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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Smaller financial institutions just can't seem to get this "tweeting" thing down, and they stand to lose out compared to their larger, mainstream-institution counterparts as a result.

A recent study from IBM shows that 68% of banking executives are unprepared for new communication technologies like Twitter, suggesting that credit unions risk losing customers to larger banks that do a better job of engaging customers in social media.

And unfortunately, on Twitter at least, it might be getting worse. A study from The Financial Brand shows that 20% of credit unions have already given up their Twitter campaigns.

The Financial Brand study also shows that the average credit union on Twitter has one follower for every 165 members, and the average credit union will have one follower for every $1.86 million in customer deposits.

Credit unions are trying to leverage Twitter, primarily to keep tabs on customers and build relationships by promoting savings and investment programs and educational tweets.

Consider Mississippi Credit Unions, which features tweets like “Watch this video and learn how to save a ton of #money with #coupons! http://t.co/cH7aVVZ” or “Payday lending? Do you know the facts” before linking to an article on the topic http://twitter.com/#!/mscreditunions.

But like many credit unions, Mississippi Credit tweets sparingly and a bit haphazardly, suggesting that the IBM and Financial Brand studies are right on the money – credit unions really don’t have a good grip on their Twitter outreach efforts.

“Credit unions on Twitter struggle to attract followers even after being active over two years, and one in five just give up entirely,” researchers note in the study, which covers 350 U.S. credit unions.

Of those institutions, the average age of Twitter accounts is 2.2 years, with 74 of the 350 already having abandoned their campaigns altogether.

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Some other takeaways from the Financial Brand study show a lukewarm approach to this way of connecting with existing and potential customers:

  • The average number of tweets sent per day by credit unions is 0.6.
  • The most tweets sent by any credit union on an average day was 5.3.
  • Only 29 credit unions had more than 1,000 Twitter followers.
  • The average number of followers added per day is 0.5.
  • The average credit union has approximately $600 million in assets, but only reaches about 0.6% of its total members on Twitter – about one follower for every $2 million in assets.

It’s that last fact that should really bother credit union managers.

Again and again, studies show that bank customers want to engage in social media, but attracting Twitter followers has proven more frustrating than most credit union marketers had anticipated.

The takeaway? Big banks, which seem to do a better job at the social media game than credit unions (and with much larger budgets, why shouldn’t they?), have a big advantage over credit unions.

Given the uneven pace of credit union Twitter campaigns, that gap doesn’t appear to be closing anytime soon.