FT. WORTH, Texas-Membership and loans have increased by more than 14% since Ft. Worth Community CU here debuted "Gabby," the credit union's virtual spokesperson.

Rather than creating a Facebook or Twitter account that would be all things to all people, FWCCU chose to target women between age 28-55 and build its social media strategy around that, explained Rochelle Drake, VP-marketing at the 67,000-member, $777-million credit union.

"Through research we found that women make about 80% of all household decisions, 80% of all consumer purchases, which is a lot," said Drake. "Women take care of 75% of all family finances and handle 89% of checking accounts in the U.S., and that's the product we have at the credit union that we really want to grow, and that's how we came up with that specific target audience, tacked to the product we wanted to grow."

For the effort and the results it achieved, Gabby recently earned Fort Worth Community CU a Best Practice Award from the CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council in the Miscellaneous category.

Get Your Worth On

Gabby has her own dedicated website (www.GetYourWorthOn.com) and is a part of the CU's Facebook and Twitter presences. Marketing Administrator Brandy Scarlett explained that rather than just having Gabby push various CU products and services, "we wanted her to be able to relate to (female consumers) and be their friend. So you'll find her talking about anything that's related to women-finances, what's going on around town, what's new with the kids this summer, online deals and coupons, how to save money, all those sorts of things."

A team of 10 female employees from various departments at the credit union are in charge of crafting messaging for Gabby on a daily basis. For as much as Gabby does, however, the CU has a list of topics she doesn't touch, including politics, religion and social views. "If anything like that is directed toward her or someone asks her opinion, of course she is neutral," said Scarlett.

Gabby has been introduced to members via e-mail blasts, outdoor billboards, ads in local media and even tangible items like pins, grocery lists, budget worksheets and cardboard standees.

The membership has taken to her. Between the campaign's launch in February 2011 and the end of May 2012, overall membership rose by nearly 9,000 (a 14.4% increase) and deposits rose by $53 million (8.2%). The major increase, however, has been on the loan side. About 6,000 loans have been added in that time (a 15% increase in the number of loans), for an increase of more than $120 million (a 28.8% increase in loan amounts).

Fort Worth Community is working on tracking specific data for women, but is still tweaking that system, and could not provide a breakdown of membership and lending increases specific to women.


A Mistake To Avoid

Drake believes that the mistake many CUs make with social media is attempting to be all things to all people. "Just like any other marketing channel you have, find your niche, what you want to go after; do you think you have the expertise on staff that can define a certain market and go after that and be social with that market? ... We chose a specific route and a specific audience that we could be more focused on and friendly with, and left out everybody else."

"Just going out on Facebook and putting a Facebook page out there, what are you going to do, put pictures of your staff up there?" quipped Drake. "How does it benefit the consumer as a whole? We look at Gabby as being a benefit that can help a woman in this market, and she can come to Gabby and trust her if she needs financial advice or budget advice or even just how to cook a certain meal at the end of the day."

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