Digital Marketing and Social Media Strategy

Communication 2.0 – H&R Block: Free tax advice for Twitter users

I recently conducted three interviews with companies who are using New Media effectively, specifically ones using Twitter and other micro-blogging services. I have already conducted interviews with Comcast, Zappos and Southwest Airlines for my Communications 2.0 series, I hope you enjoy my latest installment.

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This post features an interview with Paula Drum, Vice President of Digital Marketing at H&R Block, aka @hrblock on Twitter.

D: Who are you and what do you do?

P: H&R Block is the largest tax services provider in the world. One out of every seven U.S. federal tax returns is prepared by H&R Block thorough one of our more than 13,000 retail offices across the country or through our digital software and online tax products.

I oversee all of the digital marketing initiatives for our digital products and services (including traditional marketing such as TV and interactive marketing).  The H&R Block brand web site ( and how we use social media for the H&R Block brand.

D: What social media (ie. blogging, podcasting, micro-blogging, social bookmarking, etc.) are you using to engage your clients and promote H&R Block?  Of these online marketing tools, which do you find most effective?

P: Due to the seasonality of the tax business, H&R Block doesn’t have the luxury of testing one thing at a time, so we jumped into lots of things – at the same time – to get learnings.

Here’s what we tested last tax season, which ended April 15:

  • Digits: our new online community website (launched Dec. 2007) that included a tax forum, blogs, podcasts, videos, widgets, tax calculators & tools and product information (Digits is ongoing; check it out:
  • YouTube/Truman Greene: This is the second year of engaging with the YouTube community.  During the 2007 tax season we launched our “TaxCut Online Super Sweet Refund” video contest (which still holds the record of the most home page views of any video on YouTube) and during the 2008 tax season we launched the H&R Block brand evangelist, Truman Green videos (16 total in 14 weeks)
  • MySpace: carried over Truman persona, but in deeper way with blog posts, photos & discussions; also leveraged widgets (listed below)
  • Facebook: tools & games to help FB fans learn about tax & personal finance in an engaging – not threatening – way; also pointed to other connection points like Digits, RSS feed of our Twitterstream, & event listings in Second Life
  • eHarmony: sponsored a series of tax posts within eHarmony’s new Advice section, offered personalized tax advice thru discussion boards with turnaround of 24 hours or less
  • Widgets & Applications: branded content distributed across multiple connection points that were shareable, dynamic, fun, easy to use and measurable; these included
  • “The Deductor” that teaches about commonly missed tax deductions in a fun & entertaining way
  • “Countdown Clock” to tax day; could also be modified to count down to birthday, anniversary, etc.
  • “Polls” used as a tool to better understand our customers
  • “Block of Fortune” a Magic Eight Ball application
  • “Tax Fact or Myth” useful content, but content that also took a lighter side look at tax trivia
  • Twitter: we use Twitter in 2 ways, one-to-many and one-to-one conversations
  • Second Life: held office hours on Tues/Thurs nites offering free tax advice from Block tax pros in avatar form, tax trivia contests, streaming media & DJs and dancing

D: How are you measuring your success from new media marketing?

P: Our overall goals are to extend our brand presence online by first distinguishing the brand as the leader in tax expertise, fulfilling on our advocacy promise and positioning the brand as a leader in innovation.

There are a lot of micro-measurements that look very promising.  However this is a longer term strategy, not a one year marketing campaign.  We are looking to longer term measures such as brand awareness and brand attributes, positive word-of-mouth, and increased customer retention.  For example, early results do indicate some increases in word-of-mouth among digital users and an increase of awareness of our digital products.  Other indicators that we look at are how many people are interacting and engaging with the different tactics. For example, over one million unique consumers have visited our own community site Digits since January.  Additionally, not every measure is created equal.  A customer viewing a video of Truman Greene may have a very different engagement factor as someone receiving personalized help through Second Life or Twitter.

Some of the micro-stats do include:

  • Over one million “unique visitors” to Digits & more than 1100 blog posts to the site
  • Over 600k views of Truman Greene videos
  • Almost 4,000 friends on MySpace
  • Over 1,000 FaceBook fans
  • Nearly 350 “followers” on Twitter

D: Are you cautious about allowing your customers to post about your company? How do you handle criticism online?

P: We want to hear the good and the bad, however, our blog postings are moderated only so that bloggers stay “on topic.” We allow dissenting opinions; everyone’s voice is important as long as it’s on topic.

Digits online community is not a customer support site. We have a very well-defined process in place for handling any customer issues – whether tax-related or technology-related. We want our customers’ issues resolved to their satisfaction and it seems to be working quite well. We also monitor the blogosphere for customer issue postings and will respond to them to resolve their issue.

D: What is one piece of advice for a traditional marketing company trying to embrace Web 2.0?

P: Okay, this one’s easy to answer. 1) Just get in there and start doing it.  There are several facets that do not require a financial investment, just a human capital investment.  Use those avenues to build your case studies;  2) don’t expect anything to go quite like you thought.  This a changing environment and there is not a prescribed recipe for success. What is right for one brand may not be right for another; which leads me to my last tip, 3) be prepared to adapt and change as you go – you can’t be rigid.  Launch, learn, iterate.

D: Thanks very much Paula.

Stay tuned for an interview with FreshBooks coming up next Wednesday.

If you know of any companies using micro-blogging and social media for business effectively please let me know, or point them in my direction. If you enjoy my Communication 2.0 series please hit the ShareThis link below.


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