H&R Block wanted to build awareness that the company offers more than tax advice from retail sites. The firm’s digital products include TaxCut, tax-filing software that competes with TurboTax, and Tango, a new online tax-filing program.
“We’re a multichannel brand with digital products as well as our retail side … but most people didn’t know that,” says Paula Drum, VP Digital Marketing, H&R Block.
Drum also wanted to appeal to a younger demographic that is more digitally aware. To do that, she wanted to position H&R Block as an innovative company.
“Consumers are beginning to interact with brands a bit differently,” she says. “They’re looking for conversations and the ability to have a relationship with a brand … We wanted to enable that as part of our marketing program.”CAMPAIGN
Drum and her team developed a multi-pronged campaign that positioned the brand all over the social-media space. YouTube, Second Life, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook became prime channels. Here are the steps Drum and her team took: Step #1. Test social media channels to determine what works
H&R Block conducted two tests in 2007 before expanding their social media effort in 2008.
0 Test #1: Conduct YouTube video contest
H&R Block's “Me & My Super Sweet Refund” video contest on YouTube asked participants to talk about how they would spend their tax refunds. Entries were roughly three minutes long. They had to mention TaxCut software.
The prize: $5,000 and the winning video shown on the YouTube homepage for a day. H&R Block allowed viewers to vote on the winner.
Result: The YouTube videos received more than 1.6 million views. The campaign set a record for most video views on the homepage – a record it held it for almost eight months. More than 130 people submitted entries to the contest.
Takeaway: This test demonstrated to Drum and her team the sheer volume of potential consumers interested in the brand in the social-media space.
0 Test #2: Create island on Second Life
The team created the H&R Block Island in the virtual world, Second Life. The island contained:
-Real tax professionals in avatar form available from March 13 to April 17, 2007 to answer tax-related questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
-An auditorium where visitors could watch a video describing the new tax-preparation product called Tango
-An exclusive Tango code that provided free access to the $70 product
-Virtual scooters used to tour the island
-Virtual dancing shoes that allowed visitors to do a tango-style dance when worn
Result: The tax events averaged about 50 to 100 avatar visitors per night during the 16-week period. Computerworld Magazine named H&R Block Island one of the top eight corporate sites in Second Life. The brand received mentions on CNN and in other computer trade and marketing magazines because the campaign was such a change of direction for the brand, Drum says.
Takeaway: Seeing one-on-one interactions in Second Life was valuable because it showed the team how consumers interact with the brand. “We recognized that marketing is beginning to evolve a bit,” says Drum. Step #2. Choose social media channels
Based on the test results, the team continued using YouTube and Second Life during tax season in 2008, and added Twitter, MySpace and Facebook profiles as well.
“We looked at all the ways consumers were interacting … and wanted to test a broad array,” Drum says. “Quite frankly, we want to learn as much as we can about how consumers are interacting.”
Here is how they used the various social media spaces:
H&R Block used their logo for the main visual (profile creator photo) on the profile page. In addition, the team included various widgets and videos featuring Truman Greene, the actor hired to be the brand’s evangelist. The agency that created videos with Greene made them for uploading to YouTube and MySpace as well.
The team also created several applications. What worked:
-Gift of the Day
The team sponsored a gift – a bag of money with the H&R Block logo scrolled across the front – in the existing “Gift” application on Facebook. Users gave the maximum number of 250,000 gifts to Facebook friends, making the money bag the free “Gift of the Day.”
Takeaway: The initiative let 250,000 people know that it was tax season and simultaneously branded H&R Block as a company with a Facebook presence. What didn’t work:
-Financial Match Quiz
The team created a “Financial Match Quiz” application on Facebook that users could share with other friends. The quiz gave users a score based on their financial attitudes. Users could then invite friends to take the quiz and see how they ranked against one another.
Takeaway: Financial information is not something people feel comfortable sharing with their friends, so the application was not successful. Instead, applications involving games and quizzes based on self-expression and personality were a hit.
The team chose Truman Greene as the creator of the profile. They included widgets and videos similar to the ones used in the Facebook profile.
The H&R Block Island didn’t change from 2007 to 2008. The team kept the continuity of biweekly “tax advice” events during tax season.
They did change one thing, though: In 2007, the company trained a number of tax professionals to operate the two H&R Block avatars, Hope and Rex. In 2008, to ease scheduling concerns, they decided that only a few tax professionals should be operating the avatars.
To promote the events, the team took the following steps:
- Invested in paid advertising on Second Life
- Added the event to event listings in Second Life
- Informed bloggers interested in Second Life about the events
This social media channel involved unique challenges because it didn’t allow applications, widgets or video to be uploaded to the profile page. It did allow one-on-one communication with followers through short 140-character posts.
“We went in initially thinking we could push a lot of marketing messages,” Drum says. She soon realized that the site should be used for dialogue rather marketing.
“There were a lot of customer service issues that were being vocalized,” she says. “We were acting not only as marketers, but as customer service agents to make sure we got problems resolved for people.”
The team did not sponsor a second video contest. The YouTube strategy for 2008 focused on promoting Truman Greene’s videos. Step #3. Create an online community
The team created H&R Block Digits, an online community site. They wanted a place where people could come and have deeper interactions with the brand. The platform facilitated member conversations.
-Forums where people could post comments on topics ranging from “How to Parent Your Parents” to “The Revolution within the Indie Film Movement” to “Social Media in the Workplace” to “Be Part of the Tango Journey”
-Page containing links to H&R Block’s social-media profiles and widgets
-Podcasts providing tax advice
-Tax tip of the week
-Descriptions of H&R Block’s digital products
-Tools, calculators, and widgets needed to get ready for tax season
-Newsletter sign-up page
-Newsletter archive page
-Link to H&R Block’s corporate site
“It was really important for us at the beginning to keep it as a separate site,” Drum says. “That was so we can … understand how to best go to market, how to best interact and integrate it with the overall brand.”
o Visitors to the online community were mostly looking for tax information.
o Not all visitors were past users of H&R Block’s digital tax products. Many were past users of H&R Block’s retail solutions, individual CPAs or self-preparation strategies.
o It was important to be timely with updates. The team treated Digits as a wire service, and made changes frequently, especially on late-breaking news or tax changes, such as the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Legislation and The Economic Stimulus Act.
“The government launched AMT Legislation very late,” Drum says. “No one knew what was going on or what it meant for them.”
Reading daily blogs from H&R Block’s Tax Institute insider was extremely helpful. And it demonstrated the need for social-media programs similar to the online community site. As a bonus, the initiative also improved the community site’s natural search rankings for keyword searches, such as “AMT legislation” and “Economic Stimulus Act.” Step #4. Create links among channels
H&R Block included links or widgets to all of their existing community networks on every social media site where the brand had a presence. This shifted visitors back and forth to increase interaction with the brand.Managing the Team
Creating a social media campaign did not require a lot of money. In fact, it was equivalent to roughly 5% of H&R Block’s digital marketing budget. But it did involve significant human capital.
Here’s how Drum managed her team:
o She assessed her eight-person team to determine whose expertise was related to the tasks at hand.
o She determined what expertise her team lacked and found agencies to carry out those tasks. For example: No one on her team knew how to create Greene’s videos or build an island in Second Life, so she hired agencies for that.
o Because no one on the team was dedicated solely to social media programs, she divided the tasks among all of them. Collectively, they were able to handle the volume. Some key elements to consider:
After the social media profiles, the virtual island, the videos and the community site were created, the main requirements of in-house staff were to monitor the interactions on the various sites. This included:
-Reading comments on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter
-Responding to or approving comments
-Forwarding customer service questions and issues to the appropriate person
H&R Block took a somewhat open approach to monitoring comments. On-topic reactions were allowed to be posted, regardless of the team’s agreement with the comment.
“As these programs grow, I’m sure I’m going to have to dedicate more resources to maintaining it because it is a lot of work,” Drum says.
The social media campaign accomplished everything Drum intended.
-43% more awareness of H&R Block’s digital products from 2007 to 2008.
-52% increase in awareness of the TaxCut product Important metrics used to measure the effectiveness of the campaign:
- More than 570,000 views of Truman Greene videos.
-1 million unique visitors to Digits since its creation.
-60,000 interactions throughWidgets and tools created for the campaign
- 6 million impressions in the blogosphere
Those impressions included the number of mentions in blogs and the estimated number of people who viewed the mentions in the blogs.
“I believe any brand can have a social nature to them,” says Drum. “Most brands need to be engaging with consumers and testing what that’s going to mean because I do believe that how we’re going to market as marketers is changing and it’s good to have that learning right now.”Useful links related to this article
Creative Samples from H&R Block:
Past Sherpa articles:
Get Famous Using Twitter to Market Your Company & Yourself:
How to Go Viral on MySpace with 4 Easy-to-Try Tactics:
How to Market in Virtual Worlds:
How to Market Yourself & Your Company on Facebook – 11 Steps & Strategies:
How to Turn Video Contest Into a Viral Extravaganza & Get Millions of Views on YouTube:
Lead Gen with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Blogging – 6 Key Takeaways:
H&R Block social media sites:
H&R Block aggregate site of social media profiles (excluding Twitter):
H&R Block Digits – online community site:
H&R Block’s Facebook page:
H&R Block’s “Me & My Super Sweet Refund” video contest on YouTube:
H&R Block’s MySpace page:
H&R Block’s Twitter page:
H&R Block YouTube site:
H&R Block’s vendors/agencies:
360i – built widgets and social media programs for H&R Block:
Miller Meiers – built the Digits community site for H&R Block:
MRM Interactive – produced YouTube videos for H&R Block:
OMD – placed media for H&R Block:
The Electric Sheep Company – built the H&R Block Island in Second Life: