Social Media and PR Services Drive California’s 529 College Savings Plan to $10B AUM
Financial services giant TIAA serves as the program manager to several state-run 529 college savings plans. One of these plans achieved record business success, boosted by CSG’s integrated campaigns for social media and public relations.
$ 10 billion in assets under management in 2020
24 % increase in new account openings
17 % increase in account contributions
50 % share of voice among top 10 U.S. 529 plans
Solving for ScholarShare 529’s Why
TIAA is the program manager for ScholarShare 529, the official 529 college savings plan of California. The financial services giant came to Communications Strategy Group (CSG®) seeking social media and public relations services for ScholarShare 529. The goal was clearly defined — they wanted to mobilize HR professionals and financial planners to offer ScholarShare 529’s tax-free college savings program.
Two years later, the strategies — and results — we helped generate for ScholarShare 529 far exceed that initial ask. CSG’s services now include B2B and B2C public relations solutions, social media strategy and management, content marketing, customer care management support and graphic design services.
And in that time, ScholarShare 529 has:
- Catapulted over the $10 billion threshold in assets under management
- Seized half the share of voice among the 10 largest 529 college savings plans in the country
- Garnered a record number of new account openings and contributions, even as the COVID-19 crisis lowered contributions to other 529 plans
The story behind this explosive growth reveals what happens when PR and social media no longer serve narrow purposes, but are instead leveraged to build integrated strategies. This positions companies for long-term success in uncertain times.
No Longer Leaving Opportunities on the Table
CSG’s initial objective was to drive awareness of ScholarShare 529 among a B2B audience, primarily HR professionals in California, and secondarily, financial advisors. Reaching these target audiences was certainly important for growing ScholarShare 529’s market share. But when CSG audited the company’s PR assets, we saw that valuable marketing resources had not been fully utilized. Which meant that ScholarShare 529 was leaving opportunities — and potential assets — on the table.
As a PR and social media marketing agency, CSG proposed an integrated marketing campaign to:
- Ramp up PR solutions to drive coverage of ScholarShare 529 in print, online and broadcast media
- Create an organic and paid social media marketing strategy across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn
- Establish consistent customer care management support
- Develop content marketing materials to attract and inform new audiences
- Provide graphic design services and branding support to refresh ScholarShare 529’s social media profiles
Each goal offered opportunities for growth, in and of itself. But to set ScholarShare 529 on its path to success? That required weaving the parts together to form a more accessible and more responsive whole.
Using PR Solutions to Move from One Audience to Multiple Audiences
The original targets for ScholarShare 529’s public relations plan had been human resources leaders and advisors at financial institutions. But CSG’s strategic consultants saw the possibility of growing a much broader audience by spotlighting the “kitchen-table” hopes of college-bound students and families.
- CSG pitched and placed a number of impactful articles in top-tier national publications. These helped readers understand how ScholarShare 529 could help families save more efficiently for college.
- CSG also succeeded with local and regional media, placing articles in three of the top 10 largest California newspapers, along with reaching multiple regional publications and broadcast outlets.
- CSG’s original goal of reaching HR professionals and financial advisors was successfully met, with stories placed in leading trade publications.
- In addition, CSG built out ScholarShare 529’s thought leadership, amplifying the platforms of the company’s executives.
In Q2 of 2020 alone, ScholarShare 529 was mentioned 72 times in the media for an audience of 430 million. And this earned the company 50 percent of the share of voice among the nation’s top 10 direct-sold college savings plans, as measured by assets under management.
Building a Social Media Presence from the Ground Up
CSG’s strategists conducted a comprehensive review of ScholarShare 529’s presence across the major social media platforms. We audited what the company had done historically, what its competitors were doing and what had proved to work best, based on the metrics.
CSG then delivered a social media strategy aligned with our public relations campaign for ScholarShare 529. Our social media consultants proposed optimizing the company’s social profiles for their target audiences, bringing clarity to the strategic approach, content and cadence of the posts.
- Building on CSG’s rebranding and content marketing support, our social media goals were to engage new audiences with a fresh graphic identity and helpful resources.
- With CSG’s tailoring of ScholarShare 529’s messaging and hashtags across social platforms, the rate of engagements per impressions increased 5.5 percent.
- LinkedIn engagement increased 13.1 percent and Twitter’s engagement increased 3.4 percent.
One often-overlooked aspect of social media management is the importance of answering online customer service requests and comments in a timely, responsive manner. This has become even more important to consumers — and to ScholarShare 529 — in 2020. CSG now manages the company’s social channels and aggregates comments on posts, mentions and private messages into one easily managed stream.These efforts established a scaled and streamlined approach to social care, helping to alleviate bandwidth issues for the customer support team. Furthermore, in Q2 2020, social media metrics sky-rocketed compared to the previous quarter: impressions increased by 272 percent; clicks by 324 percent and engagements by 158 percent.
Driving PowerPlays to Optimize Content Marketing
CSG’s strategists recognized that ScholarShare 529 owned a wealth of information and resources that could help families hoping to send their kids to college. Instead of focusing initiatives on individual resources, however, CSG applied its signature PowerPlay model to activate content assets around broad themes. These unified campaigns served to bridge media channels and reach multiple audiences.
ScholarShare 529’s College Savings Financial Literacy campaign showcased the company as a primary resource for families struggling to save for college:
- “Four Mistakes California Parents Should Avoid When Saving for College,” an eBook that provides helpful information for families about tax and financial aid pitfalls
- Animated videos that break out the eBook’s content, which CSG then optimized for social media platforms
- Integrated social media content for Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter
- Public relations outreach to national and California media
When COVID-19 shut down university campuses, CSG seized the opportunity to position ScholarShare 529 as the go-to resource for families seeking to understand the college implications. Another PowerPlay was developed to answer their questions and provide clarity for parents seeking answers during a difficult time, resulting in the digital resource: “Navigating the New Realities: A Guide for California College Students and Parents.”
And to draw attention to ScholarShare 529’s dynamic new content, CSG offered strategic guidance and direction for a rebranding initiative that rolled out in 2020. All social profiles were updated, with fresh designs and profile messaging to reflect the new brand. The rebrand was announced through a PR push aligned with a broader college savings theme for College Savings Month.
Results as Successful as the PR and Social Media Initiatives
California families are now saving with ScholarShare 529 in record numbers, with new account openings and contributions soaring in 2020. These results come at a time when families nationwide appear to be contributing less to other 529 plans. In fact, ISS Market Intelligence recently reported that gross sales in 529 plans decreased 5.7 percent in the second quarter of 2020. CSG’s comprehensive PR consulting and social media strategy clearly proved beneficial for ScholarShare 529, especially in these turbulent times.
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