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Hey Credit Union Marketers, It’s Time to Talk TikTok

Friends holding a phone and watching a TikTok video

To TikTok or not to TikTok?

It’s a question that might seem to have an obvious answer for credit unions—after all, should you, protector of financial well-being, use a channel best known for dance moves, make-up tips, and soul-staring cats to help consumers manage their money?

But look a little deeper, and you might find some reasons to reconsider that knee-jerk “no.”

First, what began as an endless stream of curated-just-for-you mindlessness has become a prevalent social media force. According to Hootsuite, TikTok currently attracts 50 million daily active users—and we’re talking people who, for better or for worse, use the app an average of 1.5 hours a day. Even more critically, the majority of its audience is the demographic credit unions are most interested in attracting: Gen Z. If the age group upon which the future of credit unions rests is spending a lot of time on this channel, it seems worthy of further investigation.

Second, most TikTok users rely on the platform for financial advice. According to a study by Personal Capital, over half of TikTok users treat the channel as their financial guide, and here’s the kicker: only 41% of these users fact-check the advice they find there. That means many vulnerable people might be steered the wrong way when it comes to the critical topic of their finances. Could your credit union leverage TikTok to get people on a better path financially?

Third, even though the credit union mission of improving members’ financial well-being is undoubtedly a serious one, that doesn’t mean credit unions can’t have some fun along the way. If you’re looking to shake the “stodgy banker” perception that pervades the financial industry, TikTok might be just the ticket.

According to research conducted by Lauren Feldman, an associate professor at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information, comedy can play an essential role in creating an emotional connection, which, in turn, inspires engagement and action. As we covered in an earlier CUInsight post, Don’t think your credit union can be funny? Think again!, marketing strategies that involve cute mascots, insider jokes, and funny stories can all help you capture people’s attention and communicate important messages.

How credit unions are leveraging TikTok

Because the video production bar on TikTok is quite low—and, frankly, part of its charm—you won’t need a huge budget or lots of employee time to give it a shot. If you have a smartphone and a basic ability to integrate captions, movie/TV clips, and background music, you’re already well on your way.

There are already quite a few credit unions on TikTok—in fact, more than I would have guessed.

I jumped down the rabbit hole so you don’t have to, though I’ll admit I had more fun than I anticipated. Here are a few ways your peers are leveraging this nutty and yes, rather addictive, platform.

To communicate the credit union difference. We love how Meriwest Credit Union playfully and very quickly (in just seven or eight seconds!) conveys the dismay of a friend’s poor experience with big banks. Meanwhile, Mid Florida Credit Union’s no-big-bank bull (yes, it’s a team member in a bull costume) makes frequent appearances throughout its videos.

But a video doesn’t have to be silly to play well on TikTok. Frontier Credit Union devotes its entire channel to videos of bringing random acts of kindness to its community. Just be sure you have some tissues handy. You can use TikTok to salute the larger society, too, like Navy Federal did by honoring a pioneer in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

To unveil new products and services. Want to increase member awareness—and use—of new products and services? Honor Credit Union fearlessly embraced the goofy with lively dancing and silly questions to promote its live teller ATM (as seen above). Frankenmuth Credit Union harnessed the power of the ever-popular Minions to showcase products worth cheering for, and Superior Credit Union offered a fun spin on the humble drive-thru tube.

To provide a “behind the scenes” look at their credit union. Everyone appreciates a behind-the-scenes look at the companies with which they interact. It helps your members feel connected to the real people who are handling their finances. Consumers Credit Union showcased its dog-friendly office culture, and Valley Strong Credit Union wasn’t afraid to capture the quirks and idiosyncrasies of its team members, turning them into sunglass-, vest-, jeans-wearing “bros” out to make a difference for credit union members.

To give useful, specialized financial information. TikTok is a great medium for short, digestible financial questions and tips. Royal Credit Union effectively tackles questions like, “How much should I save?” and “What is compound interest?” with its School $ense TikTok series, geared toward students, and also features educational clips from its Money Donuts podcast. On the lighter side, Apple FCU’s Barbie campaign on TikTok and YouTube set out to educate members on fraud while also showcasing its employees and community efforts. Chief Marketing Officer Cynthia McAree reports, the campaign received 32,000+ views, 98.6k in reach, over a 100 hours of viewing time; it also gained the credit union 200+ new followers!

A few good reasons to stay away from TikTok

My 12-year-old daughter would find it incredibly ironic that I’m writing an article encouraging people to consider exploring TikTok. I spend most of my time outside of working hours bemoaning its existence and have even written a very strongly worded plea for parents to stop letting their adolescent children use it.

The intentionally addictive nature of social media isn’t unique to TikTok, but there are real reasons why people can’t seem to get enough of this particular platform. I found myself quickly spiraling down the TikTok rabbit hole while researching this article, and while I won’t deny it was fun, I emerged feeling a little worse for the wear. As marketers, we all want to capture our target market’s attention, but when do we cross the line between harmless enjoyment and harmful addiction?

Also, unlike other social media behemoths, TikTok aggressively caters to kids. It’s estimated that a third of TikTok users may be under the age of 14. Yes, credit unions want to target up-and-coming generations, but with the increasing body of knowledge we have at our disposal about the adverse effects of social media on children, pre-teens, and teenagers, contributing to a platform that seems to be trying to hook youth may not feel like a values-aligned approach.

Plus, most of us are aware of the many concerns about TikTok’s use of data. As of June 2023, federal employees and state employees in 34 states were prohibited from using the app on government devices. And as of May 2023, Montana became the first state to ban downloads of the app. The jury is out on whether these bans will stand up to legal challenges regarding free speech, but a “wait and see” approach could be wise.

This is all not to mention that investing time and energy into the latest social media platform has become an increasingly harder sell, particularly considering how many have come and gone in recent years. In fact, this B Corp business owner (a former YouTube employee) made the gutsy decision to take his company off all social media platforms, and he says that it was “one of the best decisions” his company has made. When the ROI is difficult to track and the success of your marketing strategy is subject to algorithm changes beyond your control—and the success or failure of companies in an increasingly volatile sector—it may be prudent to pause and take stock.

In the context of credit union marketing, what I do appreciate about TikTok is that the nature of the platform has inspired quite a few credit unions to embrace a degree of silliness and a spirit of play that could be beneficial for the movement as a whole. Whether or not you decide that TikTok is worth pursuing, perhaps some of the videos referenced here will at least get you thinking about how you can infuse a little more humor and fun into your marketing efforts next year.

This article originally appeared on CUInsight.

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