It's hard to predict who the next innovators will be in social media, primarily because if something is truly innovative, it hasn't been done before. And what I love about the following campaigns -- five of the most creative social media campaigns so far this year -- is just how different they are. These brands are taking Foursquare, Facebook, and YouTube and using them to great effect.
So, here are some of the most eye-opening campaigns of 2011. Let's see if the second half of the year looks as impressive.
Everyone's been trying to figure out how to use location-based services in an actual campaign, and it looks as if American Express may have finally cracked the code. After initially connecting your AmEx card with your Foursquare account, just checking in or using your card at a business participating in the program automatically triggers the discounts.
While check-in coupons and discounts are not uncommon, they can be a pain to redeem. Not all employees may be aware of the program, and it may be redeemed so seldom that it takes a few minutes for the employees to sort out how to properly key it in. The difference with the AmEx Foursquare program is that if you use your card and the discount is available, it's automatically triggered.
The program launched at SXSW (of course) with the participation of some of the top hot spots in Austin, and the deals are now rolling out nationwide.
Even if this program doesn't inspire millions to switch from Visa or Mastercard to AmEx, it is likely to provide the template for future use of location-based services. This could be the way these services prove their worth to Wall Street and Madison Avenue.
Imagine you're a pretty popular HBO series about ready to start your fourth season. You already have a series of successful Twitter accounts that have engaged fans for a couple of years. So what's a vampire to do?
Why, create a Facebook app that enables users to live part of the dream.
This new app, once connected to the users' Facebook account, integrates their friends into a video trailer for the show. (Here's one of mine. You can redo it, and it selects all-new people from your friends list.)
"'True Blood' fans are so loyal and active with social media that we wanted to do something that would be both entertaining as well make them actually 'part of the show,'" said Jon Accarrino, director of social media for Definition 6, the agency that came up with and developed the app.
It's too soon to tell if this will increase the ratings or fanbase, as the app only just came out. But this is a wholly different level of integration with your profile. True Blood is not just posting cute badges on your wall when you answer questions about the show. It's turning your life into an ad for the show. But an ad that you want to share and, yes, think is super-cool.
Image copyright Greenpeace
OK, this one's a bit different. Usually we're looking at brands and how effectively they've leveraged social media for branding or selling product. In this case, we're looking at how a brand was swayed by a strong social media campaign to change its practices.
Background: Greenpeace wanted to raise awareness about deforestation in Indonesia. Turns out Mattel's packaging for Barbie (among, one would imagine, other products) used pulp from those trees.
So Greenpeace looked at Mattel and went after the big name: Barbie. Rappelling down the side of Mattel headquarters, activists hung a huge banner in which Ken broke up with Barbie for her role in deforestation. A letter-writing campaign linked to Facebook Connect allowed people to easily send a letter of protest to Mattel and post it on their Facebook pages.
Never mind that Ken's packaging comes from the same place. (Just saying. I mean, Ken's kind of a hypocrite.) But in the end, Mattel handled the mess well. The company paused use of pulp products from the company, Barbie and Ken appear to have worked things out, and there are news stories everywhere about how Greenpeace won and Mattel is trying to do the right thing.
I hate the phrase, but "win-win" comes to mind here.
What do you do when you're relaunching a brand that's been around forever but few people realize even still exists? In the age of instant nostalgia, you discover a Facebook fan page for your brand and work with the owner to turn it into your official fan page. And if you're Mello Yello, things work out pretty nicely.
The page has more than 81,000 fans -- not too shabby for a drink most people had forgotten existed.
Sure, the soda is owned by the Coca-Cola company, so the coin dropped on making the page a whole interactive nostalgic experience (you can "Retro Smooth" your photo so you look like the hippest cat from 1979) was probably decent, but let's face it: Mello Yello's not going to get the same marketing resources as Sprite or Diet Coke.
But look at its Facebook page -- plenty of fans post on the wall, professing their love for the soda. The brand postings on the wall are all quotes, questions, and other odd statements -- no echo chamber here.
Call this one "taking an existing fan effort and improving upon it."
Ford does a lot of things right in social media. The social face of Ford, Scott Monty, is a virtual legend in social media circles.
The car company's brand has become known for its regular engagement with and solid customer service for users via Twitter and Facebook. So "Doug," the not-quite-foul-mouthed puppet was a bit of a departure -- and a risk.
Since Doug's YouTube channel premiered in March, his videos have gotten 1.5 million views. Basically, the rude puppet and his human companion (comedian John Ross Bowie of The Big Bang Theory) give free rides to people. Bowie extols the virtues of the Ford Focus -- albeit in a natural, downplayed manner -- while Doug hits on the women they're chauffeuring or insults the passengers or Bowie.
Doug has his own Twitter account and Facebook page, of course, and is nearly as irreverent in those spots as well.
And here's the key: There are people on Facebook and Twitter who have claimed that were it not for Doug, they wouldn't have even thought of a Ford Focus.
Despite Doug's unconventional methods, it seems to be working. Give Ford a tip of the hat for trying something new and risky.
So, there you have it -- my picks for the most innovative social media campaigns of the first half of this year. I'm sure some of you will have other opinions (Johnson's Canada Baby and Mountain Dew's Show Your Love for the Dew come to mind), and I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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