I analysed all the tweets between 5th of October to 5th of July that mention “credit union” and any of the 4 most popular banks in the US, either by name (“Bank of America”/“BoA”) or by tagging their Twitter accounts. There were 352 tweets advocating people to move from the big banks to credit unions, and only 2 tweets advocating the reverse, which is a ratio of 176:1. I did not include tweets from credit unions or banks themselves.
Analysis of all tweets between 5th of October to 5th of July that mentioned “credit union” or "credit unions” and “banks” or “bank” had 518 tweets advocating to move from banks to credit unions, and 15 tweets advocating to do the reverse, which is a ratio of 34:1.
All the tweets can be found in these two sheets (1, 2). The most commonly cited reasons were lower fees, better rates, customer service, non-profit status, member ownership, big banks’ support of fossil fuels and credit unions’ more open attitude towards cryptocurrencies.
This suggests that credit unions have a big advantage on social media; they are much better at turning their customers into advocates than other financial institutions. The movement should see social media advocacy as a new form of member volunteerism. It also has two big advantages compared to targeted advertisement: it doesn’t cost credit unions anything and people are more likely to make consumer choices based on referrals by people they follow on social media than from ads shown to them.
This is especially important since banks are outspending credit unions in advertisement 1:43. The war between credit unions and banks is not only between two ownership models, the cooperative and the shareholder, but also between two ways of doing outreach - one based on paid advertisement, the other based on voluntary customer advocacy.
Credit unions must cooperate with each other to foster member advocacy. I will present an example of a real life grass-roots credit union member advocacy campaign and an idea on how credit unions could try to foster such activities in the future.
In 2011 Sigurd Olin Christian, a Californian art gallery owner, started a Facebook event called “Bank Transfer Day”, advocating people to move from big banks to credit unions on 5th of November. 60 000 Facebook users pledged to join.
The period when the Facebook event was gaining steam saw a substantial increase in the number of people joining credit unions compared to the same time in the year prior, although it is hard to say how much of this was due to the campaign.
A rather good indicator of the effect of the campaign was the number of visits to aSmarterChoice.org, a website that helps users find their nearest credit unions. Before the campaign started, the site had about 2,000 visitors per week. The day before the Bank Transfer Day, the site saw 70 000 visits and during the day itself over 40 000. In the months that followed, traffic remained at a higher level than before, at about 5,000 - 6,000 visits a week. This was a big campaign, driven by bottom-up voluntary organising, with no paid advertisement. A similar campaign to advocate for people to switch from credit unions to big banks would never happen. This is cooperative advantage in action in the age of social media.
Only one third of millennials know the difference between a bank and a credit union, but roughly 90% of consumers view credit unions more positively, after learning the difference. To reach them (or us), credit unions could launch a website where members of all credit unions could submit images they have created advocating for credit unions; these could be anything from infographics to memes. They could also rate each others content, for example by giving 1-10 votes to each of the images. The images that receive the most likes could be rewarded with public recognition and vouchers, coupons, money, etc. Ideally members would not just submit and rate these images, but also share them. Perhaps there could be an annual awards for "member advocates”, non-professional credit union volunteers that have done great work promoting the movement. This would give credit unions and member advocates free social media material, as well as building member-to-member relationships.
For example, there is a Credit Union National Association outreach campaign called “Your Money Further”, with a Twitter account that does a great job of monitoring Twitter discussions about credit unions and replying to relevant tweets, often by sharing a link to the campaign website that includes a credit union locator. In addition to replying with a link to the credit union and an encouraging message, they could also post advocacy images created through member contests.
I’ve used the Coop Exchange account to do something similar, by creating a “Twitter moment” (a rarely used feature on Twitter that enables the user to create a compilation of tweets) where I’ve compiled a dozen tweets that present research findings, statistics and other facts about how awesome the US credit unions are. I have replied to around a hundred tweets of credit union member advocacy by linking the Twitter moment, and plan to do the same for hundreds more, including all the hundreds of tweets that I found when calculating the ratio of credit union and bank advocacy.
Nathan Schneider recently wrote an extremely important article about cooperatives, titled “Co-ops, from Lateral to Vertical and Back Again”. He makes the case that, as cooperatives grow, they turn from fostering lateral (member-to-member) to vertical (institution-member) relationships.
He explains the difference by writing: "Co-ops of the near future could find themselves asking less what they can do for their members and more what their members—and potential members—can do for each other.”
Content creation contests could be an example of not just member-to-member relationship building within a cooperative, but also across them.