Okay, it’s probably disingenuous to pretend that social media is still something nascent and unproven for brands.
Even with a tricky attribution problem to solve, most brand marketers and advertisers agree it just makes sense to target these large, active and known audiences.
Having said that, some brands ‘got’ social media a lot quicker than others.
Here are 30 examples…
1. General Electric
If we look at GE’s latest social media venture, it’s a good example of how the brand turns its own work into genuinely inspiring and shareworthy content around science and engineering.
GE has teamed up with filmmaker Sam Cossman, who is descending into the Masaya Volcano, or ‘Mouth of Hell’, in Nicaragua.
The whole thing is being shared on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, as Cossman and the team install sensors that will track a variety of measurements new to science for this volcano.
— General Electric (@generalelectric) August 10, 2016
GE publishes a lot of research, as well as educational content, and it does well to translate this to social media at the right level for John Q. Public.
GE’s famous #6secondscience Vine videos and its beautiful photographs on Instagram are two of the brand’s most notable successes on social media.
Of all the case studies that prove the ROI of social media, telcos are surely the most compelling.
Using social customer service, these companies can deflect costly calls and update customers, pointing them to the right areas of their website or to livechat.
It’s not just BT, of course, most telcos excel at this. But, I’ve got some juicy stats on BT, so that’s who I’ve gone with here.
Social media customer service deflects 600,000 contacts a year from the phones, resulting in £2m annual savings (2014 figures, so this may have increased).
Customer use of BT’s social channels (such as @BTCare) has had an impact on satisfaction, too.
The Net Easy Score (BT’s in-house metric measuring how easy it has been for a customer to interact with the brand) has risen, a key driver of brand loyalty and increased spend.
The chart below (from an IPA report) shows how those that find it easy to contact the brand will stick with an enquiry for longer.
YouTube content is compelling, too, with videos explaining router setup and other tasks that may traditionally be dealt with over the phone.
3. Net-A-Porter & MR PORTER
Perhaps the pre-eminent retailer on social media?
2.2m followers on Instagram (plus another c.750,000 for MR PORTER) and c.800,000 on Twitter (230,000 for MP) is respectable enough, but it’s the richness of Net-A-Porter’s approach that pays dividends. Plenty of content and plenty of engagement.
THE EDIT and Journal, the two magazines of Net-A-Porter and MR PORTER respectively, are two of the few examples of genuinely great content created by retail brands.
This of course lends itself perfectly to social media, where customers can be drawn in with the promise of more than just a product page or a sale.
This is high budget publishing in tandem with commerce, not merely a nod to the term ‘brands as publishers’. Just look at the video content the retailer produces.
But it’s not just about a terrific earned social strategy, Net-A-Porter also created The Net Set, it’s own shopping-focused social app and community.
Users build their own Love Lists, with the app able to recommend items that match your own uploaded photographs. All products surfaced in the app can be purchased.
What really makes the app a success is the ability to follow style icons that also use the network, which creates great demand for anything these icons wear.
If items are sold out, those that have favourited the item can be informed when it comes back into stock.
This functionality has been incredibly successful and is a much more sophisticated strategy than email blasts based on browsing history.
When you think of the brands that like to fail fast with new digital technology, Domino’s is certainly way out ahead in the fast food market, constantly innovating its mobile experience.
And that ethos extends to social, where the brand’s innovations have included tweet-to-order and the recently introduced ‘DOM The Pizza Bot’, an irreverent little Messenger bot that lets customers order their usual with a couple of clicks in their favourite chat app.
Domino’s social approach is well-integrated – the brand’s Pizza Legends campaign allows people to visit the website, create their own ultimate pizza design, then name it and share it on social media.
Other social campaigns include #letsdolunch, which offered cheaper pizza the more people tweeted.
Before we dive into the realm of expensive social campaigns, let’s look at a powerful internal use of social media.
L’Oreal encourages its staff to use the hashtag #lifeatloreal to showcase the culture of the organisation.
The fairly obvious thinking is that this organisational transparency will help with recruitment but also retention, by putting all the perks of the job front and centre.
This is an incredibly simple tactic, and one that other brands have adopted, too (see Oracle, Google, Deloitte and many more).
An oft-cited example. In an age of social media frippery, Dove’s steady and impactful social message stands out as marketing that’s more than just marketing.
Dove’s Self Esteem Project has encompassed various campaigns, from #nolikesneeded to #speakbeautiful.
The latest campaign is #mybeautymysay. Neatly tying in with a summer of sport, digital billboards in North America will broadcast sexist remarks about female athletes that have been made in the media.
As the comments appear, images of the women will start to disappear, and those watching are invited to take a stand.
Dove has set up a dedicated hub to allow people to do just that, with users able to click on a sexist quote and automatically send Dove’s protest tweet to the person or company the remark came from.
One could include the sports apparel giant for many reasons, but it’s an inspirational Instagram account that really catches the eye.
Great videos showcase Nike’s athletes but also the dedication needed to succeed.
At the moment, there are some particularly good examples involving the US female gymnastic team, who are currently centre-stage at the Rio Olympics.
Click through to watch the video below. There’s a reason the brand has garnered 58.9m followers on the network.
The most recognised social CRM experts in all of B2C marketing? Probably.
The airline understands that customers want to be served in the channel they are using, not directed elsewhere.
Recent innovations include Messenger integration, one of the first brands to think about bot strategy (see video below).
KLM’s social customer care famously started in the wake of the 2010 Icelandic ash cloud, when many flights were grounded.
Response time is regularly the best in the industry and in late 2014, Karlijn Vogel-Meijer told the Festival of Marketing that last click attribution showed $25m had been generated from social media.
Furthermore, customers have been able to pay via social media since early 2014. All in all, a committed and innovative brand on social.
9. Paddy Power
Now to what catches the eye on social – risky and humorous content.
Whilst many gambling brands take an irreverent tone, Paddy Power is arguably the best at it, and the most risqué.
Its posts range from the puerile to the outrageous, but guess what – they get shared an awful lot.
He's got to go into the referees book for that. pic.twitter.com/0qTDx26e8a
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) August 13, 2016
This account is used to test new products, garner feedback and create a feeling of exclusivity for super fans.
It’s an interesting way of using Instagram – many retailers create their own community platforms, Everlane realised that existing free infrastructure would work just fine.
Our private Instagram account launches on January 25th. Follow EverlaneStudio for a first look at new shoe launches. pic.twitter.com/aKvUxR7wC1
— Everlane (@Everlane) January 18, 2016
Furniture and furnishings is one of those areas of retail that is made (no pun intended) for social media.
So it’s not particularly remarkable that MADE.COM is using Pinterest well, for example.
But MADE.COM’s awareness of the role of social and its committment to the channel is notable.
MADE.COM is an early adopter of each ad product Instagram rolls out. And it’s impressive to hear Hannah Pilpel say that people who came to MADE.COM from organic social had an average order value 4% higher than the site average in Q1 2016.
MADE.COM knows how to capitalise on the consumer longing for a designer sofa, or the longing for everybody to know you have a designer sofa.
The retailer incentivises customers to send in a snap of their purchase – if it gets featured, the customer gets a voucher.
And it’s not just sourcing user-generated content, MADE.COM created its own social network as early as July 2014.
MADE Unboxed lets you see other people’s homes with their purchases in situ.
You can even check them out by viewing a map of your area, and once you’ve found pieces you like, you can click through to view the product or email your fellow Unboxed user to ask them a question.
Hannah Pilpel comments that dwell times on the site are over 3x higher for those visitors that use Unboxed.
And the average order value for these customers was up 16% on the site average in Q1 2016. It’s all about providing a greater experience for your most loyal fans.
Coke TV is the most recent demonstration of Coca-Cola’s understanding of online video and influencers.
The UK-based channel features YouTubers Doddy and Manny.
The respective audiences of the pair have obviously followed them over to this new channel, because audience numbers are surprisingly large for each weekly video (routinely over 200,000).
I’ve seen articles online decrying the dumbed down content that these partnerships can create, but perhaps these analysts don’t understand that the viewers have developed a connection with the presenters over time – this kind of connection is hard to put a value on.
Plenty of Coke is drunk throughout the series, from lovely glass bottles. The campaign already feels like a successful bit of content marketing.
Of course, with such a big multinational, there are many other campaigns worth mentioning here, not least the Share a Coke packaging, which has been incredibly successful in encouraging social sharing.
Well documented as the original crazy tone of voice on social media (and packaging).
— innocent drinks (@innocent) August 3, 2016
14. Kim Kardashian
Bear with me for a moment. My colleague Bola Awoniyi wrote an engaging post earlier in 2016 arguing that Kim K’s nude tweet on the eve of International Women’s Day was symptomatic of her brilliant strategy on social.
Baring her flesh is of course one way of creating a Twitter storm, but Kim knew that the timing afforded maximum apoplexy.
Lo and behold, the next day Kim tweeted a link to her paywalled publishing platform, on which she had written an open letter discussing her body and International Women’s Day.
Kim also launched her Snapchat channel at the same time, ensuring the continuing publicity led to revenue and more followers.
15. Cancer Research UK
The #nomakeupselfie trend of early 2014 was co-opted early by Cancer Research UK, which went on to receive more than £8m in donations from the campaign.
The ability to capitalise early came from Cancer Research UK’s agile and always-on community management team.
This team uses social media to answer a variety of questions about their work and about cancer in general.
A lot of this social activity works in tandem with the charity’s content strategy, allowing people to be directed to authoritative content or to a blog platform that the team updates.
The social team also works with the broader marketing team, a notable example being the use of PPC during the early stages of #nonakeupselfie, so that Cancer Research UK could definitively claim the campaign for those searching.
— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) March 25, 2014
Another brand that deserves a mention for its Instagram alone. Aside from food, travel is pretty much the chief use of Instagram, so this is a natural channel for Airbnb.
And with so many hosts to choose from and the brand’s focus on living somewhere rather than visiting, its feed has an authentic quality that a hotel chain cannot match.
Other notable social activity from Airbnb includes an early campaign using Vine to create a crowdsourced video ad, and some agile Twitter work to set up Waterstones Trafalgar Square as a host in the wake of one customer getting locked in overnight.
There’s also the successful #livethere hashtag, created as part of Airbnb’s new ‘Live like a local’ message in Spring 2016, not to mention the social aspect built into the Airbnb platform.
17. Maker’s Mark
Maker’s Mark has an enjoyable enough social presence but nothing out of the ordinary. However, the brand makes the list as one of the few to have successfully engaged on Reddit.
The Let it Snoo display campaign on Reddit during the holidays of 2013 used a simple photograph of a bottle in the snow and a play on words (for the unfamiliar, Reddit’s mascot is called Snoo).
Lowe’s is chiefly famous on social for its ‘Fix in Six’ Vine series. BBDO even won a Cannes Lion for them in 2014.
The home improvement brand is also a big player on Pinterest, with practical boards such as ‘Get Organized’ and ’50 Projects Under $50′ attracting 3.4m followers.
Other activity includes a rich and extensive Tumblr site and an Instagram account with c.300,000 followers that has previously utilised the hashtag #proudmoment to share customer success.
19. The Guardian
I haven’t included publishers in this list because we all know that they exist in symbiosis with social media platforms. One would struggle without the other. So it’s no surprise that most recognised publishing brands do well on social.
But I’m including The Guardian as an exception because of the breadth of its Twitter strategy.
Though The Daily Mail, according to analysis from early 2015, produces the most-tweeted individual articles, The Guardian is the most-shared paper in total.
While this analysis may look different now The Sun has dropped its paywall, I’d guess The Guardian is still out in front.
The Guardian has over 30 different Twitter accounts for its various site/paper sections (e.g. sport, film etc.). Each account tweets profusely, hundreds of times a day in the case of the main account, and a healthy 40-50 from many of the others.
Twitter feels like home to The Guardian, not a channel that must be mastered.
N.B. I know it’s criminal not including BuzzFeed here, but the site is so synonymous with popular Facebook content that I thought no explanation necessary.
Oreo will forever hold a place on these lists after its infamous Super Bowl 2013 tweet following a floodlight failure.
This was a watershed moment when brands realised they had to have a newsroom mentality, and be ready to take risks at short notice, without a lengthy sign-off process.
21. Jamie Oliver
Nikki Gilliland provides a marvellous insight into how Jamie Oliver’s YouTube strategy has evolved over time.
The chef has three channels (FoodTube, DrinkTube, FamilyFoodTube) with over 2m followers, achieving success by getting to grips with the nuances of online video (that differs so greatly from TV).
Less introductory waffle, descriptive thumbnails, carefully curated categories, and use of analytics helps to create a streamlined feel, giving the users what they want and what they will interact with.
The most popular video on the FoodTube channel is a great example of this…
22. ZSL London Zoo
ZSL is now making use of Facebook Live and also uses texted video to ensure that viewers on social media can get full enjoyment from silent autoplay.
The most popular videos have been viewed around 90,000 times and there’s every reason to believe this is just the start for ZSL London Zoo, which has been emphasising conservation more in its comms strategy.
23. Pret A Manger
The clarity of Pret A Manger’s brand – natural food, organic coffee – is carried nicely on to social media.
There are no bells and whistles, no quirky tone of voice or jokes, Pret just focuses on its products.
Here’s an example, Pret’s Christmas sandwich campaign, which included promoted Twitter posts allowing users to ‘save the date’ and add the sandwich launch day to their calendars.
Starbucks does something similar to great effect with its seasonal red cups.
More recently, London’s Veggie Pret has again championed Pret’s fresh food. Pret’s Twitter account is emblazoned with green and features feedback from happy customers.
Chief executive Clive Schlee is also on Twitter and open to suggestions.
Last week, Pret ran a promotion on Twitter which resulted in 10,000 fruit smoothies being claimed in store, showing that social channels can be a perfect way of driving footfall and introducing a premium product.
24. Bay Area Rapid Transit
Taylor Huckaby brought rapid fame to the BART Twitter channel with some raw candour.
Though some have debated whether this tactic of complete honesty is a sensible template for a brand, we all admired what Taylor did.
His stance did rile some followers, who thought Taylor’s responses, in particular a focus on lack of money, could not be justified.
In the article linked to above, Patricio Robles makes the point that brands must understand that silence is often the best policy in the face of criticism on social.
However, I think BART got away with it in this instance, and deserves a place on the list for the way it handles negativity during its rebuilding process.
@shakatron BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality.
— SFBART (@SFBART) March 17, 2016
25. Taco Bell
Taco Bell lobbied for a taco emoji in 2015 – now that’s commitment to the millennial cause.
It then created the taco emoji engine, where users tweeting the taco emoji plus any other emoji would be replied to with a custom piece of video content. Fantastic brand engagement.
Other successes include a social media blackout in 2014 to create buzz ahead of the launch of the Taco Bell app.
More recently its Tacobot integration with Slack is a first for the collaboration platform.
Graziashop (the retail arm borne of the magazine) was one of the first Instagram advertisers, creating a Graziashop character that showcased the retailer’s products.
The magazine itself has experimented heavily with Facebook Live, using the platform to create a community issue of the magazine.
27. Virgin Media
Virgin Media’s engagement with sport serves it very well on social media.
The 2016/2017 English Premier League season sees the company sponsoring Southampton away tickets, in partnership with the Footballer Supporters Federation’s ‘twenty’s plenty’ campaign.
This has already led to plenty of word of mouth and love on Twitter.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) August 9, 2016
During 2016’s summer of sport, Virgin Media’s partnership with Squawka meant it produced some of the most engaging tweets during Euro 2016.
This has been backed up by plenty of Olympics engagement.
Usain Bolt’s tie-up with the brand and the Olympic committee’s relaxation of Rule 40 meant Virgin Media capitalised handily (despite not being an official sponsor) with a fantastic ad that has done well on social.
28. Burger King
In my opinion, Burger King’s unsuccessful campaign to unite with McDonald’s and create the McWhopper was one of the most tactically astute bits of PR in the social media age.
You can read Patricio Robles’ summation and analysis of the affair, but suffice it to say that McDonald’s was left looking like a stick in the mud, and Burger King like the fun and personal brand.
Whilst McDonald’s has been doing a lot to change its reputation, focusing on sustainable farming, quality of ingredients and a family ethos, Burger King’s fun social feeds continue to appeal to the important younger market.
Both approaches seem to create similar levels of engagement, but we’re adding BK to the list because of its McWhopper stunt.
The screenshot below from the NASA website says it all. And yes, while being on every social platform isn’t objectively great, it does show committment.
You won’t be surprised to know that a mixture of great imagery and inspiring stories, alongside peer-reviewed science, makes NASA incredibly successful on social. 18m Twitter followers, 15m Instagram followers, and so on.
NASA is prolific, too, churning out many and varied posts that routinely get shared thousands of times.
— NASA (@NASA) August 15, 2016
Like L’Oreal, Oracle is a brand that uses social to promote its own corporate social responsibility and also to make the company a more attractive place to work for potential employees.
Oracle’s Twitter feed is fairly diverse, given the number of products it markets, but it’s the philanthropic ventures that shine through on social.
For example, the tech company is currently rehoming a public high school, amongst other charity campaigning.
— Oracle (@Oracle) August 13, 2016
— Oracle (@Oracle) September 22, 2015