The Web 2.0 Make/Buy Decision

There’s much talk about Web 2.0 and social media in the financial space these days. Often, you get the impression that you’re failing if you don’t have a MySpace page, a Facebook account, a blog, a Twitter account, etc.

Reality Check:

  • Most people don’t want to hang out at a website created by a bank or credit union. There are very, very few examples to the contrary.
  • Financial institutions grossly underestimate the immense amounts of time, energy and money it takes to create even a semi-successful Web 2.0 presence.
  • Web 2.0 is all about creating content and engagement. What can you offer (and to whom?) that isn’t already available somewhere else in a better, bigger, or more well-known online venue?
  • Don’t listen to anyone who mandates a specific Web 2.0 tool for your financial institution. Web 2.0 tools are simply a means to an end. They are not the only way to reach Gen-Y. There are other ways to reach the same audience.

The Make/Buy Decision

Building your own Web 2.0 presence from scratch isn’t the only option. You can successfully “draft” off someone who already has an established online reputation.

For example, take KeyBank. They teamed up with Etch-a-Sketch sensation and YouTube celebrity George Vlosich. This viral, time-lapse video shows the Etch-A-Sketch portrait of NBA star Carmelo Anthony as it was being drawn.

More than a million viewers have seen the KeyBank video on sites across the internet. The campaign won top honors at this year’s ABA awards ceremony.

If KeyBank set out to produce its own viral video, what would they have made? And how many people would have watched it?

Here’s another example: Citibank’s recent sponsorship of the popular Aussie entertainment website, ninemsn.

And then there’s Forum Credit Union, based in Indianapolis, who sponsors the Colts Fan Forum, an interactive subsection of the official NFL Colts.com website. The forum boasts 1,673 topics with 42,147 comments from its 9,395 members.

The site says there are over 1,500 active members. There were over 150 registered users online at the time this article was written. That’s 150 opportunities in one day to expose users to a Forum Credit Union marketing message as each one signs in. Not to mention the opportunities presented as each new user signs-up.

Reality Check: The NFL’s Colts might be able to get 10,000 fans at a website to a talk about something they are deeply passionate about. If you build your own Web 2.0 presence, how many people do you think you can draw? You don’t have Peyton Manning, so what do you have to offer?

Tips & Advice

If you’re going to partner with an existing, established online success, here are some tips:

  1. Think locally.
    Whether you’re a huge regional bank or a small town credit union, you want an online community that covers your geographic area and not much more. You want to minimize “waste” just like you would with any media. You don’t buy TV channels in markets you’re not in, so why would you do something similar online? Pick the right partner and you’ll make sure you’re reaching the right audience.
  2. Negotiate an exclusive.
    If you can’t be the only marketer tied to the website, event, etc., at least ensure you’re the only financial institution.
  3. Someone needs to own it.
    There are no easy solutions. You can’t just write a check and expect big results. To maximize your opportunities, someone needs to be answering questions, representing your financial institution and interacting with the online community you’re sponsoring. Your logo gets you halfway to first base. Your people, your presence and your participation are what make you a well-respected member of an online community.  (Note: It will probably require at least 20 hours a week.)
  4. Be creative.
    In what ways can you participate? A special profile in the community? What freebies can you offer? Where does your logo go? Banner ads? Email marketing? Can you sponsor a special section of the community? What can you do offline? How can you promote your relationship with the community to a broader audience?
  5. Understand your motives.
    If you’re looking to build business, you’ll have to make sure your partner gives you opportunities to do more than slap a logo in a few places. You might be creating tons of “engagement,” but if it doesn’t help drive new business with your organization, you seriously need to ask yourself: “Why are we doing this?” You could certainly partner with an online community for purely altruistic motives. If that’s the case, just be clear with everyone on your team that it’s a CSR initiative. People in your organization need to know what to expect. Otherwise, someone will throw it back in your face someday and your partnership will get the axe.

Bottom Line: Establishing a significant, respected and credible online presence by teaming-up with a website, forum, venue or personality that already has a community of followers can take a lot less time and energy than trying to create something from scratch. Of course it will cost more, but it’s about as close to a shortcut as you’ll find. And it still takes a lot of energy (read: “manpower”) to successfully support it.

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