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Learn by Example: 5 Social Media Triumphs and 5 Disasters From Major Brands

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Many companies have adopted a social media strategy, plunging headfirst into an interactive marketing presence but without much strategy or forethought. These companies often find themselves struggling to find a meaningful way to engage with their customers, or suffering from backlash from a misunderstood following.

Fortunately, these mistakes are preventable. Most social media strategies are best developed organically over time, by analyzing your impact and adjusting your tactics accordingly, but it’s also valuable to look at the past social media campaigns of major brands. In some cases, you can learn from their mistakes, and in others, you can model your campaigns after their successful examples.

Take a look at these five social media triumphs:

1. Oreo Takes Advantage of a Super Bowl Blackout.

articleimage497 Oreo Takes Advantage of a Super Bowl Blackout

Super Bowl XLVII back in 2013 suffered an unfortunate blackout mid-game. But to the savvy social media marketer, this was a major opportunity. The folks over at Oreo saw their chance, and took it by posting an image of an Oreo on a dark background with the tagline “You can still dunk in the dark” and the accompanying phrase “Power out? No problem.” The post was enormously popular, due in large part to the fact that so many Super Bowl viewers had turned to social media during the lull in the game. Opportunism is a powerful weapon.

2. Esurance Makes a $1.5 Million Investment.

articleimage497articleimage497Esurance

It took a lot of cash up front, but it paid off big time. Also during a Super Bowl (in this case, Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014), Esurance announced that it was giving away $1.5 million to one lucky social media user who tweeted using a designated hashtag (#EsuranceSave30). The campaign triggered 200,000 tweets within one minute, and over 5.4 million tweets over the course of the campaign. If you do the math, that means Esuarance paid about $0.28 per tweet, which isn’t bad, especially considering all the off-site attention they generated in addition to their Twitter-based brand exposure.

3. Samsung’s Stealth Product Placement.

articleimage497Samsung’s Stealth Product Placement

During the 2014 Oscars ceremony, Ellen DeGeneres made history by taking a ridiculous selfie with a number of other attending celebrities. Within an hour, the image had 400,000 retweets, and eventually it became the most retweeted image of all time. It was later revealed that the photo was taken quite clearly by a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, making it a stealthy—and brilliant—social move for the major electronics company. Hundreds of thousands of followers didn’t even know they were being marketed to.

4. Human Rights Campaign’s Marriage Equality Image.

Back in 2013, the Human Rights Campaign showed support for equal marriage rights by changing its logo to a red and pink equal sign. After a bit of encouragement, several users also changed their profile images to match that red equal sign, and it wasn’t long before the campaign went viral. Eventually, the image was shared more than 70,000 times, with over 9 million impressions. The campaign was successful because it was simple, engaging, and tied to an emotional idea.

5. Airbnb Makes a Short Film.

The home-sharing company Airbnb let its users do the campaigning when it started offering users $100 in credit if one of their submissions made the cut in their latest social media effort. Anyone on Twitter could submit a Vine video for consideration, and Airbnb provided a shot list that would culminate in their eventual one-and-a-half minute short video. Comprised entirely of user-submitted six-second short shots, the 90 second video has become radically popular, and the 750 users who submitted content get to see themselves as part of the creative process.

And, by contrast, read up on these five social media disasters:

1. Susan Boyle’s Unfortunate Hashtag.

Back in 2012, singer Susan Boyle was getting ready to release a new album, so it seemed like a good idea to create a hashtag to celebrate and promote the event. Unfortunately, Boyle’s PR team did chose #SusanAlbumParty without considering the fact that hashtags are usually written without capitalization, and #susanalbumparty is open to a much less appropriate interpretation. The hashtag did its job of generating attention, but not the kind it was intended for. Instead, the campaign was the subject of widespread public mockery and ridicule, teaching a solid lesson about the importance of checking for all possible interpretations before posting something.

2. The Downfall of Amy’s Baking Company.

As a small operation in Scottsdale, Arizona, Amy’s Baking Company didn’t get much attention until it was the subject of an episode of Kitchen Nightmares. It marked the first time Gordon Ramsay walked off the show in disgust. The public backlash was extremely negative, resulting in several dozen angry comments on the company’s Facebook page. But the owners made everything worse by escalating the negativity with their own angry, hateful rant about the commenters. This only magnified the situation, making them the target of criticism and hate from all corners of the web. The lesson here is that responding to negative comments with more negativity just makes everything worse.

3. Home Depot’s Questionably Racist Tweet.

When you run a social media campaign for a major brand like the Home Depot, everything you post is going to be heavily scrutinized. Whoever was running their campaign back in November of 2013 failed to realize this significant principle. Someone posted an image with ambiguously racist undertones, and that’s all it took to send the social media world into a frenzy of accusations. Home Depot did a great job of taking the photo down immediately and apologizing for the error, but if proper review processes were in place, the image never would have been posted in the first place.

4. #myNYPDLeads to Hashtag Hijacking.

When it first introduced the #myNYPD hashtag in April of 2014, the New York Police Department thought it would be a great way to support positive experiences with police officers throughout the city. Campaign managers intended for users to take pictures of positive interactions with NYPD officers and use the hashtag while posting them. Instead, sarcastic and angry users hijacked the hashtag, posting images of police brutality and misconduct. This is an unfortunate incident, since the principle behind the campaign was solid, but giving that much power to your user base—especially with such negative controversies in recent memory—is an invitation for negative backlash.

5. Angry Staffers Take Control of His Master’s Voice.

Music chain HMV suffered from a different kind of social media disaster in 2013 when a mass firing of employees was live tweeted from the corporate account—by one of the offended, fired employees. The poster even announced that HMV was trying desperately to remove the damaging tweets with “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks!) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’” It’s probably a good idea to avoid unjustified mass firings, but it’s even more important to have security measures in place so rogue employees don’t hijack and compromise your account.

There are a handful of fundamentals that “good” social media campaigns share, but beyond those, the best way to learn is through practice and analysis. Avoid the common mistakes of brands before you, learn the elements that make successful campaigns such a hit, and experiment with your audience until you find a rhythm and an angle that works for them.

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Nick Wilson

Nick is AudienceBloom's publication wizard. He works his magic to perform outreach for external content marketing campaigns.

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