2013 -- Social Success Stories

An image of an old echidna and a baby echidna, with a banner that reads "The Year in Review"

They say good things come in threes. After our first two end-of-the-year posts (Friday's post on 2013's top three digital marketing trends and yesterday's post on 2013's top three communications breakdowns – and the lessons we can learn from them), we now turn to some of the best social media success stories from 2013.

Whether it's a six-second video or an all-day fantasy experience, the world of social media provides us with a number of great lessons that we can apply to our day-to-day business efforts.

The Short and the Long of It

Do you have six seconds to spare? Vine bet you did and millions upon millions of users have embraced the Twitter-owned service.

And where those users go, businesses are sure to follow.

It's a medium that, to date, has appealed to the Millennial demographic. And companies are coming up with some creative ways to use it to market their brands (and competitors are taking notice – Instagram unveiled its own Vine-like product, which allows for 15-second videos and offers some editing.)

Long-term, does Vine have legs? Like any social network, it's subject to the fickle nature of the social consumer base. Would I build an entire marketing strategy upon it as the sole foundation? No. But I wouldn't advocate that for anything. After all, social media should be just one tool in a multi-faceted toolbox that incorporates both traditional marketing and social networking. But here's why Vine may be for you.

What can you do in six seconds? Well, here are three examples:

  • Malibu Rum – in just six seconds, you get a clear sense of what the product offers. And isn't that what advertising and branding is all about?;
  • Dunkin Donuts – this company ran a Vine-created ad during Monday Night Football's pre-game show on ESPN. It got people talking, was creative, and engendered some positivity in the brand amongst the show's viewers; and
  • Uber Cool Stuff – we're proud to showcase a local, London, example of how Vine can work, Chris McInnis, the owner of Uber Cool Stuff, posted a Vine video showing how to play a new game at his store. In just six seconds, viewers of this video could understand how the game was played in a far better manner than what you could get by looking at a box or reading instructions.

So what did we learn? If you're creative, in six seconds, you can provide your customers with an idea of what your product, brand, or company has to offer. You can foster a positive impression and, hopefully, have your customers share it within their own networks, benefitting from that all-important word-of-mouth advocacy.

Success is All Black and White

By now, we should all be aware that you don't try to piggyback your brand on tragedy in a blatant attempt to market to new customers. We saw negative fallout to companies that tried to exploit Hurricane Sandy or the Boston Marathon bombings for commercial purposes. It should be obvious, but sadly isn't, that when lives are threatened it is not the time to be flippant or focus on commercial gain.

However, when the lights go out on one of the most-watched broadcasts of the year? It's fair game.

Thanks to its creative partner, Oreo benefitted from some quick thinking, creativity, and opportunity during the Super Bowl blackout. Only 10 minutes after the marquee event went dark, the creative team behind Oreo's branding came up with an ad that stated, "You can still dunk in the dark." There's a great video interview about how the Oreo ad came about on the Wall Street Journal.

The most-important statement, though? That nothing went forward until they were certain there was no tragedy involved.

Throughout the year, from a multi-coloured Oreo to celebrate Pride, a panda-themed cookie to commemorate the birth of a baby panda in a Tokyo, Japan zoo, to a back-and-forth friendly Twitter game of tic-tac-toe with Kit Kat, the Oreo brand showed how social networking can raise goodwill for the brand.

What did we learn? It's simple to have fun, be respectful, and promote your brand gaining goodwill. It's simple – but not easy.

You have to establish a corporate culture that allows for this type of flexibility and encourages this creativity. You have to have talent – and trust in that talent – to make the right decisions and be empowered to do so, without having to navigate through a serpentine approvals process, so they can react in good time to opportunities. And you have to be aware of the world around you.

Most importantly, you have to be lucky to be good; and you have to be good to be lucky.

Doing everything the right way and fostering an environment that encourages this type of creativity doesn't automatically equal success. There is no magic formula that ensures you're going to capture the social Zeitgeist. And, let's be honest, Oreo's got some pretty deep pre-existing marketing capital behind it. Most people already knew about these cookies – would a mom-and-pop outfit have the same success? Likely not.

But if we can temper expectations and understand that social media is a slow burn, then businesses can see benefits. Sure, you might do something that creates an immediate spark, but the goal should be slow and steady growth, long-term engagement by your customer-base, and ultimately that oh-so-valuable word-of-mouth advertising benefit.

Did anyone change their cookie-buying habits based on these ads? Maybe, maybe not. But what Nabisco did was frame its brand in a very positive light. Feel-good purchasing is a very powerful motivator.

Cute humour, whimsy, and frivolity may not work for your brand (after all, I want my investment company to focus more on returns not jokes), but all brands and companies can learn a little about how to use social media effectively, without resorting to exploiting tragedies, to bring your followers value without hammering them over the head with overt sales messages.

BatKid Saves the Day for us All

We often focus on the negative of social media, but in November, we were all exposed to the power for good that it has. Larger societal movements, like the Arab Spring, can be tough for people to wrap their heads around – but a five-year-old battling leukemia who only wanted to be Batman is something we can all embrace.

And embrace it we – and the world – did.

No matter how you classify it, the San Francisco BatKid was a global success story. With over 500,000 tweets, reaching over 750 million people, BatKid not only saved the day – he also saved a little bit of our soul.

It started out as a Make-a-Wish dream for Miles Scott. The city of San Francisco got behind it and over 20,000 locals came out to cheer him on as he cleared the streets of crime. Millions more followed along with the #SFBatKid hash tag.

What we learned is that there's a market out there for good news. The social media universe can often seem like a den of jackals, waiting to pounce disproportionately on the slightest mistake – especially by those of differing political ideologies or representing 'big business. But #SFBatKid shows there's a market for good, honest, positivity.

It can't be manufactured. It can't be done for clearly financial gain. But if a company's out there doing the right thing for the right reasons, it will get noticed and shared.

And it's important to give back. After the city gave so much to make his dream come true, Scott and his family wanted to do their part to help other kids live their dreams. Less than amonth later, Scott returned to the scene of the 'crimes' to participate in the Make-A-Wish Foundation's Brave the Bay fundraiser.

With all the attention BatKid brought to the cause, the true success will be as more people learn about organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Sunshine Foundation, see the power of a dream first-hand, and donate to these worthy causes.

As businesses, we can help support these causes – but the biggest lesson to learn here is that at no point did the BatKid experience come across as a corporate branding opportunity. As a business, when you support causes for the right reasons (as opposed to using them as a platform for your own edification), success will find you.

So what are your biggest social media success stories? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Questions Answered

What were the best social media stories of 2013?

What can business learn from social media successes?



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