How do you get your product, service or idea out to as many people as possible? One simple answer: make a viral video. Making the video might be easy, but making it go viral, as anyone who has ever tried can tell you, can seem impossible. The special ingredient that causes one video to catapult into the collective internet consciousness with multiple millions of hits in the span of a few days remains a secret. Why is this one cute puppy video more "viral" than this other cute puppy video? There are some clues, but there's no magic bullet.
Of course, viral videos are not the only form of social media that marketers can use to get their brands into the minds of their target audiences. There are also petitions, flash mobs, Twitter campaigns, interactive collaborations or simply a strategy to feed content through social media in a way designed to generate the elusive "buzz."
Here are ten interesting social media campaigns that worked:
1. Wheat Thins on Twitter
This video, with more than 700,000 hits, is a great example of a company harnessing the power of social media to sell its product. The idea was simple: search Twitter to see what real people are saying about Wheat Thins, and then film a guerrilla-style ad where the real person is surprised with a giant delivery of Wheat Thins. A campaign like this inspires more people to talk about the product in their social media accounts, and was a much more positive and effective ad campaign for Wheat Thins than the more recent Do-Minitrix ads, which the Huffington Post called creepy.
2. Betty White’s Victory Lap
She was a washed-up Golden Girl until 2010, when she made a cameo appearance in a Snickers commercial during the Super Bowl. Suddenly people remembered: Betty White is funny. Instantly, a Facebook petition popped up with 500,000 people joining together to ask NBC to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live. Then, on May 8, 2010, it happened. Now, the 90-year-old actress is one of the best known women comedians working on television, thanks to a Facebook petition.
3. The Muppets Reboot
It started with YouTube videos that didn’t look any different than the scores of musical acts the Muppets performed on their show back in the day. Only this time, instead of the old curmudgeons, Statler and Waldorf, complaining from the balcony, at the end of the YouTube video, Kermit and Scooter are sitting in front of a desktop computer and Kermit asks Scooter to "not schedule any more of these video conferences. They’re not very productive." Huh? It’s a five minute version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and it’s been viewed nearly 27 million times.
That one little tweak to an otherwise untouched formula - taking a vaudeville act into the Web 2.0 - rocketed the Muppets back into the future and set the stage for Disney’s roll-out of the rebooted Muppet franchise with the new hit movie starring Jason Siegel and with a Muppet presence across a number of social media platforms.
4. The Old Spice Guy
It’s kind of embarrassing when a social media campaign works too well, isn’t it? That’s what seems to have happened with the Old Spice spokes-hunk, who, with a brilliant ad team behind him, created one of the most popular and likable salesmen in recent TV history. "The man your man could smell like" ad has nearly 42 million views on YouTube.
So what’s the problem? Well, despite the hype, sales for the actual product were down double digits. For the fourth quarter of 2012, Old Spice’s parent company, Procter & Gamble has revised estimates of 1 to 2 percent growth to a 1 to 2 percent loss.
The lesson here is a tough one to learn: that even with a genre-busting crossover hit like the Old Spice campaign that spilled out from old media into the interactive new media - a raging success by seemingly all measures - doesn’t mean anything if people don’t want what you’re selling.
5. Million Hoodies Campaign for Trayvon Martin
In March 2012, a black teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in his Florida hometown, and his killer walked away without being arrested, due to a "stand your ground" law in the state of Florida. The flames were stoked even hotter when a conservative TV news personality suggested that the teenager had it coming because he was wearing a hoodie.
In response, a grass-roots campaign practically launched itself on YouTube and on Twitter with the hashtag #MillionHoodies to express its outrage that the shooter in the case hadn’t even been arrested, much less charged with a crime, after a kid was left dead on a Florida street.
Social media campaigns can often be effective when responding to breaking news and events as they occur. This is not necessarily helpful for a marketer who needs to predict the landscape in advance on a planned social media campaign, but folks in the ad world can still learn a thing or two from these these naturally occurring social media campaigns.
In the case of Trayvon Martin, the nationwide outrage did, in fact, achieve the stated goals of the social media campaign. Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, is now on trial. In recognition of its success, the Million Hoodies Campaign was given the Best in Show award at the 4th Annual SoMe Awards.
6. Obama 2008
If you’re going to change the way presidential campaigns are waged and won, it’s good to have the co-founder of Facebook on your social medial marketing team, as then-candidate Obama did in 2008.
This not only allowed his campaign to micro-target specific audiences, but it also allowed those audiences to connect with each other.
In order to think about how a company might capture some of the magic of Obama 2008, consider that one of the most anticipated moments of the campaign, the selection of Joe Biden as Vice President, was announced via text message to supporters, not in a traditional press release or news conference, but rather in a way that 1) engaged the end-user, 2) gave users a greater incentive to hand over their cell phone numbers to the campagin, and 3) gave those users a sense of ownership of the moment.
7. Twecipe Book
This one from the UK: Belling, a kitchen manufacturer, put out a call for entire recipes written in 140 characters or less, engaging the creativity of audience.
The result didn’t make a huge splash, but it gained the company some free media and serves as a case study for how to apply the rules of social media to old media products.
8. Graco Baby
Here’s a great example of how a company’s employees can engage with the company’s customers in a meaningful way - a blog for Graco Baby Products written by Graco employees who are also parents and customers of the products themselves.
The posts are conversational and funny, and the comments are moderated. A great space created by the company, allowing its customers to share their experiences.
9. World Music Supply
Founded in Muncie, Indiana in 1993, World Music Supply was a mail-order music instrument store that became an online music instrument store. Its willingness to adapt to the changing marketplace is illustrated by its robust presence on YouTube.
World Music Supply’s YouTube channel has nearly 12,500 subscribers who have viewed its 330 videos a combined 24.3 million times.
Nothing says "world music" like Muncie, Indiana, right? This is a perfect example of how investing in your Web and social presence can pay off and make long distances between yourself and your customer irrelevant.
10. Kony 2012
Not since The Blair Witch Project have we seen a social media campaign for a film as intense and effective as Kony 2012, the documentary about the plight of child soldiers in Africa. Part of Kony 2012’s magic is the incorporation of its Web views and likes as content in the final film product, therefore creating a sort of meta-social media campaign by making the interactivity of the project part of its core message. According to the project’s website, the Kony 2012 film has been viewed more than 104.5 million times by users in 204 countries. Whether you like the initiative or not, iIt's amazing to see the number of video views and success of rookie content creators and marketers packaging something that meant something to them - without the participation of paid media.
Is there an interesting one we missed? Leave it in the comments.