Secrets of the most successful social media marketing campaigns

Three key principles underpin successful social media marketing, which needs to be supported by engaging content, captivating storytelling and data-driven insights

In today's digital age, social media has emerged as an indispensable tool for businesses of all sizes, offering a powerful platform to connect with target audiences, build brand awareness, and drive growth. However, crafting successful social media marketing campaigns requires a strategic approach beyond simply posting content.

Liem Viet Ngo is an expert in marketing and branding and serves as Associate Professor in the School of Marketing at UNSW Business School. He explains that unsuccessful social media marketing campaigns often set multiple objectives without a well-designed execution strategy that enables the achievement of each individual objective in an effective order (such as awareness, followed by relevancy, action and sharing, for example).

They might also fail to build a proper consumer persona, addressing whom the campaign is intended, he explains. “This involves crafting a persona for the core target audience that effectively engages with the content, while the broader target audience listens and follows. Effectively and efficiently executing the campaign will leverage earned and shared media,” says Associate Professor Ngo.

A critically important factor is the creation of authentic yet novel content that resonates, and “last but not least” is making a measurable impact that is easily trackable, he explains.

Associate Professor Liem Viet Ngo.jpg
UNSW Business School Associate Professor Liem Viet Ngo says marketers should measure message delivery and message impact across the different stages of awareness, relevancy, action and sharing. Photo: supplied

The pillars of effective social media marketing

Three key pillars form the foundation of effective social media marketing: authenticity, creativity, and measurability.

1. Authenticity: embracing your brand's true identity

People can spot a fake from a mile away, so it's important for your social media campaigns to be authentic and genuine. This means being true to your brand voice and values, and sharing content that is relevant and interesting to your target audience.

In a world saturated with manufactured personas and carefully curated images, authenticity stands out as a beacon of trust and engagement. Social media users are discerning consumers, and they can spot a fake from a mile away. Therefore, brands must embrace their authentic selves, letting their unique voice and values shine through in their content.

Associate Professor Ngo explains that marketers can embrace true-to-ideal authenticity (brand attributes that correspond with a socially determined standard, for example), true-to-fact authenticity (brand information that corresponds with real-life events, for example), and true-to-self authenticity (brand behaviours that correspond with a consumer’s intrinsic motivation, for example).

With respect to true-to-self authenticity, a prime example of authentic social media marketing is Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign. This groundbreaking initiative challenged conventional beauty standards by featuring women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. The campaign resonated deeply with women worldwide, not just for its message of inclusivity but also for its genuine portrayal of real beauty.

Another great example is Patagonia's "Don't Buy This Jacket" campaign. This campaign encouraged customers to think twice about buying a new jacket, and instead repair or reuse their existing clothing. The campaign was a powerful reminder of Patagonia's commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.

2. Creativity: capturing attention and sparking engagement

In the ever-churning stream of social media content, creativity is the lifeblood of engagement. Social media campaigns need to be more than just words on a screen; they need to capture attention, ignite emotions, and spark conversations. They use storytelling, humour, and other elements to capture people's attention and make them want to interact with your content.

Associate Professor Ngo underscores the importance of this and explains that an authentic voice of a brand to consumers may not capture the attention of the target audience if the message does not include one or multiple elements of creativity. These include originality (such as rarity and wow factor), flexibility (linking the message to different entities, for example), elaboration (such as extending unexpected ideas and making them intricate), synthesis (blending different ideas, for example), and artistic appeal (aesthetically appealing visuals and sound).

Old Spice's "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" campaign masterfully employed humour and unexpected twists to grab viewers' attention. The series of viral videos transformed the brand's perception, appealing to a younger demographic while maintaining its core identity.

Another great example is Nike's "Find Your Greatness" campaign. This campaign featured inspiring stories of athletes from all over the world. The campaign was designed to motivate people to achieve their own goals and dreams.

3. Measurability: tracking performance and refining strategies

Social media marketing is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavour. It requires continuous monitoring and evaluation to ensure its effectiveness. By tracking key metrics such as reach, engagement, and conversion rates, businesses can gain valuable insights into their campaign's performance. These insights can then be used to refine strategies, optimise content, and maximise ROI.

Read more: Why companies need to be authentic about brand activism

Most social media platforms offer analytics tools that allow you to track key metrics such as reach, engagement, and conversion rates. By tracking these metrics, you can see how your campaigns are performing and make necessary adjustments.

“Marketers should measure both message delivery (incorporating elements such as reach, frequency, impression, virality, shares and retweets) and message impact (via factors such as level of brand awareness, change in consumer attitudes and sales lift) across the different stages of awareness, relevancy, action and sharing,” says Associate Professor Ngo.

A case study in measuring ROI can be found in Blendtec's "Will It Blend?" campaign, which has been credited with transforming the company from a small kitchen appliance manufacturer into a household name. The campaign, which launched in 2006, featured videos of Blendtec blenders blending a variety of objects, from iPhones to basketballs. The videos quickly went viral, generating millions of views and driving a significant increase in sales.

Blendtec CEO Tom Dickson started with a budget of $50, and the marketing budget grew to support an exponential increase in sales. To measure the ROI of the campaign, Blendtec tracked several key metrics, including:

Website traffic: The "Will It Blend?" videos drove a significant increase in traffic to Blendtec's website.
Sales: Blendtec's sales increased by over 700 per cent after the launch of the campaign.
Brand awareness: The campaign helped to make Blendtec a household name.

In addition to tracking these metrics, Blendtec also conducted surveys to measure the impact of the campaign on consumer perception. These surveys showed that the campaign positively impacted brand awareness, brand favourability, and purchase intent.

Read more: Marketing analytics: are you a data-savvy marketer?

Case study: Dumb ways to die, a social media phenomenon

Metro Trains in Melbourne created the "Dumb Ways to Die" campaign, which was launched in 2012 and is a textbook case study in the power of creativity and strategic use of social media. This catchy song, featuring animated characters meeting their demise through various avoidable accidents, went viral, amassing over 180 million views on YouTube.

“The ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ communicates a true-to-fact authentic message that is relevant to a young and sceptical audience, who often believe they are invincible,” says Associate Professor Ngo, who explains that the campaign's success can be attributed to a range of factors:

Catchy tune and lyrics: The song's simple melody and repetitive, rhyming lyrics made it easy to remember and sing along to
Humorous and relatable content: The scenarios depicted in the videos, while morbidly humorous, were relatable to a wide audience, drawing attention to common safety hazards in a light-hearted manner
• Effective use of social media: The campaign leveraged social media platforms to spread its message, encouraging viewers to share the video and engage with safety-related content.

The results of the "Dumb Ways to Die" campaign were also impressive. It significantly raised awareness of rail safety in Australia, particularly among young adults, helped reduce rail-related accidents by 30 per cent and received numerous accolades, including a Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

The "Dumb Ways to Die" campaign serves as a reminder that effective social media marketing is not about pushing products or services onto an audience. It's about creating meaningful connections, engaging in authentic storytelling, and using creativity to capture attention and inspire action.

Four steps to running successful social media marketing campaigns

Social media marketing, when approached strategically and with a focus on authenticity, creativity, and measurability, has the potential to revolutionise businesses' approach to marketing and communication.

In addition to the three key factors mentioned above, here are a few more tips for running successful social media marketing campaigns:

Target the right audience: Not all social media users are created equal. It's important to target your social media campaigns to the people who are most likely to be interested in your products or services. You can do this by using demographic data, interests, and behaviours.
Use a variety of content formats: People consume content in different ways, so it's important to use a variety of content formats in your social media campaigns. This includes text, images, videos, and infographics.
Be consistent: Social media marketing is a long-term game. It's important to be consistent with your posting to see results. Aim to post new content regularly, such as once a day or multiple times a week.
Engage with your audience: Social media is a two-way street. It's important to engage with your audience by responding to comments and questions. You can also use social media to host live events, such as Q&A sessions or product demos.

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Associate Professor Ngo says that marketing leaders need to ensure that the essential factors aforementioned are taken into consideration in a social media marketing campaign. “For want of an individual factor, the whole campaign fails,” he says.

By embracing these principles, businesses can connect with their target audience on a deeper level, build enduring relationships, and achieve their marketing goals.


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