It’s (still) all about community…

Only now, all bets are off as to how community is defined. In the past, community was defined strictly geographically. Before Ford created the model-T, most people lived their entire lives within a 25-mile radius. Then affordable cars gave us a new freedom to travel longer distances. Later, airlines let us fly across the country in 6 hours at a relatively reasonable price.

Now, with the internet, there are new communities flourishing everywhere. Geography is still important, and in certain regards, is more important than ever (check out The New Geography). Only now, people can pick and choose what online communities they belong to with no regard to location. And there exist online communities for just about any reason, purpose, or cause that you can think of.

Of course MySpace is the poster-child of online communities. My favorite MySpace trivia is that if MySpace were a country, at currently 179 million users, it would be the sixth most populous in the world (behind only China, India, the U.S., Indonesia, and barely behind Brazil. It’s larger than: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia, Nigeria, Japan, Mexico, etc…. ). But there are thousands of others (Second Life, Tribe, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, Friendster, Twitter, Xanga, etc).

We are connecting in ways that were never possible before. If you are interested in liberal political causes, you can subscribe, petition, and make campaign contributions through MoveOn.org. If you are interested in outdoor activities, you can probably find a group like Nashville’s Team Green in your area. The joy of this particular community is that not only do they coordinate outdoor adventures, people also love meeting and making friends with other like-minded people. And the web site is the connecting hub.

Another online/real world community that is currently growing at an exponential rate is geocaching. This national outdoor/technology hobby has become so popular that there are hundreds of events held throughout the country and the world, and several books have been published about it. The primary appeals of this hobby are that people get outdoors and see things and visit places that they would have otherwise missed, and that people make friends who they otherwise would never have met. It’s also an activity that is fun for families to do together. Kids and adults alike enjoy it.

People can now define themselves through a multitude of communities. Or through just a few (or no communities or anti-social communities — like Snubster).

Does this have anything to do with credit unions? Does this affect them? Can they do anything about this information? The answer is yes, yes, and yes.

Credit Unions were founded in an era when the automobile was still a novelty. Even in the automobile era, geography was still a dominating factor. (Notice that in virtually EVERY downtown of a major or minor city, the original train station, bus station, newspaper, and post office are within a block or two of each other.) The office/workplace was the major source of community and the way that people connected and identified with each other. As large industries have gone through upheaval, leaving in their wake an even more thriving network of interconnected micro- and small- businesses, workplace identification is no longer the major community group with which people identify themselves. Many employer-based credit unions are already a thing of the past.

But just as importantly as online social networking being commonplace, so too are online professional networks and communties thriving with a national or worldwide audience devoted to a specific field or sub-field (just look at EverythingCU.com…. and others in other industries have happened everywhere as well.)

But community is still what TRULY sets a credit union apart from other financial institutions. The not-for-profit factor is nice, but not everyone cares about that. But helping out your friends, your neighbors, your family, your community, that’s something that most people can appreciate. So how are you going to define your new community? That’s the number one question any credit union should be asking itself. How can you create, foster and/or participate in the new online community(ies) that your members are a part of?

Are you going to align yourself with a geography? The only problem with that is then you look just like a bank, only with fewer, less convenient branches. However, branches ARE still important. Virtually everyone wants to know that if there is an issue, problem, or anything out of the box with their finances, there is someone they can quickly and easily talk to.

A great strategy is to embrace what I call World 2.0, to recognize that the web has changed how we live, and to recognize the importance of both geographic and online community. Both are here to stay, and they both have new significance in World 2.0. The mistake is to think that online communities are merely “virtual” — they are just as real as any other community.

The quickest path to getting started quickly, easily and at virtually no cost in World 2.0, is to start blogging. You can develop online relationships this way. Dip your toe in the water, and check it out! Don’t forget to have some fun on the journey…

I’ll be delivering a webinar on Bringing Your CU into World 2.0 on July 19.

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