Sallie Mae's "Good Things Come to Those Who Plan" contest had multiple objectives:
- To use social media to reach and engage college-bound students and parents in order to promote the importance of planning for college, to motivate them to start thinking about planning for college, and to encourage them to take advantage of Sallie Mae's free college planning resources.
- To generate continuing conversations about the benefits of planning for college beyond the contest timeframe by producing video coverage of the social media team awarding prizes in surprise visits to each of the winners' homes.
- To reinforce Sallie Mae's reputation as a leading source of information about saving, planning, and paying responsibly for college.
According to "How America Pays for College 2015," the national study conducted by Sallie Mae and Ipsos, nearly all (97%) of American families believe that college is an important investment in their child's future, but only two in five families have created a plan to pay for it. The study also showed that students in families who do have a plan are more likely to pursue a bachelor's degree, and they borrow 40 percent less than students in families without a plan.
Sallie Mae's intent with this contest was to help demystify the planning-for-college process and show students and families how easy it is to get started. With a plan in place, it's easier to talk about costs, explore options, and make college happen.
Key elements of our strategy were to:
- Devise a contest that would support our objectives and comply with applicable legal and regulatory requirements.
- Create contest rules, parameters, and prizes that would engage parents and attract entries.
- Determine which social media platform would generate the most engagement and participation.
- Generate fun, captivating, accessible, and "evergreen" messages and conversations about planning for college.
- Reinforce Sallie Mae's brand promise to help families make college happen.
We employed the following tactics:
- We determined that the target audience for the contest would be parents of college-bound parents.
- Parents are more likely than their children to take the lead in planning- and paying-for-college discussions.
- Parents want to do everything in their power to make it possible for their children to attend college.
- Many parents elect to co-sign student loans in order to share the responsibility of paying for college. At Sallie Mae, the vast majority of private student loans are co-signed by a parent or other adult.
- Because we targeted the contest to parents, we determined that Facebook would be the most suitable social media platform. According to the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of online American adults use Facebook. In addition, content on Facebook tends to have a longer shelf life than content on Twitter or other platforms, and we wanted to promote ongoing discussions.
- We decided that contest entries should consist of essays written by parents describing why they are excited about planning for their child's college education, and how they are doing it. We wanted to build a library of user-generated content about how everyday parents are navigating the planning-for-college process.
- To evoke emotional responses, we incorporated aspirational, lifestyle, and heartwarming imagery in contest promotional materials.
- We planned the contest to run in December 2014 and January 2015, because:
- Those are two of the months when customer and prospect interaction with Sallie Mae is at its highest.
- Students are likely to be home for the holidays, which facilitates conversations about planning and paying for college.
- We had a budget of $20,000 for prizes, so we established one $10,000 grand prize and two $5,000 runner-up prizes.
- To differentiate this contest from others, and to extend the shelf life of the contest winner announcement, we decided we would:
- Inform the winners by making "surprise and delight" visits to their homes.
- Capture their reactions on video, a la a visit from Publishers Clearinghouse.
- Produce videos showing the winners' reactions to generate ongoing interest in and engagement with Sallie Mae.
- We established a calendar that specified timeframes, frequency of publishing posts, and all other aspects of the contest's execution.
- The social media team collaborated with the company's legal, compliance, and risk management teams to ensure the contest complied with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements.
The contest met its objectives and was, by all measures, a huge success.
The goal was to generate 5,000 entries, with a "stretch" goal of 7,500 entries. In actuality, more than 15,000 entries were received.
The contest reached more than 2 million people on social media, and there were more than 1,000 engagements, e.g., likes, comments, shares, etc.)
The contest generated 3,000 registrations for Sallie Mae's college planning tools, and 257 student loan applications, significant increases from the average monthly volume generated by social media.
As of December 17, 2015, there have been 5,385 video views on Facebook. The videos effectively captured the emotional reactions of each winner, conveyed Sallie Mae's commitment to helping families plan for college, and reinforced Sallie Mae's brand promise to help families make college happen.
In June 2015, the month after we announced the contest winners, we reached 245 million impressions of "Plan for College" topics via news media coverage, nearly five times higher than the 51.4 million "Plan for College" news media impressions generated in June 2014. We attributed most of this increase to the "Good Things Come to Those Who Plan" contest. We received especially good coverage from the NBC and Fox affiliates in Jupiter, Florida.
We added the email addresses for all of the 15,000+ contest entrants to our database for use in future customer and prospect marketing activities.
Perhaps the ultimate proof of the contest's success is the company's decision to repeat it, beginning in January 2017.
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