H&R Block started following me on Twitter. I didn’t think much of it. I’ve been followed by Spiderman before. (I assume the movie, though they never reached out to me.)

Truman GreeneA couple days later, I got an email from a person named Michelle asking me if taxes and social media mix. Here we go again. But she started the email with, “I see you’re getting ready for SXSW. I’m so jealous.”

(Thank you, Lord, for at least one PR pitch person who isn’t a freakin’ idiot.)

Now I’m intrigued. This gal’s done her homework, wants to know if I’ll take a look at H&R Block’s social media campaign, leaves me a ton of links and background info in the email and even admitted it was her as The Block following me on Twitter.

I was going to write something, even if it was just to compliment her on the pitch. Turns out she (and by association, H&R Block) get it. We’ve communicated primarily through direct Tweets this week. Take that, other tax preparer people!

As it turns out, H&R Block not only gets the outreach portion of it, but has figured out a way to be 100-percent, totally marketing/advertising to people using social media tools and somehow pull it off. No, I wasn’t sure if it was possible, but I’ll be damned if I don’t like this campaign.

I just spent an hour discovering Truman Green, H&R Block’s “Biggest Fan” who has goofy YouTube videos, an interesting, if not engaging, MySpace page and a MySpace blog that, while obviously served as a clever story-to-marketing message, is full of first-person narratives from the goofball Green character.


Now, the blogs may not be all that effective. There are no comments on any of them and not getting a comment on a blog in MySpace is like not getting zits in high school. There’s always a wing nut ready to yell “First!” or call you a name. Truman has his comments limited to just friends, but with almost 3,000 of them, you’d think someone would pipe up if they were being read.

The campaign includes a Facebook page, presence on Second Life, widgets and gadgets you can put on your blog and profiles (not sure why you would want to, though), a website for tax discussions which includes Podcasts of tax tips and, of course, the Twitter account, which doesn’t just serve up branded messages or leads to their website. I saw this one on their timeline, indicating there’s both responsiveness and personality mixed in:

@JillFoster We’re sending you calming vibes, and some tips on relieving tax stress- http://tinyurl.com/ynskgf
06:56 PM February 22, 2008 from web in reply to Jillfoster

What H&R Block has done is create an obvious fake persona for a social media campaign, but done so transparently. They’ve nailed a fun, off-beat spokesperson who is over-the-top corporate shill, but still engaging and entertaining. They’re providing valuable content, not just in entertaining videos and silly blog posts, but in tax tips, count down clocks and valuable link resources, even if most of them are directly to H&R Block. (I mean, I’d trust something found on their site. Wouldn’t you?) They’ve even asked for user-generated content with an idea of showing them your tax refund face, though I saw it on a Twitter post with no apparent official place to participate.

But perhaps the most refreshing part of this whole H&R Block thing? This line from Michelle’s email in reference to Truman Green:

“He’s obviously a corporate shill …”

So here’s to H&R Block, which figured out a way to be:

  1. Honest/Transparent
  2. Human
  3. Fun
  4. Engaging

And still try to sell me something. If I weren’t married to a smart woman who does our taxes each year, I’d totally be down with the Block.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. H&R Block Gets Social
  2. H&R Block’s Tango In Plain English
  3. H&R Block Launches An Island In Second Life
  4. A.G. Brown Files Injunction Against H&R Block Over “Rapid Refund”
  5. Ross To Buy Block Service Mortgage Unit

[tags]social media case study, H&R Block, Truman Green, social media, advertising, marketing[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.scottmonty.com Scott Monty

    Hey Jason,

    I got the same pitch, but I wasn’t nearly as impressed as you. All I saw was evidence that a PR person had skimmed my blog and pulled out recent post titles to make it look like they were interested. But it backfired, as it simply reinforced their phoniness.

    They were trying to trade on their oh-so-cool YouTube video and my interest in social media, in effect creating a forced relationship between the two. If they spent a little less time looking at my 3 most recent posts and my guidelines on how to pitch me and were a little less scripted about their approach, I might have listened.

    As it was, I was tempted to write back “Why do PR and bad social media pitches seem to mix?”

  • http://www.theviralgarden.com Mack Collier

    “But she started the email with, “I see you’re getting ready for SXSW. I’m so jealous.”

    (Thank you, Lord, for at least one PR pitch person who isn’t a freakin’ idiot.)”

    Yep, most PR pitches are so bad that we have to point out the ones that do the minimum that EVERY PR flack should be doing. I am the same way, if someone actually refers to me by name and gives some sense of context to the pitch, I will pay attention.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Scott — Thanks for the perspective. I have no illusions that Michelle is an avid reader of my blog. She’s trying to execute outreach for her client. As Mack pointed out, anything that differentiates from the noise is going to get my attention and, because I’m a PR guy trade, I’ll stop, look and listen when something does.

    As I dug into the campaign, I first thought this was another agency pulling off an ad campaign in social media but having no idea what social media was. Then I realized they weren’t trying to produce a “Truman is real” effect, but were trying to make taxes entertaining and engaging to folks. On this point, I think they’ve succeeded.

    I get tired of bad PR pitches, too, but in this case, it was at least personalized and relevant to my audience, which is enough for me to at least consider it.

    Mack — As you can see, we’re on the same page here. Thanks for chiming in.

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  • http://www.scottmonty.com Scott Monty

    Fair enough. I’ll give you guys the benefit of the doubt here. I’m probably overly critical of this stuff because I’ve received (and continue to receive) so many formulaic and non-personalized ones. I can see how one that at least tried to be different would make you stop and take note.

    I guess I’m just cranky in my post-SXSW world. ;-)

  • http://www.rwongphoto.com/fieldreport Richard Wong

    Though I wouldn’t like being targeted by them, I am impressed that a big company like that has jumped into the 21st century of marketing / trying new things. Lots of places are so complacent to keep doing the same old things but I don’t think any of that stuff works on younger folks.

    Last year when I was freelancing at this agency, I read an article about Second Life in the newspaper so I pitched an idea to my boss that morning about getting our clients product distributed within the game. surprisingly my boss already knew about the game, but there was no budget for it. the client wanted a coupon ad. :-(

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Scott — Cranky bastard. Heh.

    Richard — I agree that it’s nice to see them trying something different. And yes, it’d be great if we had the budgets to execute all the nice ideas that came along. Alas, that’ll never be the case. Heard at a conference recently that we execute 10 percent of our ideas. That number might even be high.

  • http://ericadewolf.wordpress.com Erica DeWolf

    Very, very interesting case study. I don’t think I’ll ever look or think about H&R block in the same way! Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Erica – You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

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  • http://www.socialmediawiz.com Shailesh Ghimire


    Do you have any follow up on this post? I mean, getting brand awareness and engagement is fun, but what kind of return are they getting. Are they generating leads from these efforts? Are the MySpace friends converting into clients? Etc. etc. I know that social media ROI hard to quantify – but from a pure curiosity level what can a company which does this kind of marketing expect in terms of sales results?

  • Daniel

    Try to post the problems arising while advertising through social media. Since there may be a chance to cheat in it/….
    home mortgage

  • Daniel

    Try to post the problems arising while advertising through social media. Since there may be a chance to cheat in it/….
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  • Daniel

    Try to post the problems arising while advertising through social media. Since there may be a chance to cheat in it/….
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  • Daniel

    Try to post the problems arising while advertising through social media. Since there may be a chance to cheat in it/….
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  • kellybriefworld

    The most important thing a company can do to stop enterprise 2.0 applications from taking over is to have a proper policy to stop potential threats. Palo Alto has just published a white paper about Facebook http://bit.ly/brno0T and the importance of a strong company policy to enable the use of Facebook while protecting your business.

    Twitter is a huge application with a number of amazing uses that can be applied to business. Palo Alto has written a practical guide to how to safely allow twitter to be used in the workplace while still protecting the security of your business. The white paper http://bit.ly/9G1Z3A is really interesting and will allow you to understand that there is utility to Twitter and that it can be an excellent medium for business.

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  • Jacques François

    It it is all about being honest, human, fun and engaging, why not picking up the phone as folks did in the lod times?

    optimeez http://en.optimeez.com

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