNA Councils Connect
, an online social network for members. Why? Soon after I started working here, it was clear there was a need for robust member searching and more targeted discussion groups with additional functionality. Working with volunteer credit union members of every Council, planning and development took about six to eight months before we launched the network. I learned a lot in that span of time, but I’ve probably learned even more in the last two years actually managing the online community.
The following are the biggest lessons I have learned. Keep in mind that it not only applies to social networks or communities, but could easily be applicable to some aspects of your credit union’s social media activity, particularly your credit union’s Facebook page.
Care and feeding is a must. This is huge. “If you build it, they will come” does not apply here. As most of you know, with almost any social media tool or website, you need to constantly remind and tell your prospective users about it. Council members are plugged into a lot of networks and still have a very heavily used list serve. Therefore, I not only set up and update Connect to send many types of automatic notifications, but I also frequently send email reminders with relevant news and information to remind members of the network’s usefulness.
Make it easy. If you work and work to get them to use your site, you want them to find what they are looking for. Otherwise, they probably won’t login again. For example, in the set up phase, I worked very hard to make Connect’s username and password the same as the rest of Council’s other password protected areas. That was a small thing, but I know it ensures members have one less hurdle to jump when using the site.
Your users will surprise you. That’s a good thing! Because social media is so participatory and conversational, often your members will have good ideas. For instance, we envisioned Connect’s discussion groups to be focused around areas of expertise, geographic, or topical subjects. And they were. But a few months after launch, some members started vendor “users groups” for members to share best practices and questions on a specific vendor or product. They took off immediately. In the same vein, your users will also have good suggestions on usability and functionality. Listen to your users.
Beware of feature creep. You can do a lot with social media tools and you will be tempted to use all the bells and whistles at your fingertips. To make it easy and useful, just focus on your objectives and then look at actual activity. One example: the company we work with to provide CUNA Councils Connect offers a bunch of cool features as part of their social networking platform. I use about 60% (ie: I really don’t have a reason to roll out wikis and geo-caching…yet). Additionally, when we launched Connect, we had a “live chat” feature, where we envisioned members talking to other members in real-time over CU issues, etc. After a year of usage and education, I noticed no one really used the feature correctly or even understood how to use it. We pulled the plug on it and no one noticed. That means one less thing to get in the way of Connect’s core features and usefulness.
Find a few evangelists & power users to help spread the word. You will find that certain individuals will take to the community right away. They post more than others. They love the features. They are not shy. They have good ideas. Get to know these people! I have a group of people like that in Connect and always promote their postings when I can, send them emails or notes after they post, give them a nudge sometimes, and even go so far as sending some small “trinkets” in the mail to thank them.
These are the big ones. Did I miss anything? Please feel free to leave in the comments.