All Articles Marketing Social Media Live from SXSW: Fortune 500 experiments in social media

Live from SXSW: Fortune 500 experiments in social media

3 min read

Social Media

One particularly relevant session at this week’s SXSWi featured three major brands that have made substantial commitments to social media: H&R Block, Carnival Cruises and JC Penney. The overarching message from the marketers leading the charge is that their social media experiments are still nascent. They’re not sure where these forays into social media will take them, but the early returns are compelling. Chris Bowler from Razorfish put the interesting panel together.

Financial Services

H&R Block has financial advice widgets and a presence on Myspace, Facebook and YouTube. But the most promising platform for the financial services company so far seems to be Twitter. Digital marketing VP Paula Drum started by using Twitter to listen. Soon, it became a customer service tool. Now, staff members are regularly tweeting financial advice, and the company is using the platform to test new marketing messages and extend its marketing campaigns. Twitter has turned into a way for the company to connect with its audience throughout the year, not just at tax time. It’s also a way to reach out to younger customers.  In Drum’s view, ROI stands for “Risk of Ignoring.” Her message: We must engage the next generation or else.

H&R Block has 100,000 tax professionals, and 10% are now tweeting. (There’s no mandate; it’s an option for employees.) As you can imagine, getting them all up to speed on the technology and how best to use it has been a major education effort.

Biggest issue: Trading media dollars for human capital to educate and support. Greatest reward: A deeper sense of community loyalty and trust.


A LOT of people are passionate about cruising. The Carnival Connections program includes Cruise Talk forums that see 500 posts per day. The Carnival Cruise community “scrapblogs” with photos on Flickr and videos on YouTube. They also have an exceedingly popular blog hosted by John Heald, a real-life cruise director with a big personality and a devoted following –- so much so that his followers (confusingly, they call themselves bloggers) go on cruises together. Even given all that, Director of Online Marketing Jordan Corredera said: “We’re still not sure what the heck we’re doing with it.” They have one online community manager and two other specialists who monitor their boards and chime in on certain questions. A social media strategist advises the overall plan.


JC Penney’s goal for its social media activities is to heighten the perception of its brand quality. Alongside small but growing Twitter and Facebook presences targeting women, the retailer’s main investment is a YouTube video “Beware of the Doghouse,”  which hit the viral jackpot. JC Penney created a microsite to support the Doghouse campaign, hired a new-media strategist to seed and position the video, did blog outreach and invested in display ads and in-store cards to drive traffic.

Because they didn’t anticipate its off-the-charts success (servers crashed left and right and they needed to respond quickly) the entire effort “cost more than we anticipated.” Still, these are great problems to have.