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Three of the most successful social media campaigns

Posted by Eric Callaghan on Feb 22, 2016 8:00:00 AM

People throw out the words "best" and "greatest" a little too graciously for my taste. You know those people. The ones who say things like, "LeBron is the best basketball player of all time!" when he still has a third of his career to play and hasn't racked up the accolades that guys like Michael Jordan and Bill Russell have. Back to marketing, I was going to title this post, "The Best Social Media Campaigns of All Time," but it would be an uphill battle to rank well with that title in search, plus nobody likes a hypocrite.

So rather than reading "The Best Social Media Campaigns of All Time," you're now reading "Three of the Most Successful Social Media Campaigns," which sounds a little less uncompromising to me. I'm going to dive in and show you three types of campaigns that were all tremendously successful but not necessarily for the same reasons. Those campaigns include: a business seeking to increase profits, a charity seeking donations and a charity seeking awareness.  

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Old Spice on Twitter

You remember this guy, right? This is Isaiah Mustafa, the spokesman for Old Spice who starred in those goofy ads with the quick and sometimes illogical set changes a few years ago. While it started as television commercials, in 2011, Old Spice decided to run a social media campaign featuring Mustafa. The premise was to create short, 20-30 second clips in the style of the original commercials with Mustafa answering questions from Twitter users. Old Spice created 187 videos for the Twitter campaign and the results speak for themselves. The videos brought in 11 million views and over 22,000 comments in just three days, contributed to Old Spice's 8% year-on-year increase, generated 1 billion impressions and cost just $11.4 million. That may seem like a big number, but consider that one Super Bowl spot this year cost as much as $5 million. Yep, just one 30-second spot. 

What did Old Spice do well?

Personalization. We've covered this before when discussing email newsletters, but personalization makes people feel valued. Think about it, a television commercial is essentially throwing your product at a wall and seeing what sticks. You're not going to be able to personalize that commercial for your individual customers, there's just no way. That's the advantage of social, and more broadly, inbound.

Similar to personalization, Old Spice focused their campaign on customer participation. Anyone with a Twitter account could take part in the campaign and ask Mustafa a question with the hopes of a video reply from the viral star. This may seem like less of a surprise to us here in 2016, but in 2010-11, it was a brand new concept to conduct a social media campaign around a TV spokesperson.  

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

If you didn't remember the Old Spice guy, I'm sure you remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In the summer of 2014, your Facebook feed was filled with video after video of your friends and family dumping large buckets of ice cold water over their heads. For a refresher, the purpose of these videos was to have some fun while raising funds for the ALS Association, combating Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The basic concept of the campaign was that someone would challenge you to dump a bucket of ice water over your head, you would record yourself doing so, upload the video to Facebook challenging three of your other friends to do the same thing, and donate a gift of your choosing at The social media campaign was a huge success and has raised $220 million overall, $115 million from the original 2014 campaign. The following infographic breaks down the distribution of those funds from 2014.

most successful social media campaigns

What did the ALS Assocation do well?

First off, they made giving an involved and fun activity. What was that I said about Old Spice and participation? Oh yeah, people love to feel part of a movement. Rather than just clicking on a link on Facebook and donating a certain amount, people were encouraged to have some fun with it, embarrassing themselves for the trade-off of being able to embarrass three of their friends. And you know what people were doing in their videos? Telling their friends where to donate, or at the very least, saying the name of the association which spreads awareness. Word of mouth is still the crown jewel on the marketing mountain, whether that word is being spread verbally or digitally on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp if you're a restaurant, or elsewhere.


most successful social media campaigns

San Francisco Batkid! As a Batman fan, I couldn't help but get roped in to this story of 5-year-old Miles whose wish for the Make-a-Wish Foundation was to become Batman for a day. The hashtags #SFBatkid and #Batkid followed Miles during his day donned in black, assisting Batman in activities like saving a damsel in distress from a runaway cable car, foiling the Riddler's bank robbery and rescuing the San Fancisco Giants' mascot from the Penguin.

What were the results of Miles' wish on social? There were 406,960 tweets from 377,048 unique Twitter users in 117 countries including President Obama. In addition, there were 21,683 Instagram and Twitter photos viewed an estimated 120,439,533 times. The page obtained 1,000 hits per second which was a 1,400% increase on the charity's online traffic record. Batkid landed 1.7 billion impressions on Twitter. Those are some numbers!

What did Make-a-Wish do well?

Storytelling, storytelling, storytelling. And it wasn't just the foundation telling the story. Make-a-Wish involved almost the entire city of San Francisco in Miles' wish, which the numbers above reflect. Make-a-Wish organically added to Miles' story by including tweets reporting robberies and crimes with photos of different Batman villains which would dictate the next event for Miles and Batman to head to. This made it engaging to follow on Twitter and Instagram for people reading the live tweets at home or at the office. It obviously doesn't hurt that the entire world can get behind Make-a-Wish's cause and a sick 5-year-old boy, and if there's someone that can't, I don't want to meet them. But the lesson learned by Batkid here is that an organic, natural storytelling is extremely compelling to those on social media. The goal here was awareness, and with impressions in the billions, I think they succeeded.

So there you have it. Old Spice, ALS and Batkid all sought different goals for their campaigns: sales, donations and awareness. And they all succeeded. I didn't gather these for you to copy because these campaigns are all pretty unique either to the organization's mission, budget, size, or simply the time period it occurred in. What I did aim to succeed in was showing you all the different ways that a social media campaign can see success and to help spin the wheels on brainstorming your own campaign that is unique to your organization. If you need further assistance with your social campaigns, or any other factors in the Inbound marketing equation, download the FREE ebook below!


5 Core Services of Inbound (updated)


Photo credit: HubSpot Free Stock Photos; ALS Association; @SFwish 


Topics: social media marketing

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