TurboTax's investment in digital apps secures a profitable return

The 100 days prior to April 15 provide about $1 billion in business annually for TurboTax, says Julie Miller, director of communications and social media for the consumer group at parent company Intuit.

Client: TurboTax/Intuit (San Diego)
PR agency: OutCast Communications (San Francisco)
Campaign: TurboTax Goes Social For Tax Season
Duration: January-April 2010
Budget: Less than $250,000

The 100 days prior to April 15 provide about $1 billion in business annually for TurboTax, says Julie Miller, director of communications and social media for the consumer group at parent company Intuit. The tax preparation software expanded this year to mobile applications, and OutCast Communications, which became AOR in November, helped launch those apps, along with several new social media tools.

"Seasonality of the business makes communications challenging because you really get one shot at everything," she adds. "We must be super nimble. The goal is to drive customer acquisition, brand awareness, and equity, and that's moving increasingly to social channels."

Strategy
Miller says social media works for TurboTax because it allows the team to see and participate in consumer conversations.

"People love to talk about how much they hate their taxes and how much they love a refund," she adds. "Our strategy was designed to amplify that naturally occurring consumer behavior."

The company used traditional media relations and online out- reach to tout two new iPhone apps, along with its improved Twitter and Facebook presence.

Tactics
SnapTax, a paid iPhone app that lets California residents prepare and file state and federal returns, launched January 5 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The free app MyTaxRefund launched April 7 and provided refund status information to anyone, not just TurboTax customers.

On February 1, the company launched @TeamTurboTax on Twitter to address consumer questions. Miller says a team of 40, including tax experts, product managers, tech support, and the PR team, responded to those queries.

TurboTax added a Facebook share function on February 3 to its existing customer review tool "Friends Like You" to allow people to search for reviews written by their Facebook friends.

The company also posted news, product updates, tax tips, how-tos, and contests on existing Facebook and Twitter pages several times a day. And its blog was instrumental in pushing out information and addressing consumer concerns.

In addition, Miller says the blog informed pitches, allowing the team to keep media and bloggers abreast of information consumers wanted.

The blog included embeddable videos demonstrating the apps, as well as press releases. Messaging focused on ease of use and stressed how the new tools were also the easiest way to get the biggest tax refund.

Media outreach focused on outlets and bloggers that cover Apple and iPhones, as well as those that cover general technology, consumer, business, and personal finance.

Results
Online product sales were up 18% for the year, while overall product sales - online and desktop offerings - increased 11%, Miller says.

"This is the best year we've ever had in the decade I've been here in terms of size of outcomes and impact," she adds.

TurboTax declined to discuss SnapTax sales figures, but Dave Donohue, VP of media strategy at OutCast, says it was the third-highest selling finance app in Apple's App Store in February.*

Followers on the existing Twitter page increased 28%, while Facebook fans increased 40% compared to the last tax season, Miller notes. Followers on @TeamTurboTax increased 19% per week between launch and April 15.

Donahue reports people were four times more likely to click on a TurboTax review on a Facebook newsfeed than on a traditional banner ad, and they were also then more likely to buy TurboTax.

The effort garnered about 9 billion impressions in outlets including Forbes, TechCrunch, and Mashable, he adds.

Future
The team will continue to communicate regularly via social media and the blog throughout the year. Expansion of SnapTax to additional states is also being considered for next year, while Miller expects mobile offerings in general to increase.

PRWeek's View
TurboTax, which has a strong internal PR team, and OutCast, which signed on with the company during a product expansion year, combined to do an outstanding job of executing under pressure and a tight time frame the launch of both the new products and the new social media tools. Sustained outreach was critical and the dedicated Twitter help page and Facebook share function were great additions. Continued social media communication during the down season should help bolster relationships that can draw new customers in the future.

*A previous version of this article spelled Dave Donohue's name incorrectly. Additionally, the Snaptax app was also referred to as the third-highest selling app in Apple's App Store in February, when it was the third-highest selling finance app in Apple's App Store in February. PRWeek regrets the errors.

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