As brands flock to the social space, many are feeling their way and testing the waters, while others who strive for innovation must push harder than ever to stay ahead of the curve. It is exciting to watch companies creating premium content exclusive to their social properties and making use of existing tools in new ways. The low barrier to entry and relative affordability of social media allows brands to make bold strategic decisions and often create environments that stimulate creativity, reward risk takers, and consistently provide the best return on investment -- customer engagement. What follows are six examples of companies experimenting with social media in both modest and significant ways.
After a series of debacles related to the censoring and banning of social networking sites and blogs for active soldiers, the U.S. Army has loosened its policies and is embracing social media as a publicity and recruiting tool. In July 2009, the Army issued an operating order that officially permitted the use of Facebook and Flickr (but not MySpace or YouTube). The sensible new approach has allowed soldiers to communicate more easily with their loved ones and counterparts while keeping security risks to a minimum.
Additionally, the Army created its own blogging community called Army Strong Stories, a site featuring blog entries from more than 150 different bloggers, most of whom are soldiers on active-duty. Bloggers are encouraged to share both the good and bad about their unique experiences, giving the site a tremendous level of authenticity and transparency. Visitors are exposed to the raw and personal side of the Army in a way that traditional media rarely provides.
The site has garnered a highly positive response since its launch and showed consistent growth by increasing its total blogger count each month. Proving how personal many of the entries are, the word cloud that pulls terms from all of the blogs shows "family" as the most popular term. Others like "deployment" and "active-duty" are also mentioned by bloggers as topics at the forefront of their minds. A corresponding Twitter feed (@armystories) extends the Army Strong Stories message and pushes out new blog entries as they are posted.
As you can imagine, getting an organization as massive and stealth as the U.S. Army to adjust its social media policies and practices is quite a feat. The Army should be saluted for allowing the men and women who give so much to our country an open platform to express what they see and experience in their lives and on the battlefield.
Switching gears completely, we move from armed forces blogging to raunchy video and interactive Mexican food. Del Taco recently launched a comedic variety show on its Facebook page titled "The Del Taco Super Special Show," featuring the tongue-in-cheek exploits of two fictional employees, Wes and Barry. Del Taco complemented its Facebook efforts with a YouTube Channel as well as tweets when new episodes are introduced. Reminiscent of "The Man Show" and replete with subtle sexual humor and bikini-clad women jumping in slow motion, Del Taco is unabashedly targeting a male audience with this effort.
"The Del Taco Super Special Show" is a webisode-type creative endeavor that intersperses sexy women, Del Taco's delectables, and corny comedy bits. To date, Del Taco has created three episodes, and each spotlights a particular product. Each episode launch is paired with an offer for free food if you are the brand's Facebook fan; it even adds your profile photo to the printable coupon.
To promote its Super Special Show, Del Taco is utilizing pieces of the show's content in television and radio ads. Kudos to Del Taco for cross-collateralizing its web content for traditional advertising.
Although admittedly a bit late to the social media game, Del Taco vice president of marketing John Cappasola says that the Facebook page is the perfect place to "extend the relationship and give the customer more time with the brand." Integrating the show across all media vehicles has increased exposure and improved consistency for the brand. While the long-term impact of this type of campaign is still being gauged, reaction so far has been incredibly positive, as indicated by an active comment base and a fan count that grew from 20,000 to 43,000 just five weeks after launch.
Affectionately referred to by many as "C.C.," Canadian Club whiskey stirred things up with a creative campaign oriented around the intriguing eccentricities of moustaches. The company became a major sponsor of the charity organization Movember, which raises support and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer by encouraging men to grow a moustache for the 30 days of November. During the challenge, participants shared pictures of their 'staches on the Canadian Club website to show off their progress.
On the social front, Canadian Club created two Facebook applications that made it fun and easy for visitors to imagine themselves with a moustache. The first app -- called Which Mo' Are You? -- gave a short personality quiz and then recommended a personal moustache style to match. For those who wanted to have a little fun with their friends, the Mo' Your Friends app allowed users to add moustaches to photos in their Facebook albums and then share them with their network for comments and criticisms. Both apps were well-designed, easy to use, and did not require users to leave the brand's Facebook page, which now has nearly 16,000 fans.
Movember participants who raised more than $100 were invited to attend one of several end-of-month gala parties that were spread across major U.S. cities. Pictures from the event show off some of the most magnificent moustaches, along with people drinking "Burgundys," the Canadian Club cocktail created exclusively for the new partnership.
The target audience for the brand, the charity, and the channel all meshed tightly in this campaign, maximizing overall effectiveness. As a value product competing in a highly competitive industry, Canadian Club has done a great job of stretching the brand experience beyond the bottle.
In a bold but brilliant move, vitaminwater scrapped its entire website and made the company's Facebook page its new homepage. All traffic from vitaminwater.com is now directed to Facebook, where visitors can easily become a fan and interact more deeply with the brand. The company's television ads also promote the Facebook URL as the place to interact with vitaminwater online. In fact, vitaminwater loves Facebook so much that it even named its newest flavor, Connect, in honor of the site and included the site's logo on the bottle.
Over the summer, fans were able to vote on flavor, ingredients, packaging, and naming for the new drink, with the person who created the winning name getting a $5,000 prize. The process started with the flavor creator lab, a Facebook app that crowd-sourced the flavor for the newest vitaminwater, black cherry-lime. Next up, participants completed a series of games and quizzes to determine which vitamins were needed most. After deciding upon caffeine and eight other nutrients, fans could submit their own packaging and naming ideas.
The flavor creator app was a huge success, as it grew the vitaminwater Facebook fan base from 400,000 to 981,000 in just one month -- and now stands at more than 1.3 million fans. Participation was tremendous, with nearly 10 percent (116,000) of its fans taking part and showcasing the enormous power of crowd-sourcing actual customer market research. To cap off the flavor's launch in March, vitaminwater gave away 100,000 free bottles of Connect to the first 100,000 fans who signed up for the coupon.
When GameStop needed to generate buzz and preorder sales for one of the most anticipated video games ever, it turned to the existing online community of "Modern Warfare" fans and tantalized them with the Surprize Attack campaign. Surprize Attack allowed fans who pre-ordered the game from GameStop to enter a sweepstakes with giveaways that included high-value prizes like a Hummer, a Ducati motorcycle, and a snowmobile. The contest was promoted across the web on highly targeted websites using a combination of social media marketing and digital PR.
High-profile placements were secured on sites like CraveOnline.com, as well as blogs and discussion boards specific to "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2". The game's highly dedicated fan base showed its passion by consuming and sharing game trailers and prize videos. Content was also shared across Facebook, YouTube, and other social properties to spread the word.
Participants responded positively to the contest and left more than 1,600 comments. Mentions of GameStop in all "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" conversations on blogs, forums, and Twitter were 1.3 times more than Amazon, 2.7 times more than Best Buy, and 3.1 times more than Wal-Mart during the campaign period. Throughout the campaign, GameStop dominated the social space, and "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" became not only the most ordered game in the retailer's history, but part of the biggest entertainment launch ever.
For as long as it has been around, Target has donated 5 percent of its sales to charity. Each week, this factors out to be about $3 million dollars given away to fund a variety of grants, hospitals, and educational programs. For two weeks last year, Target decided to let its fans determine how that 5 percent should be spent.
Using Facebook as the platform, Target chose 10 charities and let fans of its page vote once per day to decide how much money should go where. Participants then shared their votes on news feeds and through e-cards, encouraging friends to vote as well. Since Target was giving away a fixed amount of money, every vote had a measureable impact on the outcome -- something fans immediately recognized and appreciated. In all, 291,399 votes were tallied from 167,000 different Facebook fans. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital received the most votes and upwards of a million dollars.
Daily views on the Facebook page increased by 4,800 percent during the two-week period, with the wall gathering upwards of 3,000 personal stories shared by fans. Such tremendous interaction shows that fans will go the extra step for a good cause, in turn promoting Target for its efforts. The campaign gathered an additional 97,091 fans in just two weeks and helped bring new attention to Target's long-standing charitable endeavors.
The opportunities created by social media and the size of the online audience are increasing every day. Brands that have acknowledged this are immediately realizing the customer engagement benefits that a social campaign delivers. They are reaching out directly to the consumer and asking them exactly what they want. They are forgoing traditional websites and banner ads in favor of fan pages and exclusive content. They are using social media to improve their marketing, PR, market research, and customer service efforts simultaneously. In the ongoing battle for attention, social media gives any brand the tools to stand out.
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