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7 ways to win awards for your social campaigns

7 ways to win awards for your social campaigns Vanessa Naylon

Brands' hunger for great social advertising is growing, and with increasing popularity come industry awards. Now that social is no longer the province of experimental teams working with small budgets and wild ideas, more shops are paying attention to who's doing great work in social.

But even though the social category is heating up, shops haven't yet picked up the pace on submissions. For example, many Shorty Awards categories have only one or two competitors. This year presents a great opportunity: Cannes Lions, Shorty, Mashable, Webby, Bees, and more are looking for great paid social campaigns to honor.

But what does it take to create a great campaign in social? That's what we're going to explore in this article. If you want to do award-winning work, you need to focus on the following seven essential campaign elements.

Element 1: Own an event

Take advantage of the natural excitement that builds in social in advance of a major event -- whether it's a televised award show, a sports championship, or a major holiday. Get in front of the customer with a relevant message just when buzz peaks.

ESPN won iMedia's Campaign of the Year by blitzing social media in advance of the 2011 NFL Draft, thereby making the most of football fans' excitement that the long-delayed draft had finally arrived. ESPN's ads on Twitter and Facebook earned it seven new followers a second and performance 67 percent above the average social advertising campaign.

There are three ways to choose the right time for a brand campaign:

Sponsor a major annual event, or tag along for the ride. Big brands can get in front of affluent consumers by sponsoring a televised event and touting the connection. However, a younger brand like a mobile app startup can take advantage of buzz without sponsorship. For example, make a splash alongside the latest Apple keynote by choosing the right Twitter and Facebook media to get the message out.

Time the promotion to the buying rhythms and the context of your customer. If your target customer is the 19-year-old college student, should your big social push be at the end of summer, when students prepare to return to school, or are you the European vacation company that makes its promotions around graduation time?

Respond with lightning speed to unexpected events. For example, political teams are expert at responding to current events, and they can use social advertising to magnify their message and shape public opinion.

Performance counts, and perfect timing makes a campaign a better success story for awards show judges.

Element 2: Involve the audience

In social, ads no longer travel one-way to the audience. A winning paid social campaign capitalizes on the two-way nature of social and gets the audience talking.

Get people to talk to the brand and thus trust it a little more. When people respond to a brand in social, they buy into the possibility that the brand cares about its customers.

Request opinions by asking great questions
To promote its selection of smartphones, Best Buy asked people on Twitter, "Do you have a friend who's ashamed of their smartless phone?" That simple question generated a torrent of replies from people outing their friends for owning brick and flip phones. Best Buy's Phone Shame campaign ran well before social ad campaign awards were invented, but it would be a serious contender if the campaign ran today.

Ask people to share the brand message
Awards show judges expect a successful social ad campaign to be shared. Copy quality counts; people prefer witty or bold creative that makes them feel smart for sharing. While social ads by definition have sharing features built in, some campaigns will benefit from explicitly asking users to share the creative. A word of warning: Offering an incentive (e.g., by running a contest that requires retweets) wins big engagement but not necessarily awards. Choose wisely. Encourage people to create content for the brand.

Chevrolet went the extra mile to promote its new Cruze compact car, and in 2011 it went to bat with the fans of primetime TV hit "Glee." Chevrolet tapped the social stream to find the most fanatical Gleeks, who submitted their own versions of the classic Chevrolet song "See the USA."

Ask for different things at different points in the campaign too. For example, for a campaign building up buzz for an event like the Oscars, the brand could ask users to generate content during the teaser campaign ("Invent our Oscars hashtag"), ask for retweets before the event starts to increase awareness, and keep the audience engaged during the broadcast by asking for opinions during the awards show.

Always consider the nature of the medium. In social, this means acknowledging and encouraging ongoing conversation with customers.

Element 3: Nail mobile

No matter where you place your social campaign, brand messages will end up on mobile. Without a solid mobile strategy, your campaign won't travel far. So make sure that you're ready, and plan ahead for how users might see and share the campaign message.

Most consumers already reach brands through mobile -- either by visiting the brands' Twitter profiles through a smartphone app or by visiting websites on their mobile browsers. Web traffic on mobile has grown almost 35 percent in the last year alone. To take full advantage of the pass-along value of social, weave mobile tightly into the core strategy of the campaign.

5 winning questions to ask when optimizing a campaign for mobile:

  • How might the brand benefit from targeting people using mobile devices?

  • Can we break out part of the campaign as purely social (focused on retweets or "likes") to maximize awareness of the campaign?

  • Can mobile devices load our landing page or media (videos, songs)?

  • If our post-click experience is too complex for mobile, can we offer mobile users a bookmark or reminder?

  • Is the ad creative shareable with a few taps on a smartphone?

For example, Burger King wanted to bring the news of its crispy chicken tenders to busy moms and other family decision makers. Knowing that its target audience might not be at home to see the message, BK placed its ads on mobile social apps that moms were likely to check in their free time while out and about. The brand reached the millions of U.S. moms and family decision makers on their smartphones by targeting the followers of the 100 best family influencers in social, such as @thepioneerwoman and @Oprah.

As mobile ramps up over the next year, campaign success can be accelerated (or stalled) by mobile strategy. Just nail it.

Element 4: Write social creative

With advertising awards, performance matters as much as strategic brilliance. A creative approach validated by the market strengthens your candidacy three times more than a thrilling idea that resonated with no one. In the spirit of wringing the maximum performance out of your campaign, we advise you to write the best possible creative that you can.

These five tested principles of writing for the social stream will get you on your way.

Keep it brief
Brevity is the soul of retweets. As @leeclowsbeard puts it, "Stuffing three messages into one ad does not count as added value."

Generally, keep your text and link under 120 characters to promote sharing (up to 140 characters are allowed). For help with drafting social ads, try Does It Fit (built by 140 Proof CTO @jm3).

Be conversational...
Feel free to use a conversational or casual voice to match the brand's existing social accounts or those of a comparable brand. Your ad is in a social stream context, so let it read as a natural part of the social conversation.

...but keep it professional
This means keep your voice appropriate to the brand and use hashtags sparingly. Jon Elvekrog advises in "5 ways to get creative with 140 characters":

"In the casual world of Twitter, some users have found interesting ways to get around the 140 character limit. However, should you find yourself tempted to write "ur" instead of "your" or "fr" instead of "for," step away from the keyboard. If you're actually going to invest in Twitter ads, whether it's across a network or a sponsored tweet, exercise professionalism through proper grammar and copy choice."

Ask a question
Why does asking a question drive up the performance of social ad creative as much as 30 percent? At 140 Proof, we've seen this time and time again -- irrespective of brand vertical, timing, or targeting. Questions increase not only Twitter replies, retweets, and "likes," but they also increase click-throughs and other engagement. If you're motivated to get your paid social campaign to perform, why not try it?

Test your work
One of the similarities of paid social to search is the ease of running many creatives at once to compare performance. Create and test up to 30 versions of your social ad copy to learn and optimize quickly.

Element 5: Choose your moment

Timing is one of the most overlooked aspects of campaign strategy, but the best creatives and planners consider timing carefully. Smart timing decisions can distinguish a brand from the sea of undifferentiated ads fighting for audience attention.

In Element 1 (own an event), we discussed timing in the context of planning around a major event, but here we're defining timing on a smaller scale, such as days of the week and times of day. Brands can reach customers at critical moments, like the Monday water-cooler hour (following weekend sports events), Sunday mornings (a peak app download time), and the commute hours (to maximize fast food drive-through sales).

For example, the Victoria's Secret Fall TV 2011 campaign focused on continuity in social to support an upfront buy around TV premieres for popular shows like "Glee," "Gossip Girl," "NCIS," "Dancing with the Stars," and "Grey's Anatomy." Victoria's Secret carefully timed its social ad placements to coincide with each premiere. TV fans saw the Victoria's Secret message not only in TV spots during the broadcast but also in social apps in the 48-hour period surrounding each show. When a "Gossip Girl" fan watched the premiere, she saw the TV commercial, and when she turned to social, she also saw the Victoria's Secret social ad, reinforcing the brand's message in a narrow time frame.

Here's how brands should think about choosing the right moment:

  • When is the target customer active in social streams?

  • On which days and in which hours should your ads be seen? Has the brand identified optimal consumption times?

  • Does the campaign revolve around a local event that generates national interest?

For example, if your program focuses on an event like CES in Las Vegas, you'll develop a creative flight timed for the attendees of the show, on Mountain time, and another flight for people who wanted to attend but couldn't.

What have you learned from timing brand campaigns in social ad campaigns, or what challenges are you currently facing?

Element 6: Make the virtual tangible

The challenge of the information age is well-known: Consumers deal with far too many messages for them to process, and most messages are ignored or discarded.

Successful brand planners create strong messages that stand out from this sea of nearly undifferentiated inventory. Meaningful messages are even more important in a purely digital medium like paid social.

An effective way to create a strong message in paid social is to emphasize the tangible. Tom Peters, a thinker on design and business, describes the power of emphasizing the tangible. Peters says:

"If your product is intangible (banking, travel, etc.), distinguish yourself from the masses by emphasizing the tangible to wit, design. FedEx, for example, stands out on the tangibles strong branding, clean trucks, easy-to-use forms. To me a business system, like FedEx's, that works transparently on the surface and offers brilliant simplicity is as much about design as an iMac or a Beetle."

For your online campaign, what's your real-world strategy? If the brand is a productivity software package, what tangible thing can the marketer offer? For the retail space, is there an intangible online benefit of the brand? Combining online and offline worlds strengthens the customer's experience of the brand in a powerful way.

Real paid social campaigns that make the virtual tangible
For the Burger King "King of the Road" campaign, CP+B teamed up with Mindshare to bring the King's epic journey to BK's biggest fans in the Twitter ecosystem and in the real world. The King physically crossed the country, adventuring with fans and awarding Xbox Kinect bundles to the most worthy fans. BK's social ad creative changed daily as the King traveled, hinting at his next stop. Paid social drove an increase of 4,000 followers for the King's Twitter account.

To celebrate Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit, Gillette created a giant greeting card containing thousands of notes of congratulations acquired through paid social campaigns.

In the run-up to the Billboard Music Awards Battle of the Bands, Chevrolet sent six bands on a cross-country road trip, each in a Chevy Cruze, and promoted the musicians' tweets and the People's Choice contest through social apps.

What challenges have you faced trying to make the virtual tangible in your paid social campaigns?

Element 7: Get your hands dirty

At 140 Proof, we believe that success in social requires the right mix of paid and earned efforts. Most brands can't achieve substantial reach in social simply by tweeting, and they lose a crucial advantage when the social effort stops once the creative goes live. Smart brands get hands-on during their paid social campaigns.

When an audience member replies to a social ad, that person trusts the brand will respond. Moreover, 83 percent of Twitter users like getting responses from companies on Twitter. Brand social teams that monitor feedback can multiply the positive effects of a campaign and optimize future paid social efforts.

On the other hand, imagine if a brand launched a social campaign without tweeting a thing. While possible (and you might be surprised how many brands do it), what would happen to the social response? Brands would miss the opportunity to multiply the returns of a paid campaign. Consumer replies that get a brand response often turn into evangelism or retweets, and retweets mean earned reach and greater mindshare. Fully covering a promotion from end to end (paid to earned) is the mark of an award-worthy campaign.

The top three ways to handle campaign feedback are:

  • Thank or encourage the respondent

  • Provide links to more information

  • Highlight the most creative responses to current followers (choosing carefully enhances follower retention)

And don't forget to save screenshots of the best replies and most influential retweeters for your end-of-campaign wrap up presentation.

Getting your hands dirty goes hand in hand with Element 2 (involve the audience). A great campaign that asks for shares and responses should have a representative ready to answer and reflect social feedback. Monitoring feedback doesn't have to be expensive to be effective -- but it does have to be consistent.

Would you like to see deeper dives on any of the concepts we covered? Let us know in the comments.

Vanessa Naylon is a creative Strategist at 140 Proof.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"A golden first place trophy" and "Abstract background" images via Shutterstock.

Vanessa Naylon is a creative strategist who helps brands build award-winning campaigns in social. Vanessa was the original writer and creative strategist at 140 Proof and has worked on hundreds of social ad campaigns since 2009, including ESPN's...

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