Sallie Mae® is a leading provider of student loans. With a growing national conversation around student debt, Sallie Mae faced the challenge of shifting their public perception from a corporate loan provider to a partner and resource for college-bound students and their families.
For Sallie Mae, the shift was both external and internal. The new tagline, "Let's Make College Happen," helped refocus the company mission and ground the campaign strategy. Employees had to understand that their jobs have a greater purpose than departmental goals, while customers had to feel seen and heard.
The "Bridging the Dream" scholarship campaign demonstrated Sallie Mae's dedication to living their new mission. Sallie Mae reached out to guidance counselors across the country to identify four exemplary students whose college dreams were a financial stretch.
Sallie Mae set out across the country with a film crew to document these students and the obstacles that they overcame to make their college dreams a reality. A series of five-minute documentaries and a vast library of still photography featuring these students and their support systems became the centerpiece of the campaign. In the meantime, Sallie Mae employees worked to raise the money for this new scholarship on behalf of the winner-to-be.
Sallie Mae employees raised enough money to award all students a $25,000 scholarship. The documentaries and the award ceremony were featured on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and the Sallie Mae website.
After the scholarship announcement, the Sallie Mae brand and social teams developed a two-phase social media strategy. The goal was to leverage the assets from the documentary shoot and the winner's celebration and share them in a unique and engaging way across a variety of social media platforms.
The first phase focused on announcing the Bridging the Dream scholarship and its winners, and gaining positive brand awareness. The team developed a series of social posts, shared on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube, that featured images and videos introducing the four scholarship winners. Across these platforms, the content was widely shared by the winners, their friends and family, high school guidance counselors, teachers, and onlookers. The posts received many positive comments wishing the students well on their journeys and commending their commitment to achieving their goals.
The second phase honed in on the emotional side of the students' stories to further warm up the Sallie Mae brand. It focused on developing aspirational and positive content detailing the winners' journeys to college. There were three different themes that served as the structure for this phase.
#WhoWillYouBecome: Putting the students front and center, these emotionally-charged posts described their hopes and dreams for what they wish to achieve in the future. The intent was to inspire other students to dream of their futures after college. Sallie Mae wanted their audience to experience the company's aspirational mission of making college happen.
#Thank You: Sallie Mae's Thank You posts were all centered around this thought-provoking question: How many people would you thank for motivating you to make college happen? The brand shared multiple posts to engaging others in the conversation of who they'd want to thank for helping to shape their lives and helping them achieve their goals.
#FindYourWay: Everyone has a different approach in planning to make their dreams of higher education a reality. Sallie Mae's scholarship winners each took a different journey to make college happen through jobs, extracurricular activities, and academic passions. With this theme, Sallie Mae shared those stories and inspired new ones.
The "Bridging the Dream" social media campaign surpassed its objectives and was, by all measures, a huge success.
The social media posts and images announcing the scholarship winners reached more than 1.5 million people on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and Google+, and there were more than 140,000 engagements—both significant increases from the average monthly volume generated by Sallie Mae's social media.
The series of digital videos, as of August 29, 2016, have received 554,285 views and 145 engagements on YouTube, and 73,680 views on Facebook.
Typically, Sallie Mae's Facebook posts reach less than 4,000 people. But one post in particular earned a reach of over 72,000, which far exceeded expectations.
As of the end of July 2016, the campaign has achieved 280 million impressions. This experience changed the way that both employees and consumers thought about the brand, and made college happen for four remarkable students.
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