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PenFed plays up the social side of social media (CUJournal, January 31, 2019)

Thursday, January 31, 2019  
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Some credit unions are switching up their social media game with new content aimed at further strengthening member relations.

A Nielsen Total Audience Report from the first quarter of 2018 found that nearly half of an adult’s day is spent consuming media. Because of that, successfully utilizing social media is becoming even more important for credit unions.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union has decided to tackle this by kicking off 2019 with the addition of a new digital division. The unit will be geared toward raising awareness around the credit union industry and veteran affairs – rather than just PenFed talking about itself. Described as a mix of digital and social media, the new division at the McLean, Va.-based credit union will create content and post it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

This strategy can provide unique opportunities for credit unions to connect with members who are visiting branches less frequently. Having a social media pipeline can strengthen a bond between the member and a credit union.

“It’s a way to regain that relationship because it’s more relevant and not just transaction driven," said A. Stewart Rose, president of Truebridge, a content marketing firm geared toward financial institutions. “It’s about creating dialogue.”

PenFed’s digital content will discuss a range of topics that aren’t just about banking issues but are still important to its members. It will cover the entire industry and tell stories highlighting veterans, active duty service members, military families and other topics related to military and community service.

The credit union will have a team of more than 100 employees, including former journalists, working on content. Though PenFed declined to comment on how much the effort will cost, private capital was needed to acquire long-term partner and advertising firm, WHITE64, which will be part of the initiative.

The $24.1 billion-asset institution also hired Andrea McCarren, a former television journalist, as the new chief content officer for PenFed Digital. McCarren's accolades include 22 Emmy Awards and a year-long Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.

The division will also experiment with unique content, including a likely cameo from the third military service dog that McCarren is raising. She explained that service dogs not only have helped with audience following – people love animals – but have also given McCarren credibility with veterans and other service members. That in turn has spurred stories that otherwise would not have been told.

Pictured above is the PenFed Digital team alongside a 6,000 piece LEGO Taj Mahal that was gifted to a colleague. L-R: Steve Bosack, Special Advisor to the President and CCO; Andrea McCarren, VP and Chief Content Officer PenFed Digital; Chris Mullen, Senior Manager of Creative Content, PenFed Digital; John Mogor, Senior Manager of Content Strategy, PenFed Digital; Amanda Ota, Mgr. of Content Development

Pictured above is the PenFed Digital team alongside a 6,000 piece Lego Taj Mahal that was gifted to a colleague. From left to right: Steve Bosack, special adviser to the president; Andrea McCarren, chief content officer of PenFed Digital; Chris Mullen, senior manager of creative content for PenFed Digital; John Mogor, senior manager of content strategy for PenFed Digital; and Amanda Ota, manager of content development.

The goal “is to become a daily go-to destination for people looking for stories of inspiration, resilience and service,” McCarren said. “Service comes in different forms.”

Providing this type of content is especially important since markets are saturated with stories. Generating information that is unique to a company isn't solely a marketing technique, but also a quintessential defense strategy for a company's vitality, according to Rose. This mindset is what separates social marketing platforms from newsrooms, albeit the two have some heavy overlap.

Focusing on social media allows organizations to foster a community, something that isn’t possible with older marketing techniques, Rose said. Since social media marketing provides customers with the ability to communicate directly with the credit union, it strengthens the bond.

"If [an organization does] not become the go-to place for people to absorb and digest content, people will go somewhere else so [social media marketing] has a defensive posture as well,” Rose said.

One of the reasons that PenFed launched the new digital division was because it didn’t think it had enough visibility compared with some of its competitors, said James Schenck, PenFed’s president and CEO. Some of its largest competitors spend significantly more on advertising than PenFed does, according to Schenck.

The credit union plans to partner with other organizations focused on veterans, including the Defense Credit Union Council. Tony Hernandez, CEO and president of the group, suggested that PenFed could create a series of financial readiness videos for veterans.

Hernandez also recommended that PenFed highlight issues around military spouses, including employment programs they can utilize. A series that shows veterans transitioning to civilian life could also be helpful, he added.

“PenFed Digital can show stories that can provide inspiration and hope and a way to overcome some of the obstacles that veterans face such as war injuries, financial [problems] or even just normal social issues like for those dealing with hard times,” Hernandez said. “And for those transitioning veterans, that’s a great opportunity for PenFed to highlight stories for those who have made successful transitions.”

For the next few weeks, PenFed will continue to prep content ahead of the division’s launch in early March around the Credit Union National Association’s Governmental Affairs Conference.

To deem the venture a success, McCarren is aiming to make a difference in the lives of veterans rather than boosting numbers for PenFed.

“We are serving as the champions of the consumer,” she noted.

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