Social Media Success Stories: Young and Free Alberta

A small credit union in provincial Canada has embraced social media with stunning results by relating 2087800086_a00b7d189c
directly to a desired market in an open and friendly manner.

Common Wealth Credit Union in Alberta launched the Young and Free Alberta initiative 12 months ago, searching for a spokesperson for their Under 25′s fee free chequing account. The winning candidate was the bright and bubbly Larissa Walkiw who then proceeded the immerse herself, and the Young and Free campaign, in social media.

The execution has been sensational and the response very impressive. In an industry that desperately seeks to attract customers at a young age (remember the piggy banks and school accounts in Australia anyone?) so they can try and keep them for life, the Young and Free Alberta initiative has been remarkable.

For me some of the key observations are that the company has someone totally dedicated to being the voice and face of the campaign. Its not just a token online effort, Larissa is also actively attending events and communicating the Young and Free message at numerous venues and forums.

I recently interviewed Larissa as part of the Social Media Success Stories series. You can also read interviews with Tim Jackson from Masi Cycles and Bryan Inch from RaboPlus.

Your Name:

Larissa Walkiw

Your blogging identity:

Larissa Walkiw

Your job:

Young & Free “Spokester” for Common Wealth Credit Union’s (CWCU) free chequing account

How long have you been there:

8 months come the end of August

Tell us a little bit about  Young and Free Alberta and Common Wealth Credit Union: is the interactive microsite based on CWCU’s Young & Free Chequing account – the only free chequing account in the entire province for 17-25 year olds.

The site, launched in Fall 2007 with a Spokesperson Search, marked the first time a financial institution reached out to youth using their language and their online and social media tools.

As Spokesperson, it’s my role to keep the buzz going. I post daily blog entries with topics ranging from money-saving tips to pop culture to interesting web finds. I produce a YouTube video for the site once a week. Every now and then I throw in something different like a contest or a Live Chat.

CWCU (Alberta’s fourth-largest credit union with over 52,000 members in 14 branches spanning Northern and Central Alberta) wanted a way to connect with their younger members, so they really pushed the envelope by creating an entire online platform for a product already customised for the youth demographic.

Who does Common Wealth’s Young and Free campaign target?

I am blogging for an Albertan, 17-25 year old audience (my own demographic – I’m 19!)

What was Common Wealth’s marketing style / mix prior to your arrival?

CWCU traditionally promoted its suite of services to a broad cross-section of members using relatively conventional mediums such as radio, newspaper, some limited television and direct mail prior to the launch of Young & Free.

CWCU also continues to promote its brand through its many successful community development initiatives.

What is your marketing approach now? Specifically, what social media do you pursue?

Social networking is at the heart of Young & Free; as a result, I try to connect with members through online and offline channels.

Online, I keep the microsite packed with new content and fun YouTube videos. Additionally, site visitors are able to follow me on Twitter (, become fans of the Young & Free Alberta page on Facebook (as well as add “Young Free” as a friend), browse through my Y&F photos on Flickr, and catch me broadcasting live through services like Yahoo! Live or UStream.

Offline, I maintain a presence at various community events all across the province. I try to change up my presence to keep it entertaining – at some events I play a roving reporter, at others I host a Speakers Corner type booth – I’ve also done a “Young & Free INK” temporary tattoo parlour, which was a lot of fun.

I end up chatting with a lot of young people, and then I direct them to the website to keep the conversation going.

Is there still traditional marketing in this mix?

There is to a certain extent. The ironic thing about Young & Free is that its online success has garnered a lot of traditional media attention – the website has inspired several newspaper and magazine articles, radio interviews, and a handful of television appearances. Even though it’s unexpected, all this ‘extra’ publicity does a lot to get the word out there.

How has this social media approach impacted upon business?

The Young & Free Program has had an incredible impact on Common Wealth Credit Union. It has made us more relevant with our next generation of members and has elevated our status within the financial industry.

In concrete terms, we’ve opened 2400 Y&F accounts since launch which means just that many more opportunities (and counting!) to establish lifelong banking relationships.

Which social media channels do you believe have been the most effective?

In my case, the YouTube videos have been extremely effective. The Difference between Banks and Credit Unions: Part One ( is an example of a video of mine that became extremely popular in a very short amount of time. People enjoy checking out the site – but the unique YouTube factor keeps them coming back for more.

What other benefits have you noticed from your social media approach?

Y&F’s social media approach has created a very honest and open relationship with its demographic – it’s truly remarkable how responsive the audience is.

Maintaining that two-way dialogue is a huge benefit for any institution; it serves as a channel of realistic feedback so that you can constantly improve your product, your service, and your brand.

What advice would you give to marketers looking to include social media in their mix?

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Experiment.

Thanks Larissa

Posted under Social Media Success Stories

Written by Media Hunter

One Response to “Social Media Success Stories: Young and Free Alberta”

[...] successful corporate websites of tomorrow will be more like Young and Free Alberta, incorporating multi-media and social media. This very successful site uses: blogs, Twitter [...]

Comment by Web designers in Newcastle must start embracing new design philosophies | Get Sticky on March 10th, 2009

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