Updated September 2020.
Given the nature of social media engagement today, a brand’s social media channel is about more than just followers, fans and photos. Each social campaign and post is an opportunity, as well as a significant responsibility, for a business to show what it’s made of.
The most successful social media campaign is one that’s thoughtfully crafted to reach a target audience, evoke emotion and elicit a response from those users.
Let’s revisit some of the most remarkable moments in social media marketing, and why these top social media campaigns work so well.
Social media is the most powerful form of digital persuasion
Around the globe, nearly two-thirds of the 13-and-over population are now active on social media, with an average of 9 accounts per person. Engaged followers use a variety of platforms — from Instagram and Facebook to YouTube, Twitter and TikTok — to qualify brands’ trustworthiness and find community.
But today’s typical user doesn’t just count on a fresh stream of social media content to influence their purchasing decisions and provide entertainment. More than half of U.S. adults also scour social media for relevant news. Countless others seek accounts that help reinforce their value systems and even expand their worldviews.
Brands that understand how these factors fit together have opportunities to create the most compelling social media campaigns. Here are the best ones we’ve seen lately:
- “Find Me a Match” by Vrbo.
- #BigGameColorCommentary by Pantone.
- Project #ShowUs by Dove.
- Coronavirus response by the WHO.
- Getty Museum Challenge by the Getty Museum.
- “For My Damn Self” by Mejuri.
- “Confidence that lasts a lifetime” by the British Army.
Launched as a nationwide TV ad and served up to unsuspecting viewers on YouTube, Vrbo’s “Find Me a Match” video is 30 seconds of movie-musical magic. Launched in April 2019, it was produced by the travel booking company’s internal creative team in collaboration with Prettybird and film director Todd Strauss-Schulson.
Like other exceptional video ads, this Vrbo spot transforms a fairly ordinary concept — matching holidaymakers with their perfect vacation rentals — into an extraordinary visual spectacle. But it’s far from fluff; the campaign accomplishes a variety of practical goals in a totally original and memorable way.
Its creative use of metamodernist aesthetics is at once nostalgically familiar and anticipatory, much like the thought of a trip to an iconic tourist destination.
The catchy “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” melody immediately communicates Vrbo’s unique value proposition, while the lyrics elevate the customer journey to love story status. The jingle is sure to get stuck in your head. And, from a utilitarian standpoint, it also helps reinforce the brand’s newly official pronunciation.
From bold imagery to sweeping choreography, each detail of this short but cinematic experience was intended to evoke the sense of joy and wonder viewers will feel after booking a vacation through Vrbo. And it accomplishes this all without relying on stock travel imagery and other clichés.
Super Bowl LIV was a historic moment, not because of what the players actually did on the field, but because of what they wore. The bright red uniforms of the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are just one point away on Pantone’s color scale. And the color standards company wasn’t going to miss their chance to chime in during the Big Game.
— PANTONE (@pantone) February 3, 2020
Pantone partnered with digital marketing agency Huge on their colorful campaign across Twitter and Instagram Stories. Under the hashtag #BigGameColorCommentary, social media followers saw color chips pop up on their mobile devices as the penalty flag (Pantone 14-0756 TCX) and referee’s jersey (Pantone Black 6 C and Bright White) filled their TV screens.
— PANTONE (@pantone) February 3, 2020
The brand also reacted to the multimillion-dollar ads on air, calling out the other companies’ official Pantone colors with playful live tweets and stories. They also served up virtual viewing party snacks, using their proprietary colors to illustrate cheeseburgers and 7-layer dip.
Pantone’s play-by-play was a short and sweet social media campaign, but it allowed the company to capitalize on the Big Game without such a high ad spend. Each #BigGameColorCommentary tweet gave Pantone a chance to participate in cultural conversations beyond their usual circle and leverage the second-screen habits of many viewers to reach a wider audience.
— PANTONE (@pantone) February 3, 2020
“This adds a fun, participatory element that shines a light on a brand that’s well known within creative communities, and leverages the game to spread their message to people not as familiar,” explained Jason Musante, CCO at Huge.
After all, he added, “Pantone is why we wear the correct color of our teams.”
Some 15 years after Dove launched its groundbreaking “Real Beauty” campaign, the brand created Project #ShowUs in 2019.
With women and non-binary participants working in front of and behind the camera, Project #ShowUs aimed to showcase unfiltered beauty, and a more inclusive approach to what beauty looks like. It proved that brands can use social media campaigns to make a positive impact and create the type of change their target audience wants to see in the world.
Led by Dove, Girlgaze and Getty Images, the project consists of “a ground-breaking library of 5,000+ photographs devoted to shattering beauty stereotypes by showing female-identifying and non-binary individuals as they are, not as others believe they should be.”
Images featured women of all ages, abilities and appearances, posing proudly and taking part in a wide variety of activities. As photos were added to the database, a model could reportedly choose her preferred search tags to quite literally be seen on her own terms.
The social media campaign extended across YouTube, Instagram and other channels and is expected to have a lasting impact. With more than 13,000 photos in the library to date, followers are encouraged to use the collection’s images for marketing purposes or submit their own.
Given the far-reaching impact of COVID-19, most users’ social media feeds have looked a little different this year. Social-savvy brands have worked to adapt to content marketing in a crisis. Unfortunately, other accounts have knowingly or unintentionally spread rumors and misinformation.
In February 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a “massive ‘infodemic.’” It defined this phenomenon as “an over-abundance of information — some accurate and some not — that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
While the WHO couldn’t exactly control the flood of coronavirus content, the organization has risen to the challenge of improving the quality of the information out there. In the context of other efforts, such as the first infodemiology conference and ongoing scientific research, the WHO has provided a digital marketing remedy.
In partnership with an analytics company, the WHO has embraced social media listening to identify trending topics and create relevant, timely responses. The organization analyzes 1.6 million pieces of content each week for subject and sentiment, tailoring its content creation and calendar to the most frequently discussed coronavirus questions and concerns.
Many of the resulting posts are colorful infographics communicating a few simple principles at a time. These are designed to be shareable to encourage high levels of engagement and amplification.
A use of clean and consistent branding across social media makes the organization’s authoritative content easy to spot, even when posts are shared by other accounts. Graphics are also pushed out repeatedly when a topic starts trending again on a given social media channel.
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“We believe we need to vaccinate 30% of the population with ‘good information,’ in order to have a certain degree of ‘herd’ immunity against misinformation,” said Tim Nguyen, whose team leads the Information Network for Epidemics at the WHO.
With a combined total of 26.9 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the WHO’s social media campaign can’t cure COVID-19, but it is helping minimize the infodemic.
Are you organizing a small gathering or event such as a wedding 💒, a local sports match ⚽️or a party 🎉?
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) August 21, 2020
In light of the ongoing pandemic, experiential marketing hasn’t thrived during 2020. But this hasn’t stopped brands from giving their followers at-home experiences to enjoy.
The Getty Museum’s digital marketing team took advantage of user-generated content and adroitly turned a trending social media challenge into a campaign. During a difficult time, it helped build brand awareness and bring art lovers and the museum world together, even with everyone remaining at a distance.
A personal Instagram account began challenging followers to recreate famous artworks with household items, under the hashtag #BetweenArtAndQuarantine. In March 2020, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam picked up the idea before the Getty Museum shared the fun with their followers.
The Getty’s initial posts across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram came shortly after the challenge started taking off. The museum encouraged users to explore its searchable online collections for inspiration and share their pandemic-era masterpieces on social media.
Users’ imitative works were sometimes impressive in their accuracy, other times humorous and absurd with toilet paper accessories, heavily adorned pets and edible props.
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Lady with an Ermine, 1490, Leonardo da Vinci. Recreated with wig, jewels, 3 way poncho, funko T. rex. . . . . . #arthistory #gettymuseumchallenge #gettychallenge #tussenkunstenquarataine #quarantinechallenge #portrait #stayathomechallenge #covidclassics #tussenkunstenquarantaine #museumchallenge #museumfromhome #artathomechallenge #usedprops #museumathome #gettymuseum #funkopop #jurassicpark #dinosaur #betweenartandquarantine
Even though other arts organizations jumped on the bandwagon, the trend quickly became known as the Getty Museum Challenge. The New York Times even deemed it “the Only Good Instagram Challenge,” observing that “these images have formed a living archive of creativity in isolation.”
User engagement has even remained relatively steady after 6 months. So far, #GettyMuseumChallenge has been used nearly 50,000 times on Instagram alone. Participants even took to other social media channels like Reddit and TikTok to share their side-by-side comparisons and making-of moments.
The sheer amount of user-generated content helped introduce the Getty and its social media channels to countless viewers across the globe. Various media outlets publicized the trend as the Getty Museum Challenge, bringing even more visibility to the institution despite its closure.
This may have been an impromptu social media campaign derived from a trend. But it demonstrates how social media content can have a positive impact on the organization as well as its audience when the right message is delivered at the right time.
In the early 2000s, the leading diamond corporation De Beers launched a campaign that invented the right-hand ring — a piece of jewelry that a woman could wear to celebrate her independent spirit, rather than her marital status. (“Your left hand says ‘we.’ Your right hand says ‘me.’ ”)
Decades later, e-commerce jewelry brand Mejuri has taken this notion a step further, with a sassier slogan. Launched in late 2019, the “For My Damn Self” social media marketing campaign celebrated the fact that Mejuri’s customers often purchased glittering gold and dazzling diamonds for all sorts of reasons.
Upon discovering that shoppers were celebrating everything from a big promotion to a just-because moment with fine jewelry, the brand created this memorable message to embrace and encourage self purchasing. From the slogan itself to the associated images and branded merch, each facet of the campaign resonated with followers and reflected their lifestyle, values and tribe.
Content across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube promoted self-love and empowerment while showcasing minimalist jewels designed for everyday wear. Mejuri carried on the social media campaign with physical ads around major cities, too.
The brand also sent customers free PopSockets to take the social campaign and its message offline — and back on again. Each PopSocket featured “FOR MY DAMN SELF” printed in a mirror image. This meant it would appear the right way round in every mirror selfie. The branded freebie fit in with consumers’ lifestyles and encouraged user-generated content — an important part of Mejuri’s Instagram feed and community — as well as organic influencer participation.
But beyond that, “For My Damn Self” has helped a new generation of consumers redefine what fine jewelry can mean.
Since 2017’s “This Is Belonging” campaign, the British Army has swapped out intimidating tanks and battle action imagery for glimpses of humanity in their recruitment efforts.
Through a series of traditional and social media campaigns produced with ad agency Karmarama and recruiting partner Capita, the Army continues to attract new and younger recruits with a message that taps into the emotional benefits of enlisting.
This year’s efforts ultimately accomplished their mission by reaching out to audience members where they are. “Confidence that lasts a lifetime,” a video and print campaign, struck an emotional chord by acknowledging viewers’ desires and vulnerabilities before offering Army life a solution.
Shared across YouTube, TV and other outlets, each piece of the marketing campaign contrasts short-term confidence boosts (a pint, a new pair of shoes, a few social media likes) with the more impactful character-building experience of Army service.
While it has certainly broken the mold for what military recruitment can look like, the Army’s campaigns are delivering relevant messages to younger audience members considering what their future might hold.
High-quality content is getting harder to create because the definition of “high quality” continues to evolve.
In one context, it might mean gathering and sharing lighthearted or even silly user-generated selfies. In another, it could mean boiling down science-backed guidance into a shareable graphic. Across the board, social media users are raising expectations around what social media campaigns can and should accomplish.
When choosing which social media campaigns to highlight, we opted to feature those that:
- Offered a truly unique, fresh take on a familiar brand, product, service or industry.
- Tactfully expressed values that resonated with those of their audience
- Thoughtfully delivered memorable on- and off-screen experiences.
Brands looking for a starting point can use web and social media analytics to understand the types of content their audience responds well to. From there, it will become clearer where and how innovative social media marketing campaigns will fit in.