H&R Block Embraces Social Media, Uncle Sam’s Everywhere Cringe

Earlier this year, around tax season, you may have noticed an influx of half shaven, chronically unemployed fellows dressed up as Uncle Sam or George Bush holding signs outside a certain tax preparation company. I’d link to them here..but obviously, they aren’t really interested in web promotion if they are paying some guy to harass me on the street. It doesn’t help that I nearly hit one as he was waving his #1 foam finger at me as I was driving into work one morning, but clearly, I digress. Can we just say one of the most ineffective marketing campaigns EVER?

So while that tax service got their marketing ALL wrong, I was very excited to learn that H&R Block got it all right. Paula Drum, VP of Marketing for H&R Block recently was interviewed via podcast about the company’s new social initiatives…and it is absolutely impressive. When we think of H&R block, we think tax professionals, number crunches, pretty boring, pretty straightforward. But H&R Block has completely re-established themselves as hip, innovative company using social media services like Twitter, Myspace, Second Life, Facebook and YouTube.

Here’s how H&R Block used these social media venues:

Twitter: H&R Block is using Twitter as a reputation management tool and communication channel. H&R Block’s Twitter profile, is filled with responses to other Twitterers comments, concerns or questions about taxes or H&R Block itself. Here’s how it works: H&R Block uses a Twitter aggregator like Summize and monitors tweets about things like their name, tax questions, stuff like that and they they respond to that person. For example:

One Twitterer ‘tweeted’: “Trying to figure out an “Offer of Compromise” with the IRS. H&R Block still has not called me!

Within a short time H&R Block responded with this: “Let us know if you need help getting touch with one of our tax pros.”

Real time reputation management. Very proactive, very smart.

MySpace: With the help of a hired actor (I’m assuming, hoping) named Truman Greene, H&R Block created a super stoked H&R evangelist with a lot charisma and likeablity. Truman created funny viral videos, had his own MySpace page to promote his love for the brand, and even developed a fan base.

YouTube: H&R Block ran a contest “Me & My Super Sweet Refund”. The objective was to submit a short video about how they would spend their tax return. The winner received $5,000! With 130 submissions and thousands of votes, the contest was a success.

Facebook: Created a Fan Page published Truman Green’s videos, developed branded applications that the entire Facebook community can feature on their profile or share with their friends.

Second Life: H&R Block started out by establishing an island in the virtual world of Second Life. Ran a series of “Ask a professional” nights in the digital shop run by actual tax professionals sharing tax advice, answering questions, and providing some really cool tax preparation products.

One point that Paula Drum did make clear was that while the use of social media can be more effective than traditional advertising it does take up a huge about of human capital to make it successful and meaningful. And no…she wasn’t talking about guys in costumes…

H&R Block on:
Twitter, Second Life, Myspace (Truman Green), Facebook, YouTube