This page is a communal effort to share our 25 years of crisis communications knowledge and the knowledge of credit unions around the country on how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Help us continue to grow this free resource for fellow credit unions by submitting your question or sharing what you've learned via this submission form.
We can manage this crisis together now. We can prepare for the days to come.
Since March 16th when President Trump issued the first set of guidelines for social distancing across the USA, credit unions have responded quickly to the needs of their members and their staff. Relief efforts have been put in place to help members: loan payment deferments, waived fees, no-penalty early withdrawals of share certificates and holiday club accounts, and many more. To get word to members, emails have been sent, landing pages have been created and social media posts have been posted. So, what's next?
It's time for proactive, positive and thoughtful communication strategies for your members and prospective members. It's time to leverage digital and social channels to their maximum potential. But, these questions remain:
How do you communicate what your credit union is prepared to do for members without sounding mercenary?
How does this communication plan and marketing strategy grow and evolve?
The mission of this page is to be a free resource, with helpful information and ideas that will ultimately get credit unions everywhere through this crisis and even come through it as a better prepared, more strategic organization.
People helping people—it's at the heart of what we all believe. Let's put it into practice with each other.
Time to speak up
5 Tips for Member Communication
Don't be afraid to overcommunicate.
Help ease members' concerns by communicating clearly, often and most important, proactively. Create planned, sustained communications.
Plan for the Future + Action = Success.
Move beyond emergency communications and pushing convenience services and on to how you'll continue to be there for members in meaningful ways in the future.
Now that the national social distancing guidelines have been extended through April, now's the time for segmented marketing. Think through the various personas of your membership and provide bite-sized messages intended just for them.
Your members will remember how you spoke to them during this crisis. How you're talking to them is as important as what you're saying, so practice restraint, tolerance and empathy.
Tap your resources.
You're not alone. If you're uncertain of how/when/where to communicate, tap into your resources, including fellow credit unions and Raoust+Partners.
We're in this together
Question of the week: Does my credit union's story actually matter in the current cultural climate?
The quick answer: Yes. Your story drives trust, and trust drives action.
There are 3 parts to your story:
What you say
What you do
What members say
What You Say
Emails. Social media posts. Billboards. The "about" section on your credit union website. This is the first part of your story unfolding in real-time for the world to see. But are you following through on what you say? That leads us to...
What You Do
The #1 reason consumers trust brands: they deliver good products and services. They don't just talk, they walk the walk. Great rates, friendly service, making members smile, the whole shebang. This is the second crucial piece of your story. If done well, this will lead to social proof (aka positive ratings and reviews), the all-important finale.
What Members Say
The #2 reason consumers trust brands are positive ratings and reviews—especially those on social media. 3.5 billion people use social media. That's 45% of the world's population. Of those, over 90% of millennials and 77.5% of Gen X have social media accounts. What's being said about you?
Explore Additional Questions
We're looking ahead to 401(k) withdrawals. So what kind of communication can be provided for riding the storm and keeping retirement funds safe where they are?
Most important: do not mislead or give information slanted to the credit union's benefit.
Since you know this is a major concern for your members, be proactive. Answer the question before it gets asked. This is not a one-and-done topic, meaning you need to plan to communicate consistently on this issue over the next few months.
Do your research and create your credit union's "talking point" – and be ready to change it if need be.
The channels we recommend using for this would include:
Member-facing Staff (make sure they know how to answer this question, and are not injecting their own spin, fear, or opinion)
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) and blog posts:
If you have a resident expert at your credit union, post an article (or several) from them
Post links to articles written by recognized leaders and websites (even if they quote a competitor)
Is it okay to tout the generous donations to charitable causes we've made during this time?
We would suggest that "touting" is not your best approach here; it might come across as chest-pounding. However, being transparent, truthful, and timely when communicating news is always a good idea. Write a straightforward press release, send it to your local business publications, and post it on your website's "Media" section.
Should I stop marketing for the time-being?
This is the #1 question, right?
History shows us the businesses that best weather crises are those who DO continue to market throughout the crisis. They find a way to promote without profiteering. The best way to do that is to focus your marketing on:
Products that will help stretch monthly budgets
Products that will safeguard and grow savings, while maintaining access to the money on deposit
Products that will bring low-cost money into the household
If your current inventory of products doesn't address these needs, consider innovating or tweaking, for instance:
Now may be the time to roll out that small-dollar, low-interest loan; car title loan; credit-check-free line of credit; flexible short-term CD; high-interest Savings Club; or other products and services your members may need.
Or look at the criteria of existing products? Does it make sense for members to lose accumulated dividends if they withdraw funds from their Christmas Savings Club account?
Should I suspend my member onboarding and cross-selling efforts?
Short answer is no. But, do look at the content. Now may not be the time to cross-sell specific products; for instance: In your markets would it be wise to change your new auto loan message to an auto loan refi message?
Facebook scares me right now. Is it really a good idea to use it and the other social media channels?
There's no denying it: social media is shaping our fears and responses to the coronavirus pandemic. As such, it's tempting to avoid these platforms for the foreseeable future. After all, why take the risk of alienating members or being misinterpreted during such a volatile time?
Because credit unions that abandon social media will miss out on a big opportunity to provide beneficial information to their members during their time of need.
The key to success is to avoid politics and instead remain optimistic—and make sure all communications align with your organization's talking points, which might include:
Changes to your operation, such as lobby closures and the expansion of over-the-phone or drive-thru services
How-to videos: start with your remote deposit feature and Bill Pay service and add videos from there
Articles with strategies for stretching a monthly budget
Links to activities that can help alleviate the isolation, such as online dance parties
Social media is full of people using their talents to comfort others: it's okay (and encouraged) to link to them
Directing people to sites and groups that are listing ways to help (giving blood at local blood banks, for example)
My CU is grappling with how to make changes quickly and rapidly. How can we inform members more efficiently?
In this case, efficiency needs to be defined by how quickly the message can be broadcast to as many members as possible, rather than by how quickly the task can be completed by the credit union. Therefore, multiple channels will be needed to ensure the greatest number of members will be informed.
Hopefully by this point, your credit union will have developed a holistic and cohesive look and feel for all COVID-19 response assets you have been deploying or plan to deploy in the near future. It is critical that members immediately recognize a specific COVID-19 response update by its appearance alone, which will ensure that they are actually reading what you are communicating.
Start with the channel that is the quickest to update and then the next quickest, and so forth, until you have made it through the list:
Website Home Page Banner Updates to be fully sensitive and responsive during this health emergency
Landing Page, such as this one, to curate and manage all member messaging
"Behind the PIN" Ads for online banking, bill pay, mobile app, PFM, credit card portal, etc. (if applicable)
Social Media Accounts (Twitter and Facebook are your best channels to share news)
Branch Exterior Electronic Message Centers (it depends on the message, but this is an excellent channel to communicate changes to your branch operations)
Mobile App Push Message
inBranch Video Screens (if your branch lobbies are still open)
How do I avoid being "tone deaf"?
Think through your membership, and act and speak wisely. For instance:
If you are a low-income designated credit union, promoting your high-interest rate checking account that requires a $5,000 minimum deposit, probably should not be a banner on your home page.
On the flip side, if your membership base is high income and unlikely to lose their jobs as restaurants, bars, gyms, et cetera close, this is exactly the product to promote.
How can we ease the stress of members?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Even the most mundane information is worth sharing with your members. Spend time with your team thinking about the fears your members may have, and the ones they've openly voiced, and address them accordingly.
Real-Life Tip: Before promoting your short-term and title loans, find out if your underwriting guidelines for these loan types include a membership-as-of requirement (such as, "membership as of March 1, 2020 required").
This seems obvious, but in today's environment it can easily be overlooked and it's important to not waste resources delivering a message to an audience who cannot take part in the product you are promoting.
Should my collections team make changes based on COVID-19?
Yes. Consider the extreme circumstances we've found ourselves in and shift your tone and expectations accordingly. Many people don't have the income they depend on and might be under more stress and uncertainty than they've ever felt in their lives.
What's the best way to train our staff to handle COVID-19 communications?*
For starters, the Leadership Team needs to:
Agree to, compile, and present "Talking Points" for your entire staff. (Resist the urge to simply email these or post them on your intranet site!)
And then divide your "communications" into channels: direct and marketing.
By "direct" we mean anyone who speaks directly with a member.
And by "marketing" we mean all indirect methods of communicating, including both digital and traditional channels.
For direct communications, role playing is essential to make sure staff know how to address situations that don't go according to the script.
For marketing communications, every channel, campaign, and deliverable should be scrutinized. Start with your website. Next, up is your existing programs. Do they align with the priorities, tone, and messaging in the Talking Points?
Be nimble. We're willing to bet that within 5 minutes of publishing the Talking Points, a member will need a drive-thru teller to address something that is not covered in said Talking Points. Now what? Have a system in place.
A final point: Implement a knowledge share system in your shop. Use your intranet or email system to accumulate experiences and develop a singular response.
No questions in this category have been added yet.
Social media is feeling glum. Is it too soon to start posting entertaining or uplifting content?
Entertainment is exactly what people need now. Yes, the world is still in the midst of a pandemic, but that doesn't have to be the only thing you post about. People want to feel normal again, and one way to do that is to show your credit union's creative side.
When David Southall (the CEO of Innovations Federal Credit Union) was surfing TikTok, he came up with an idea: he'd use the Blinding Lights Challenge as an opportunity to rally his team members who were (mostly) working from home. A bonding opportunity was created, as was a chance to give Innovations members something to smile about. The result was a compilation video we put together for cross-channel posting.
This isn't David's first rodeo. In fact, gathering his team to create social media videos is an annual event. It's leaders like David who see the value in bringing his team together in the name of entertainment, especially when they—and the members—need it most.
Time to act now
As the economic crisis deepens, consumers (both your existing members and prospects) are looking for legitimate, safe and reliable financial lifelines. They are looking for solutions that solve their immediate financial stress and solutions that will work for them for years to come, without falling victim to scams and predatory lenders.
Now is the time for your credit union to live as a purpose-driven brand or die as a commodity.
With our 25 years of credit union experience, combining empathy with solutions-based marketing to maximize digital and social channel potential, while remaining agile during turbulent times, is just second nature to us.
After all, we've been on the front lines before—through the dot com bust of the late 90's; 9/11 and its subsequent economic crisis; Hurricanes Isabel, Katrina and Michael; and the financial and mortgage meltdown of 2008-2010. We can help.
Become a part of this ever-growing resource for credit unions across the country by submitting a question or sharing wisdom you've learned during these challenging times. Together, we can help reassure our members—and each other.